Pelicans’ Ability To Control Play Inside Could Determine Outcome of Play-In Matchup With Lakers

NEW ORLEANS – Sunday afternoon, the Los Angeles Lakers sniped the New Orleans Pelicans out of the air. With a win versus the hated Lakers, the Pelicans could have clinched the sixth seed and a 50-win regular season. Now, they’ll have to fight their way out of a play-in tournament rematch with the same Lakers on Tuesday after losing by 16 a few days prior.

What on Earth went wrong?

LA started by throttling the Pelicans at the basket, outscoring New Orleans in the paint 68-42, including 50 to 12 in the first half. The Lakers exploited Jonas Valanciunas’s lack of mobility in drop coverage early and bullied the Pelicans’ small-ball lineups later in the second quarter. LA generated rim pressure in every concievable manner — running in transition, spread pick and roll, cuts to the basket, you name it.

The small-ball lineups with wings at the five didn’t bring the requisite offense and the Lakers punished them with size. New Orleans’ low man, whether Zion Williamson, Dyson Daniels or even Herb Jones, constantly wandered out of place. The Pels tried zone. They tried Zeller. They tried Nance at the five—none of the options shut down the Lakers’ paint attack.

According to Synergy, the Lakers notched 10 possessions where the roller in pick-and-roll attempted a shot at a blistering 1.8 points per possession. New Orleans had no answer when the Lakers spread the floor, especially with Anthony Davis as the screener. Moving the big defender up to the level didn’t work either as the low defenders, often CJ McCollum, were late to tag. 

Outside of McCollum, New Orleans struggled to generate consistent offense. Williamson tossed eight assists but scored just 12 points on 13 shots. The Pelicans didn’t involve Zion as a scorer outside of isolations, where he settled for jumpers (0-4 from mid-range) and struggled to evade Davis at the rim.

Brandon Ingram scored 13 on nine shots in his first appearance since March 21st. The Pelicans need Ingram’s regular conditioning and aggression to succeed in the playoffs and he didn’t look right on Sunday.

Pelicans vs Lakers110.3124.1-
Season Avg.116.5111.

As well as McCollum has played as of late, the Pelicans must rely on Williamson, especially as a scorer in their play-in matchup against the Lakers. He’s too dominant an interior force to move away from even if he is their best playmaker. As always, finding him shots within the flow of the offense will lead to better results.

Hopefully, the Pelicans took a long, hard look in the mirror after Sunday’s blowout and found the formula to beat the Lakers when it matters most. If New Orleans can clean up the defensive rotations, up the intensity on both ends and better involve Zion on offense, they can solidify their slot in the playoffs. 

Analysis by Ben Pfeifer

Most Recent Starting Lineups

Los Angeles LakersNew Orleans Pelicans
G – D’Angelo RussellG – CJ McCollum
G – Austin ReavesG – Herb Jones
F – LeBron JamesF – Brandon Ingram
F – Rui HachimuraF – Zion Williamson
C – Anthony DavisC – Jonas Valanciunas


Los Angeles Lakers: Anthony Davis (back spasms) is QUESTIONABLE. LeBron James (ankle) is PROBABLE. Jarred Vanderbilt (foot) and Christian Wood (knee) are OUT.

New Orleans Pelicans: N/A

Who: Los Angeles Lakers (47-35) at New Orleans Pelicans (49-33)

Season Series

  • Dec. 7: Lakers def. Pelicans, 133-89 (Las Vegas, In-Season Tournament semis)
  • Dec. 31: Pelicans def. Lakers, 129-109
  • Feb. 9: Lakers def. Pelicans, 139-122
  • Apr. 14: Lakers def. Pelicans, 124-108
  • Apr. 16: (8) Los Angeles Lakers at (7) New Orleans Pelicans (Play-in Tournament)

Where: Smoothie King Center

When: Apr. 16, 6:30 PM CDT

Where to watch: TNT/TruTV

Where to listen: WRNO 99.5

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