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Lakers vs. Pelicans Preview: L.A’s problems still haven’t been solved

The same problems have haunted the Lakers all season. Will the trend continue against the Pelicans?

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Los Angeles Clippers v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Sigh… The Lakers always find a way to lose games, don’t they?

Sure, blame it on how they approached Friday’s primetime game, or Frank Vogel’s offensive and defensive game plan. Blame it on LeBron James for playing like an actual 37-year-old for the first time this season, or heck, even blame it on the referees who made themselves the story of the game with lengthy replay reviews.

But whatever the reason, the Lakers have consistently found ways to beat themselves, and it has hurt them not once, not twice, but multiple times this season. They’ve now lost 19 times in clutch situations this season, only seven behind the Indiana Pacers, who they also lost to at home in January.

Friday’s close defeat against the Clippers was just the latest episode in a long-running series.

The Lakers started the game flat, shooting an abysmal 18.8% from the 3-point line. They were outworked and outsmarted by their little brothers in L.A., who were missing their two best players in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The purple and gold gave up 57 points in the first, and allowed the Clippers to shoot 51.1% from the field and 40% from the 3-point line, led by Luke Kennard, who somehow turns into Stephen Curry when he plays against the Lakers.

The Lakers’ perimeter defense was also non-existent, and their only bright spot was 36-year-old back-up center Dwight Howard, who had himself a night scoring 14 points and grabbing 16 rebounds for the game.

The rest of the team? Well, they only woke up in the second half when they finally realized (for the 1000-time this season) that they can actually control the game by playing fast and executing on defense.

And while the Lakers were able to trim the Clippers’ 16-point advantage by playing faster and imposing their will, at the end of the day, IQ wins basketball games. Ty Lue found ways to exploit the Lakers’ iso-dominant offense throughout the game with the pieces he had.

The Clippers' fourth-quarter performance depicted what the Lakers have been missing all season — grit, discipline, mental toughness, an identity to run to when things are falling apart, and the passion the players had for the game.

So, this is where the Lakers stand again. Where they acknowledge all their mistakes, and make empty promises to learn from them and be better. Rinse and repeat. But their 27-32 record makes it clear they haven’t even come close to fixing all their recurring breakdowns late in the game, missed rotations on defense, and lack of creativity on offense, things they have been saying they’re aware of all year, but doing nothing about.

At what point are these still considered mistakes if there hasn’t been any sort of consistent solutions and changes? The Lakers have shown us with their actions that these aren’t miscues; this is who they are. The same unsolved problems have haunted this team all season, and with 23 games left, maybe the only mistake left is expecting them to change.

Notes and Updates

  • The Lakers will face a Pelicans team that is having a horrible season. The bright spot for New Orleans (24-36) has been CJ McCollum, who seems to fit in his new team well. The Pelicans just defeated the Phoenix Suns on Friday (117-102) thanks to McCollum’s 32 points, six rebounds, and four assists. The Lakers might want to take note of this.
  • Speaking of New Orleans, our favorite ex-Pelican Anthony Davis is reportedly set to miss another 4-to-5 weeks due to the brutal foot sprain he suffered before the All-Star break, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Just unfortunate and terrible news for the Lakers and AD.
  • Aside from Davis (foot sprain), Avery Bradley (right knee effusion) and Kendrick Nunn (right knee bone bruise) are out. Frank Vogel mentioned after Saturday’s morning practice that Bradley is day-to-day moving forward, but the team has already declared him out for this one.
  • LeBron James (left knee soreness/effusion) is also listed as questionable. The King was listed questionable for the same injury prior to Friday’s game but still played through it.
  • South Bay Lakers representatives Sekou Doumbouya and Mason Jones (two-way contracts) will be on NBA G-League duty.
  • As for the Pelicans, their issues with Zion Williamson (foot) have yet to be resolved, as the 2019 NBA Draft overall first-round pick hasn’t played a single game this season.
  • Around the league, it seems like Philadelphia 76ers’ star James Harden enjoyed his Sixers debut alongside Joel Embiid, as the two did the Lakers a possible favor by defeating the current Western Conference seventh seed, the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are just three games ahead of the purple and gold in the loss column.
  • Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, The Athletic’s Shams Charania just announced that Ben Simmons will be sidelined for a longer period of time due to back soreness.

The Lakers and Pelicans will tip-off by 7 pm P.T. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN, and locally on Spectrum SportsNet.

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