The Lakers come into tonight’s matchup looking for something that has not happened since November for them: a three-game winning streak. The Lakers gutted out a victory last night in Portland on a lob play from Kent Bazemore to Wesley Johnson. Needless to say, not many expected the Lakers to go into the Rose Garden and pull out a victory. Their opponent tonight, the New Orleans Pelicans, are currently on an eight-game losing streak and recently lost starting point guard Jrue Holiday for the year with an injury.
Frontcourt: Anthony Davis is not only the building block of the Pelicans franchise, but also one of the future superstars of the entire NBA. NBA on TNT analyst Steve Kerr recently stated on the ESPN Radio’s “The Herd” that Davis would be the third best player in the NBA by next season. At the age of 20, Davis made his first all-star team this season. He averages 20.2 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game. Davis is able to hit from midrange and is highly efficient finishing around the rim, and defensively there are very few that protect the rim like he does . In an earlier season matchup with the Lakers, Pau Gasol had his shot blocked by the long-armed Davis on numerous occasions. If Pau struggles in a similar manner tonight, it will be difficult for the Lakers to pull out a victory on the road on the second night of a back-to-back.
Tyreke Evans, the former NBA Rookie of the Year, is slated as the starter at small forward. Evans has seen his stats decline in each of his five NBA seasons since he averaged 20-5-5 as a rookie. Evans is a ball-dominant player who struggles from the outside, and he has had a hard time finding a role that fits him in his first year in New Orleans. Evans remains a talented ball-handler who can get his shot in a one-on-one situation, and he is difficult to guard when he goes to the basket hard. The Lakers should go under all on-ball screens and force Evans to beat them outside the paint. Alexis Ajinca starts at center for the Pelicans.
Backcourt: Eric Gordon, who many believed was on the verge of becoming an all-star type shooting guard during his early years with the Clippers, is another player who has not developed as expected while with the Pelicans. Gordon averaged 22.3 points per game in his third season with the Clippers, but only averages 15.6 on 43% shooting this season. Gordon has battled numerous injuries throughout his career, and does not demonstrate the same explosiveness that made him a lottery pick. Gordon remains a solid outside shooter (39% from three) that the Lakers must account for at all times.
With Jrue Holiday hurt, Brian Roberts has taken on the starting role. Roberts is a solid NBA backup who has filled in admirably with Holiday out. Roberts is a solid ball-handler who is a good distributor. He also hits the three well, as he is shooting 39% on the year on just over two attempts per game. Roberts is not overly athletic, but the Lakers cannot fall asleep on him due to his high basketball IQ and ability to hit open shots.
Keys to Lakers Victory:
Fast Start: Both the Lakers and the Pelicans played last night, with New Orleans having played in Sacramento and the Lakers in Portland. While the Lakers will have the comfort of being on their home floor, both of these teams surely got in to Los Angeles late last night. The Pelicans are also on an eight-game losing streak. If the Lakers come out with a sense of purpose and get out to an early lead, the Pelicans could lose confidence.
Bench Play: New Orleans is another team that, similar to the Lakers, has suffered a long list of injuries. Right now, Holiday is out, second leading scorer Ryan Anderson has only played in 22 total games, and key reserve center Jason Smith is also out for the year. They are a team that is lacking in depth. The Lakers’ bench, on the other hand, has been picking up their play of late. The bench play of the Lakers should be an advantage tonight.
Pau Gasol: Pau has quietly put together a great last two months of basketball, showing that he has a lot left in the tank. Anthony Davis thoroughly dominated Gasol in their first match-up, but Pau has gotten healthier since then and has demonstrated the efficiency and touch around the rim that has made him so great over the years. Tonight is a true test for Gasol to see just how close he has gotten to returning to his peak form.
Los Angeles Lakers (21-39) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (23-37)
7:30 PM PST, March 4, 2014
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet, NBA TV
Radio: ESPN Radio 710 ESPNLA
Pelicans Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Brian Roberts
SG: Eric Gordon
SF: Tyreke Evans
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Alexis Ajinca
Key Reserves: SF Al-Farouq Aminu, SG Anthony Morrow, G Austin Rivers
Lakers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Kendall Marshall
SG: Jodie Meeks
SF: Kent Bazemore
PF: Wesley Johnson
C: Pau Gasol
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