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Lakers vs. Pelicans Preview: Off to Las Vegas

Now that they’re at the healthiest they’ve been all season, the Lakers are building on their identity while winning games and have a chance to win a big one against the Pelicans in the In-Season Tournament semis on Thursday.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

The Lakers are headed to the entertainment capital of the world, Las Vegas, where they will carry on with the In-Season Tournament (IST). They aim to stay undefeated and advance to the final stage of the tournament by beating the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday.

Start time and TV schedule

Who: Los Angeles Lakers vs. New Orleans Pelicans

When: 6 p.m. PT, Dec. 7

Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas

Watch: TNT/truTV

On a night when the Lakers had the chance to book their ticket to Las Vegas for the IST semi-finals, win $100,000 per player, climb up to the No. 4 seed of the competitive Western Conference standings and seal the tie-breaker against a division opponent, the purple and gold successfully capitalized on all the opportunities presented to them.

Tuesday’s remarkable victory against the Phoenix Suns was an encouraging sign that there is, indeed, a great team in here. Because great teams find ways to win games even if they’re shooting 30% (9-30) from the three-point line or find themselves in the middle of offensive droughts throughout the game. The Lakers, who are at the healthiest they’ve been all season, are starting to figure out what makes them a great team.

Just ask Anthony Davis, who talked about why Tuesday’s triumph was a blueprint of how the Lakers can be successful this season now that the ingredients are coming together.

“Yeah, you know, we’re starting to actually see what we can be on both ends of the floor and we’re still missing Gabe [Vincent]. So, it’s good getting Rui [Hachimura] back, Cam [Reddish] back, [Jarred] Vando back because now we can really dive into our playbook on both ends of the floor and see where we could be,” Davis said postgame after defeating the Suns.

“With Vando and Rui not being available, we were still winning games but we just never knew the identity of our team. But now we’re starting to see okay, starting to mess with different lineups, end of games starting to do little things as far as scheme on the defensive end, just seeing what works and that’s the good thing about it, we have good problems not bad problems so it’s only going to get better when Gabe comes back in and we’re able to go deep into our depth and still do what we do.”

The Lakers held the Suns’ offense — which ranked eighth best in the league entering the game — to just 103 points last Tuesday. Los Angeles forced 20 turnovers which was five more than what the Suns were averaging (15.0). The best part was that despite struggling from the 3-point line, the Lakers scored 54 points in the paint, proving that they can win games even if they’re a bottom-tier 3-point shooting team.

And oh, L.A. made sure that their biggest weakness so far this season, offensive rebounding, wasn’t going to haunt them in this one.

As Davis reiterated, now that the team is relatively healthy, it slots everyone in the best position to succeed. That’s the reason why the Lakers’ defense has looked glaringly better over the last two games and why the team’s overall depth, height and hustle have just been more evident as they’ve gotten healthy. Now, the challenge for the purple and gold is to keep building on their identity while stacking up wins.

That continues against the Pels in Vegas

Like the Lakers, the Pelicans suffered multiple injuries to their role players to begin the season but are gradually getting healthy. They currently sit at the eighth seed of the Western Conference and may statistically be considered a mediocre team, though they’ve won six out of their last 10 games.

On top of that, their superstar Zion Williamson has been playing well as of late, averaging 21.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.8 assists since a reported hour-long team meeting. Then there’s former Laker Brandon Ingram too, who led the Pelicans with 30 points in their IST quarterfinals victory against the Sacramento Kings on Monday.

The Pelicans’ height and defense were two huge reasons why they took care of business and came back from a 15-point deficit against the Kings. They outscored Sacramento in the paint by 52-38, out-rebounded them 42-38 and exposed their perimeter defense by shooting 45.2% from the 3-point line.

The Lakers are going to be facing a Pelicans team with quality options in every position in their roster and it’s going to be up to the former to outperform them with their own style of play. This game will be a good test for the Lakers’ defense, versatility and depth as they take on a team that will surely be extra motivated to beat them.

We’ll see how the Lakers perform and whether or not they can maintain their excellent IST record and advance to the final stage of the NBA cup on Thursday.

Notes and Updates:

  • For the Lakers injury report, Gabe Vincent (left knee effusion) is listed as out. Anthony Davis (left adductor/hip spasm) and Jarred Vanderbilt (left heel bursitis) are probable.
  • LeBron James (left calf contusion) is questionable as has been the case over the past two weeks.
  • For the Pelicans, Matt Ryan (elbow) and Larry Nance Jr. (rib) are the only ones listed as out.
  • If the Lakers beat the Pelicans, they will take on the winner between the Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers — who are scheduled to play before them on Thursday — in the Finals. If L.A. loses, they will head back to Los Angeles and return to regular programming next Tuesday.

You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani

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