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Lakers vs. Pelicans Preview: Time is running out for the purple and gold

With exactly 24 games left for the Lakers this season, time is running out for them to get out of the 13th seed and climb back into the play-in and playoff picture.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

After defeating the Golden State Warriors last Friday in a feel-good win to tip off the post-Russell Westbrook Lakers era, the purple and gold dropped their following game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday.

It was an unfortunate night, to say the least, as the Lakers ran into a red-hot Damian Lillard and an opponent that just had the best shooting performance by any team in the league the season. The Blazers outperformed their usual shot quality by 40%, converting 23 out of 47 (48.9) of their 3-point attempts, which left Los Angeles looking hopeless and demoralized — potentially a metaphor for their increasingly slim chances at a playoff spot this season.

To make things worse for the Lakers, the Minnesota Timberwolves, Warriors and Jazz all won their corresponding games for the night, lowering the Lakers’ odds of nabbing the sixth seed in the Western Conference.

At this point, the Lakers are slowly losing control of their own fate, especially if the teams they’re chasing in the standings keep winning their games while the purple and gold continuously drop them. Each game from now on is as or even more important than the last, including Wednesday’s showdown against the New Orleans Pelicans. There’s a lot at stake for the Lakers in this one as they head into the All-Star break.

Here’s what we should look out for:

LeBron making his return?

After missing three games since becoming the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, James is expected to be in uniform on Wednesday. He’s been ruled out due to a left ankle injury, which Yahoo Sports insider Chris Haynes reported is an injury he’ll most likely have to play through for the rest of the season. That is obviously unpleasant to hear, but at this point, James and the Lakers have no choice but to deal with it, as time isn’t on their hands.

Wednesday’s game could also be the first time James sees action alongside the new additions to the roster, so that’s definitely something worth watching out for. Speaking of new additions, Mo Bamba is also expected to suit up after serving his suspension, so unless any unexpected setbacks occur, this will be the first time we see this new-look Lakers team as a whole.

How is Anthony Davis going to respond?

It’s been eight games since AD returned from injury ,and it’s fair to say that he hasn’t really looked like the same dominant player he was prior to getting hurt. Since his return, Davis has been averaging 21.9 points and 13.2 rebounds a game but looks a step slow and has been less efficient on the offensive end. His inability to take advantage of the Blazers’ depleted frontcourt on Monday was disappointing. If the Lakers want to make a run — as Davis has alluded to multiple times in his post-game interviews — then he has to be better than his performance as of late.

Obviously, it’s not just James and Davis that have to step up but all eyes will be on them because this team goes as far as where their superstars take them. The Lakers have to at least go 16-8 in their next few games just to make the play-in a possibility. They also have the ninth-easiest remaining schedule in the league. It’s uncertain whether or not the Lakers will play past the regular season again this year, but one thing’s for sure, time isn’t on their side right now.

They need to start stringing more wins together in a way they haven’t this season, and that process needs to begin against the Zion Williamson-less Pelicans on Wednesday.

Notes and Updates

  • The Lakers are going to face a Pelicans team that has somewhat picked it up as of late after winning four out of their last five games. Our old friend Brandon Ingram has been tearing it up recently, as he’s coming off a 34-point performance in a win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday. Despite not having Williamson in their lineup for the past two months and likely for the next month or so, this team is set on making a Playoff push just like the Lakers. Expect a competitive game and one that will boil down to which team’s superstars will come up big on Wednesday.
  • For Wednesday’s injury report, the Lakers are listing Anthony Davis (right foot stress injury) as probable and LeBron James (left ankle soreness) as questionable.
  • Meanwhile, Max Christie (G-League), Scotty Pippen Jr. (G-League) and Cole Swider (G-League) are on South Bay Lakers duty.
  • As for the Pels, Williamson (hamstring) won’t be active while CJ McCollum (ankle) is listed as questionable.
  • Meanwhile, around the league, this year’s All-Star Weekend’s three-point shootout contest is shaping up to be one of the most exciting events in store for the weekend. The contest will be headlined by some of the best superstars in the league as The Athletic’s Shams Charania reports that Jayson Tatum, Tyrese Haliburton, Damian Lillard, Buddy Hield, Tyler Herro, Kevin Huerter, Anfernee Simmons and Lauri Markkanen will be participating in the event.

The Lakers and Pelicans will tip off at 7 p.m. PT on Wednesday. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN, and locally on Spectrum SportsNet.

You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani.

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