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Lakers vs. Pelicans Preview: L.A. has rediscovered its winning ways at an inopportune time

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Since getting eliminated from playoff contention, the Lakers are winning a lot more. That’s not great for their lottery chances.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Los Angeles Lakers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Since getting eliminated from playoff contention on March 22, the Lakers are 3-1. Before their matchup against the Brooklyn Nets, a game that finally ended the Lakers’ playoff hopes, L.A. was riding a four-game losing streak.

A roster that was once occupied by LeBron James who will be sidelined for the remainder of the seasonLonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram is now represented by the South Bay Lakers.

Heading into their Sunday matchup with the similarly lottery-bound New Orleans Pelicans, it has been just over a week since the Lakers were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, and it feels they’re playing their best minutes in months since then. But those winning habits have returned at the worst possible time, especially with L.A.’s lottery chances for the top pick in the NBA draft being a slim 3 percent by virtue of the 10th-worst record in the NBA.

The chances of the Lakers snagging even a top-four pick are slipping with every win, and the memo to tank the season away seems like it hasn’t been read by the few players left on the roster.

The Lakers have put up significantly better shooting numbers in the last four games than they did in the four games leading up to the Nets punching the Lakers’ one-way ticket to the off-season.

The Lakers’ four-game shooting numbers before and after their playoff elimination

Game Span Field Goal 3-Point Free Throw
Game Span Field Goal 3-Point Free Throw
4 Games Before Elimination 43.50% 28.60% 74.30%
4 Games After Elimination 48.30% 37% 75.90%

Now, helping the Lakers’ lottery chase is that five of their final six games of the first season of the “LeBron James Era” will be played without James, and against playoff teams. The Pelicans are seemingly the last possible speed bump for their lottery odds, as New Orleans is similarly bad, posting the ninth-worst record in the NBA. In other words, a loss here is a chance to inch closer to slightly better lottery odds, because it would also give the Pelicans a win.

But even with the Pelicans and Lakers each having more disappointing seasons than they hoped for, they’ve had high-scoring games in their three meetings this season. Helping the Lakers’ chase for the lottery is that four of their top five players against New Orleans — players who helped L.A. two games out of the three played so far — are either out for the season or with a different team.

Top Five Lakers against Pelicans in 2018-19

Name Minutes Per Game Points Rebounds Assists
Name Minutes Per Game Points Rebounds Assists
LeBron James 38.3 27.3 8.3 12
Brandon Ingram 32.7 23.3 6 3
Kyle Kuzma 34.3 20.3 5.3 3.3
Ivica Zubac 32 16 11 0
Lonzo Ball 26 12 5 2
Top five Lakers against the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2018-19 season, per ESPN.com

Only Kuzma is currently set to play against the Pelicans on Sunday, and while for most of this season having just one of the Lakers’ best five players in any single matchup wouldn’t be a good thing, as they try to just end this season with the best odds of a decent pick possible — and could make up a whole game in the loss column on the Pelicans with a defeat — in this one case, the Lakers’ ridiculous injury woes finally have a silver lining.

Tip-off against New Orleans is set for 3 p.m. PST at Smoothie King Center, and will be televised on Spectrum SportsNet.

Injury report: Anthony Davis will not play for the Pelicans, and the Lakers are dinged up beyond the guys you already know about as well.

All stats and info per NBA.com and ESPN.com. You can follow Megan on Twitter at @garciamegan_ .