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Lakers vs. Pelicans Preview: Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart return to L.A.

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The core three of the Baby Lakers are making their first return to Los Angeles with the Pelicans tonight, and Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart will almost assuredly be looking to show out against the team that sent them packing for Anthony Davis.

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Houston Rockets v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

When the Los Angeles Lakers traded Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball to the New Orleans Pelicans as part of the massive package they sent out for Anthony Davis this summer, all of the players involved had different reactions.

Josh Hart caught the most heat for himself, ultimately having the call people with the Lakers and apologize after flaming the organization during a segment on his own podcast that he believed would be cut. However, it’s still fair to guess he wasn’t exactly broken up about getting dealt, as he almost immediately changed his Twitter avatar to a photoshop of himself in a Pelicans jersey the day of the deal, and posted smiling selfies of himself on Instagram in the immediate aftermath of the news.

Ball was arguably more outspoken, rapping that the Lakers would “regret their decision” in a new song, while also seemingly voicing some annoyance at finding out he was traded on Twitter and adding that players should take it personally when they get dealt. He additionally said that he was “kind of excited” to be traded.

Ingram was the most subdued, simply posting a smiling emoji on Instagram in the aftermath of the news, with the only other thing we heard about his thoughts on his former team otherwise coming courtesy of Kyle Kuzma, who said that Ingram and Ball were “excited” about the trade, and for the chance to fulfill their potential with the Pelicans.

So far, it’s really only been Ingram who has done so, as was well-detailed today in a feature from Andrew Lopez of ESPN:

In the past four games, Ingram has put up 25.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.0 steals a game while shooting 49.3% overall and 54.2% from deep. On Christmas Day, he set an NBA Christmas record with seven 3-pointers, a career high.

He was rewarded with the NBA’s Western Conference Player of the Week award. Ingram said “it felt good” but tried to deflect the attention, complimenting his teammates.

Those same teammates recognized his contributions.

”He’s our best player,” Lonzo Ball said. “He’s been showing it all year. He finally got the award because we finally won some games for him. Hopefully we can keep going.”

That production hasn’t always translated to wins — the Pelicans are 11-23 coming into Friday, with the sixth-worst defense and 19th-ranked offense in the league — in large part due to the absence of Zion Williamson, but also because (among other factors) Ball and Hart have struggled a bit more than Ingram has in their new surroundings.

Hart has missed seven games, while Ball has missed eight. The former is averaging 10.9 points on 40.7% shooting, while the latter is still posting well-rounded box scores — 10.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists — but also still struggling as a shooter, converting just 38.3% of his shots this season. The Pelicans are a little better when Hart plays than when he sits, and a little worse when Ball is in the game than when he’s on the bench, according to NBA.com. They have the exact same net rating when Ingram sits as they do when he plays, getting outscored by their opponents by 4.1 points per 100 possessions either way.

Ingram, Ball and Hart will surely be looking to change all that tonight, and as the Lakers saw in nearly letting their recent game against the Phoenix Suns slip away, even a young overmatched team can nearly beat them if they don’t keep their foot on the gas.

Anthony Davis and the Lakers (27-7) are significantly better than the Pelicans team he left to join them, but just like when Davis had his first game back in New Orleans, the former Baby Lakers will surely be just as motivated to silence the crowd that used to cheer them.

Now, there is likely nothing they can do in one game to make the Lakers regret what so far has looked like a phenomenal trade as Davis helps them rise to the top of the league, but it would be a shock if the former Lakers and their Pelicans teammates don’t try. If the Lakers want to turn their three-game winning streak into a four-game one and remain undefeated against the Pelicans this season, they’ll have to make sure they match that intensity.

Notes and Updates

  • The Lakers listed Alex Caruso was originally listed as questionable for tonight with right calf tightness, and will ultimately miss the game as a result, according to the Lakers. Caruso has been dealing with the issue for two to three games now, and he was forced to leave the team’s win against the Suns due to it on Wednesday night. It is the same calf injury that forced him to miss time against the Memphis Grizzlies earlier this season.
  • Anthony Davis is also on the Lakers’ injury report with the same right shoulder soreness that has been bothering him for much of the season, but he’s listed as probable to play.
  • Caruso, Davis, LeBron James and Dwight Howard all got some love in the first returns on All-Star fan voting on Thursday, showing the power that the sheer volume of Lakers fans gives the team, even in an era when some say markets matter less due to the power of social media. With all due respect, if Alex Caruso is getting more All-Star votes than Devin Booker, that’s clearly not the case.
  • The only Laker who the team has a negative net rating when they sit is LeBron James. Still, James and head coach Frank Vogel detailed why those minutes don’t concern them much on Wednesday night, and I wrote about why maybe they should at least raise some alarm bells.

The Lakers and Pelicans will tip-off at 7:30 p.m. PST on Friday night, and the game will be broadcast on ESPN nationally and Spectrum SportsNet locally.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.