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Lakers vs. Pelicans Preview: LeBron James and Brandon Ingram are clicking at the right time for a playoff push

LeBron James and Brandon Ingram have clicked at the right time for the Lakers to make a playoff push for the season’s last 24 games, which starts tonight against the New Orleans Pelicans.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Rockets weren’t able to stop the Los Angeles Lakers after they seemingly pushed the playoff-mode button during halftime, and now the New Orleans Pelicans will be their next test. If Brandon Ingram and LeBron James continue to gel like they have over the last several games, L.A. should be in good shape.

James and Ingram dropped a combined 56 points against James Harden and the Rockets on Thursday night, grabbing an upset win in their first game after the All-Star break, and a victory that might be a sign that the team’s playoff push has been ignited.

That’s good news for the purple and gold, because the Lakers’ final 24 games of the season will either see a monstrous run to get into a playoff spot in the Western Conference, or they’ll be watching from home wondering what went wrong, which makes James and Ingram’s rapidly building chemistry since James returned from his injury a bright spot for the young Lakers team, especially since Ingram is finally hitting his stride alongside James.

Much was made in the beginning of the season that Ingram and James weren’t a good fit, and the early numbers backed that up.

Even with an injury of his own, Ingram looked more like a potential trade piece than a key player for the Lakers because of his seeming lack of fit with the team’s new star. While James was carrying the offense at the start of the season, Ingram was averaging 15.5 points while sharing the court with him.

30 games into Ingram and James’ partnership, Ingram was putting up All-Star-like numbers when James sat, and pedestrian marks when both were on the floor, per-36 minutes.

Brandon Ingram per-36 minutes

On or Off Points FG% 3-point % Free-throw attempts Assists Rebounds
On or Off Points FG% 3-point % Free-throw attempts Assists Rebounds
Ingram with LeBron 15.4 44.3 19.2 4.9 1.9 4.3
Ingram without LeBron 27.7 54.5 75 7.2 5.1 6.3

At that point, Ingram promised that his fit with James would look better in the next 20 games or so, but James’ injury on Christmas Day seemed to derail that. Still, rather than panic, Ingram hit his stride when James hit the bench, averaging 19.2 points over the next 18 games. After a career night against the Philadelphia 76ers in the game before James’ return, helped Ingram become the vital player he was meant to be.

It wasn’t clear if Ingram could maintain that level of production when James came back, so it’s been even greater to see James and Ingram finally playing well together. With James back on the court, Ingram has maintained a higher scoring average than earlier in the season with 18.1 points per game, and has done so while playing off of James instead of only being able to produce when James hits the bench.

Over the last six games since James returned, Ingram has actually scored slightly better with James on the court (18 points per 36 minutes vs. 17.7) while only shooting a smidgeon less efficiently (44.6 percent vs. 44.8), according to

Ingram has also attempted more free throws (7.8 vs. 3.9) and rebounded and assisted at higher clips with James on the floor than off, encouraging evidence that Ingram has delivered on his promise, and finally figured out how to thrive off of James rather than competing with him for air space.

With a combined season average of 44 points per game and finally hitting their stride together as of late, James and Ingram in tandem should be able to ward off the Pelicans, the fifth-highest scoring team in the league, but a team that will be without their star in Anthony Davis.

And with Davis sitting out tonight, the task to inch closer to a playoff spot will be somewhat trouble-free because contrary to popular belief, James and Ingram do fit together. It just took some time for them to figure it out.

Injury update:

Trade-deadline acquisition Mike Muscala is available Saturday after missing the Lakers' last game, while Lonzo Ball will possibly miss more than his original six-week timetable due to a bone bruise he suffered in addition to his Grade 3 ankle sprain.

The Lakers will take on the Pelicans in New Orleans at 4:00 PST, and you can catch the game on Spectrum Sportsnet. All stats and info per and You can follow Megan on Twitter at @garciamegan_.

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