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Lakers close 2023 with a dud, fall to Pelicans

A tough December came to a fitting end on New Year’s Eve as the Lakers fell to the Pelicans in New Orleans.

Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

The Pelicans started hot and kept that advantage throughout on Sunday, handing the Lakers a 129-109 loss to close out 2023.

New Orleans scored 42 first-quarter points and held a double-digit lead for most of the contest, never allowing the Lakers to get close. Shorthanded and on the second night of a back-to-back, the Lakers looked like a team exhausted and ready to get back home.

A fired-up Pelicans team was the aggressor from the start, outscoring the Lakers 25-7 on second-chance points and scoring 17 points off turnovers.

For the Lakers, LeBron James did his best to carry the Lakers, scoring 34 points with eight assists and five rebounds on 12-24 shooting. Anthony Davis had a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds and Austin Reaves scored 20 points off the bench.

Taurean Prince was the lone other player in double figures with 15. No other Laker scored more than seven points.

It was a back-and-forth contest early on with the Lakers’ bigger lineup finding ways to score and forcing turnovers early. CJ McCollum, though, turned nuclear and hit five threes across the opening nine minutes to open up a 10-point Pelicans lead.

The Lakers slowed the barrage but couldn’t get closer than six points for the remainder of the period and went into the second down 42-33. The 42 points from the Pelicans was a season-high in points in a first quarter this year.

The Lakers’ offense created a number of open looks to start the second quarter with Austin Reaves, Christian Wood and Max Christie all having open looks and all three missing. New Orleans took advantage, opening up a 13-point lead as a result.

While the Pelicans continued racking up fouls, the Lakers offense continued to struggle as they missed more and more open shots and the lead grew even more. The Lakers’ parade to the foul line was one of the only things that kept them in the game in the first half, but only barely as the lead stayed safely above double digits.

LeBron came alive with consecutive 3-pointers to bring the lead to nine points just under the midway point of the period. But consecutive corner 3-pointers from Herb Jones in response took the lead right back to 15 points.

New Orleans also controlled the glass as well as Jonas Valanciunas offensive rebound led to an and-one before another Jones corner 3-pointer had the lead at it’s largest at 66-47. LeBron and AD did their best once more to get the Lakers back into the game going into the half, but the Pelicans still led 74-57 at the break.

With Rui Hachimura out due to injury, Reaves was inserted into the starting lineup in his place. The Lakers started strong and got the lead down to 11 points but AD picked up his fourth foul near the midway point in a far more notable moment.

Behind Zion Williamson, who drew AD’s fourth foul, the lead was once again up to 17 points. LeBron continued to attempt to will the Lakers into the game but with few others helping him, there wasn’t a sustainable dent into the lead made. And when LeBron went to the rest alongside AD in foul trouble, the lead predictably grew once again.

With LeBron and AD on the floor to start the fourth quarter, the Lakers had another run in them as they cut the lead down to 110-99 on a jump hook from Davis. But Jose Alvarado, who had his fingerprints all over the game, sparked a run that pushed the lead back to 16 points and forced a Lakers timeout.

From there, the Lakers were up against the clock as much as they were the opponent. Even then, they weren’t doing much to cut into the lead even despite getting Zion in foul trouble himself in the fourth quarter. A McCollum 3-pointer with three minutes remaining pushed the lead back to 15.

The lead never got closer than that again as the hosts closed out the win comfortably.

Key Takeaways

This Lakers team looked entirely disinterested in playing this game. A lack of effort — look at the second-chance points — and a lack of execution mad that apparent. It was never more apparent, though, in how much they allowed Alvarado to do the things he’s known for doing.

There’s probably going to be a lot of discussion about Darvin Ham tonight. There are things he’s done that I don’t agree with. There are things he’s done that don’t get enough credit. He’s an average coach in that regard.

But you’re really letting a lot of Lakers off the hook by focusing so much on Ham, especially on a night when the Lakers made a lot of preventable mistakes on the court. Really, I just think it’s discourse that takes far too much of the attention and the players deserve some criticism, too.

January should be significantly easier for the Lakers. I sure hope it leads to much better basketball.

No player grades tonight with it being a holiday. Stay safe and here’s to success in 2024.

The Lakers will be off until Wednesday when they host Miami at 7 p.m. PST on ESPN.

You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.

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