The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 118-109 in a highly anticipated matchup between an all-time great player, still dominating the league in his 17th season, and a […]
The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 118-109 in a highly anticipated matchup between an all-time great player, still dominating the league in his 17th season, and a promising rookie that might just be the next face of the NBA.
The matchup served as a highly anticipated first meeting between LeBron James and Zion Williamson. Williamson is truly the closest thing we’ve seen in a number one overall NBA draft pick to LeBron James since, well, LeBron James. Though the playing styles and characteristics of the players’s during their rookie seasons aren’t 1:1, the comparisons are still inevitable and have already begun.
Coming into the game, Williamson was averaging 22.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game on 58.6% shooting from the field. Though the sample size of 12 games is small, the numbers are borderline All-Star level for a rookie still finding his footing in the league.
The Pelicans entered the game as the 10th seed in the Western Conference, looking to make up ground on the Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trailblazers, and perhaps earn the chance to play a series against the Lakers in the postseason.
On Tuesday night in Los Angeles, James and the Lakers would jump out to a big lead in the first quarter. The Lakers led 17-4 after a James three-pointer less than five minutes into the game. The Pelicans offense missed eight consecutive shots, digging themselves in an early hole. Brandon Ingram would aggressively take a rebound from coast-to-coast to draw a foul under the rim and earn two free throws, momentarily ending the Lakers scoring run.
New Orleans would actually go on 22-13 run of their own to close the quarter, preventing the game from getting out of hand too quickly. Ingram led the charge with 12 points on 5-8 FG, and power forward Nicolo Melli had five points off the bench. The Lakers led 30-26 after the opening period.
Newly acquired Markief Morris would make his Lakers debut in the first quarter, scoring a bucket and hitting a couple free throws while also grabbing a rebound in three minutes on the court.
The Lakers would re-open a larger lead with a 20-7 run that put the Lakers up 58-46 with about four minutes to play in the quarter. An emphatic dunk by Zion, and then some solid defense on the other end against Anthony Davis would help swing the game back four points in the Pelicans favor.
Davis, who of course played for the Pelicans before being traded to Los Angeles last summer, led the Lakers to this point with 12 shot attempts and 12 points, but just four made field goals.
In an instant highlight, Lonzo Ball hooked up with Williamson for an alley-oop dunk.
The Lakers would hold a 64-58 lead at halftime in Los Angeles. James added 10 points in the second quarter, bringing his game totals to 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists. Davis had 14 points and 7 rebounds as part of the Lakers two-headed scoring attack.
After just four points in the first quarter, Williamson scored 13 in the second, and raised his total to 17 points by halftime by virtue of 6-of-10 shooting and 5-of-8 free throw shooting. Ingram led all scorers with 18 points on an efficient 7-of-12 shooting.
New Orleans actually outshot Los Angeles (54.8% to 45.5%) in the first half, but the Lakers had the edge in three-point shooting, rebounding, and turnovers forced.
Ball nailed a three to start the second half and get the Pelicans within just a score of the Lakers with plenty of game left to play. But eleven straight points by James would continue the trend of the game: the Pelicans just couldn’t go possession for possession with Los Angeles. The Lakers offense was capable of going on a dominant run at any moment.
The 11-0 Lakers run included three three-pointers by James, one drilled in the face of Williamson after some savvy footwork.
Los Angeles would extend their lead to 14 points before the Pelicans went on a 17-4 run of their own. New Orleans would take an 81-80 lead for their first lead since the first quarter, and the two teams would trade that lead multiple times in the coming minutes. Much of the action came with Williamson on the bench, as Ingram led the scoring spark.
James would pour in 16 points in the quarter, including four three-pointers, to bring his total to 31 points for the game. The Lakers took a narrow 88-86 lead into the fourth quarter after allowing the Pelicans to stay in the game. Ingram (28 points) and Williamson (20 points) accounted for more than half of the Pelicans offense through three quarters.
The fourth quarter would see the scoring work through LeBron and Zion for a bit, as the margin remained tight. The duel would then briefly shift to Alex Caruso vs. Lonzo Ball. Caruso blocked Ball in emphatic fashion on the defensive end of the floor, but Ball would come back to drain a three-pointer in the very next possession. Not to be outdone, Caruso delivered an acrobatic finish in the paint over Ball. Carsuo and Ball would each tally another couple buckets, each impacting their team with obvious extra effort.
Once again, the Lakers flipped the switch to go on a scoring run, as James eclipsed 40 points for a new season-high (previous: 39 points against the Dallas Mavericks.)
The Lakers would close out the game to win 118-109, but the Pelicans proved their resiliency making the score close on multiple occasions. The two teams meet again on Sunday night in New Orleans, so perhaps the Pelicans could build on what worked for stretches in this game.
James finished with 40 points (again, a season-high) on 17-of-27 shooting and 5-of-11 three-point shooting, earning just a single point at the free throw line on two attempts. He poured in eight rebounds and six assists, but also committed a team-high seven turnovers.
Davis (21 points, 6-21 FG,) Danny Green (17 points, 5-9 3PT,) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (15 points, 6-11 FG) supported the Lakers offense.
After just four points in the first, Williamson was aggressive with 25 points over the final three quarters. The rookie tallied 29 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists in his first meeting with James and the Lakers. James and Williamson didn’t play one-on-one defense on each other as much as you’d hope, but it still felt like a duel between the league’s newest phenom and most established superstar.
Ingram, a former Laker, led the Pelicans with 34 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists. Like James, he also had trouble taking care of the ball with seven turnovers. Lonzo Ball, another piece of the historic Lakers-Pelicans trade, had 10 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists in a balanced effort against his former team.
Markief Morris made his Lakers debut, seeing 15 minutes on the court. He hit one of his three shots, missing two three-point attempts. He’ll have to ease in to the Lakers offense, but his presence in the paint alongside someone like Davis, Javale McGee, or Dwight Howard looks like it could make Los Angeles a dominant defensive team in the paint.
The Lakers improve to 44-12, retaining the best record in the Western Conference. The Pelicans fall to 25-33 and 7-6 when Williamson plays. New Orleans is in a virtual tie for 10th in the West, with the San Antonio Spurs, trailing the Trailblazers by 0.5 games for 9th place and the Memphis Grizzlies by 3.5 games for the final playoff spot.
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