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Lakers vs. Pelicans Preview: Battle for positioning

If Los Angeles plans to bounce back from their frustrating loss to the New York Knicks on Sunday, they need to work on a few things.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Lakers head to New Orleans, where they commence a quick road trip and back-to-back games versus the Pelicans and the Houston Rockets. The purple and gold have won seven out of their last 10 crucial games, and while that has certainly helped their quest in extending their season past April, no game holds more weight than Tuesday’s against the Pelicans.

Because right now, both the Lakers and Pelicans are currently tied (33-35) in the crowded Western Conference standings and are only separated by a tie-breaker thanks to a Matt Ryan 3-pointer that propelled the Lakers to victory last November. The Lakers have the tie-breaker advantage for now and it’s vital that they retain that with a win against the Pels, whose schedule only gets easier in the proceeding days.

That said, if Los Angeles plans to bounce back from their frustrating loss to the New York Knicks on Sunday, they need to work on a few things. It seemed as if the Lakers were the team playing on the back end of a back-to-back on Sunday as they were out-rebounded, outshot and outhustled by the Knicks who lost to the L.A. Clippers the night before.

This can’t happen against the Pelicans, who did both themselves and the Lakers a favor last Sunday by beating the Portland Trail Blazers to keep them further below them in the standings. To retain sole possession of the 11th seed and better yet, increase their odds of climbing back on top of the standings once again, here’s what the Lakers have to do:

Address the rebounding issues

The Lakers have been out-rebounded by their opponents for two straight games in a row now. Last Sunday, the Knicks outworked L.A. on the glass (46-37), scoring 14 of their points from second-chance opportunities. The reason for this is partly because when Anthony Davis plays the 5 and the Lakers go small, they automatically have a height deficiency against their opponents. AD was the only Laker who grabbed more than five total rebounds in Sunday’s loss to the Knicks.

That’s why moving forward, it would be nice to see the Lakers put more effort into boxing out and grabbing those boards. That’s also one way they can control the pace and score in transition, where they rank fourth best in the league. One way the Lakers can control the Pelicans, who are an above-average offensive rebounding team, on Tuesday is to win the rebounding battle.

Win at what they can control

The Lakers lost to the Knicks by four points and it’s even more frustrating to think that the result could’ve been different if only the former didn’t miss seven free throws, turn the ball over 11 times, and brick 24 of their 3-point attempts. It also didn’t help that Troy Brown Jr. (who played the third most minutes for the Lakers on Sunday) and Malik Beasley couldn’t hit a shot to save their lives as they both combined for 2-15 from the arch.

Meanwhile, D’Angelo Russell, who had a team-high 33 points and shot a remarkable 54.5% from the 3-point line, shared most of his minutes off the court with Davis, which was a head-scratcher. Given LeBron James’ absence and the Lakers’ current lack of front-court depth, it would’ve been nice to see Russell and Davis’ minutes staggered a little more. The Lakers need an offensive threat at all times on the floor and the best way to do that with this current version of the roster is to insert at least one of Davis and Russell on the court throughout the game.

From Darvin Ham’s decisions with his rotations to the team’s lackscandal effort and energy at times, the Lakers need to do a better job with the things they can control.

There is no excuse for AD to score just 17 points

Speaking of AD, he also simply needs to be better than he was in the past two games. He admitted it himself after Sunday’s loss and even took responsibility for it. Davis’ lack of aggression caused him only to score 17 points as he shot just 8-18 from the field and only made 1-5 of his free throws. It was a disappointing night for him but he pledges that he’ll be better against his former team, the Pelicans, on Tuesday. The good news is, Davis has done exactly that in the past:

It’s going to be interesting to see how AD and the rest of the team bounce back from a game that they probably think they gave away. We’ll know whether or not the Lakers will be closer to their goal of attaining a play-in or playoffs spot on Tuesday against the Pelicans, as they battle for positioning in the standings.

Notes and Updates

  • The Lakers are stumbling upon a Pelicans team who have fallen all the way down the standings since Zion Williamson’s hamstring injury. The Pels have lost 10 out of their last 13 games but perform better on their home floor. The last time these two teams faced each other in New Orleans was exactly a month ago, when the purple and gold lost (131-126) to the Zion-less Pelicans.
  • The Lakers are listing Anthony Davis (right foot stress injury) as probable for Tuesday while Mo Bamba (left ankle sprain) and LeBron James (right foot soreness) are out. Scotty Pippen Jr. (G-League) and Cole Swider (G-League) will be with the South Bay Lakers.
  • As for the Pelicans, Brandon Ingram (right ankle sprain) is listed as questionable while Zion Williamson (hamstring) Jose Alvaro (right tibial stress reaction), EJ Liddell (ACL injury) and Dereon Seabron (G-League) won’t be able to suit up.
  • For news around the league, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported this morning that there’s a huge possibility that NBA and NBPA (National Basketball Players Association) will come into an agreement implementing a rule that in order for a player to qualify for an individual award moving forward, he must play a specific number of games. You can read all about that here.

The Lakers and Pelicans will tip off at 5 p.m. PT. The game will be only televised locally on Spectrum SportsNet.

You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani.

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