To the dismay of many fans, the Los Angeles Lakers have bookended their 2017 season with an impressive four-game winning streak. Head coach Luke Walton and the roster have showed great poise and are learning from their mistakes, which is all you can ask from a young, rebuilding franchise.
Tuesday marks the final home game for the 2016-17 season, a showdown at Staples Center against the New Orleans Pelicans. The 25-55 Lakers and 33-47 Pelicans squared off three times prior to Tuesday, with New Orleans holding a 2-1 season lead.
Although both teams now find themselves in the lottery sweepstakes, there is still a lot to play for. The Pelicans are still tinkering their offense towards DeMarcus Cousins, gelling him alongside star Anthony Davis. On the other hand, the Lakers are building towards a crucial offseason, in desire of keeping their top-three protected pick.
The frontcourt is the bread and butter for the Pelicans, but Tuesday’s contest will be much different. The Pelicans have already ruled out both Davis and Cousins for Tuesday’s contest. The injuries seem to be more precautionary, with the Pelicans well out of the playoff race.
Davis is listed out with a left knee injury, while Cousins is out with a right achilles injury. This season, Davis is averaging 28.0 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.8 blocks per game. Davis affects the game on both ends of the court, with an aggressiveness style that will be hard to match.
With fellow Kentucky alumnus Cousins now alongside Davis, the two All-Stars work towards gelling for next season. Cousins has appeared in 17 games with the Pelicans, averaging 24.4 points, 12.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.5 steals this season.
Center Alexis Ajinca, with his 7’2″ presence, has played well of late. Ajinca posted a career-high 17 points against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday, while also providing his regular defensive presence at the rim. Rookie Cheick Diallo, hailing from Mali, has seen recent action on the court in light of the injuries and serves as a third power forward. Small forward Solomon Hill is a steady contributor for this team. He has averaged a career-high 29.7 minutes this season, contributing 6.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists.
Midseason acquisition Donatas Motiejunas has also been a pleasant surprise for this forward heavy roster. After spending time with the Houston Rockets, he has found a new home in New Orleans. Eight-year veteran Dante Cunningham rounds out the big men for the roster, contributing an average of 6.5 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.
Walton has experimented with his frontcourt of late, electing to go small by starting Julius Randle Larry Nance Jr. Randle has been the primary scoring option in the post, with his strength and crafty finishes in the paint. In 72 games this season, the Texas native is averaging 13.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game.
Larry Nance Jr., one of the more mature young pieces, has hit many roles Walton had in place. Nance Jr. and his team mentality has provided a strong decision-maker on the court, while also feeding towards the defensive intensity. The 24-year-old had an all-around performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves, posting 10 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks and six assists.
Backup big man Tarik Black has been the defensive enforcer for the bench unit, attacking any matchup presented to him. Most would figure that Black will have a prominent role on Tuesday, guarding two All-Stars and trying to limit their production. However, with both Cousins and Davis out, Black’s main focus will be stopping the lengthy Ajinca.
Fifth-year veteran Thomas Robinson is an energy plug for the bench unit for Walton. The physical big man has been a monster on the offensive glass, never giving up on a play. Forward Metta World Peace is also expected to see some action, in possibly his last career home game. World Peace has turned into a favorite as both fans and teammates alike go crazy anytime he does something on the floor. Walton has hinted at potentially giving World Peace a ‘curtain call’ of sorts.
Rookie Brandon Ingram rounds out the frontcourt of the Lakers, showing major improvement throughout the season. Just like his time at Duke, Ingram has gotten acclimated and produced on a larger scale as the season has progressed. He put together a strong month of March, averaging 13.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists.
Ingram has seen a recent decline in minutes per game, as more of a precautionary manner. Walton has been resistant to give Ingram much work in practice, while also monitoring his minutes and benching him in the second half of certain games.
The Pelicans backcourt has been rather underwhelming this season, but can explode for points in spurts. With most of the defensive attention towards Cousins and Davis, the wings have been free to roam around and create. Jrue Holiday has been the primary beneficiary, averaging 15.5 points, 7.3 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game.
After missing a chunk of the beginning of the season, Holiday has turned into the primary pick-and-roll option alongside his two All-Stars. Shooting guard E’Twaun Moore has turned into a reliable scoring option. Although he remains questionable for Tuesday’s contest with an ankle injury, he had been averaging 9.7 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game.
Shooting guard Jordan Crawford has provided a scoring punch for the Pelicans off the bench, scoring 21 and 20 points in the last two games respectively. The fourth-year player has made a case towards starting next season, as a part of this new-look roster. Point guard Quinn Cook, who spent time in the D-League this season, received a well-deserved contract to finish the season. The Duke product is shooting 41 percent from three-point range this season.
Guard Tim Frazier played a significant role early this season, but has seen his minutes dwindle since the return of Holiday and solid play of Moore. The 26-year-old went from averaging 13.7 points, 9.3 assists and 5.0 rebounds in October to 4.3 points and 2.4 rebounds in the month of April.
After hitting the historic buzzer-beater in honor of his grandmother, point guard D’Angelo Russell is expected to miss the final home game of the season. Once the game concluded, Russell departed with his family back to his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.
Fellow guard Jordan Clarkson has taken over the point guard duties of late, as part of the process of possibly moving Russell to the two-guard. Clarkson has been responsible for initiating the offense in his newfound role, while also maintaining his scoring role. With Russell expected to not play, expect Clarkson and Tyler Ennis to have more of a scoring role.
Ever since being acquired at the NBA Trade Deadline, Ennis has shown that he can be a playmaker. The 22-year-old has turned into a facilitator for the bench unit, averaging 12.0 points and 3.4 assists in the month of April. Ennis as already stated that he would like to remain with the Lakers past this season, and is definitely making a case for that.
Guard David Nwaba has also made a strong case to remain with the team, excelling since his initial call-up from the Los Angeles D-Fenders. Nwaba provides a constant defensive aggressiveness while on the court, something Walton has taken notice of.
Three Keys To Victory:
Control The Boards:
Without Davis and Cousins out, the Lakers need to control the glass and limit the second chance opportunities for the Pelicans. Nance Jr. and Randle need to find bodies to box out, while the guards need to crash the boards. This will not only allow them to play at their pace, but also push the ball on the fast break if need be.
Continue Communicating And Help Side Efforts:
Holiday is a very capable scoring option, especially out of the pick-and-roll, meaning the Lakers need to compact the paint on these opportunities and help out the big men when rotating over. Without Davis and Cousins, the Lakers have an opportunity to win this game with a solid defensive outing at home.
Continue Aggressive Approach On Shots:
Walton’s offensive sets have led to many shot opportunities during this four-game winning streak. However, the Lakers need to capitalize on their open looks. With great ball rotation comes open shots on the court, and the young Lakers need to shoot even when their confidence is down.
New Orleans Pelicans (33-47) Vs. Los Angeles Lakers (25-55)
7:30 P.M. PST, April 11, 2017
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN) / 1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Pelicans Starting Lineup:
PG: Tim Frazier
SG: Jrue Holiday
SF: Solomon Hill
PF: Dante Cunningham
C: Alexis Ajinca
Key Reserves: Jordan Crawford, Donatas Motiejunas, Quinn Cook, Cheick Diallo
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Tyler Ennis
SG: Jordan Clarkson
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: Julius Randle
C: Larry Nance Jr.
Key Reserves: David Nwaba, Corey Brewer, Tarik Black, Thomas Robinson