NBA League Pass Betting: L.A. Lakers at New Orleans Pelicans

L.A. Lakers at New Orleans
Time: 7 PM CT (NBA LP)
Spread: NOP -5
Total: 231.5

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The Pelicans most recently defeated the Detroit Pistons and Brooklyn Nets. New Orleans has won two of its past three, and though many expected more than 30-26 from New Orleans, all things considered, this team is about where it belongs. Then, there is the added bad news that franchise center DeMarcus Cousins is lost for the season. That leaves New Orleans trading water.

New Orleans, really, is an assortment of talent that hardly seems to click like things do for D’Antoni’s Rockets. Despite having two of the league’s premier big men in Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, the Pelicans have plodded around .500 simply because the team lacks complementary parts at nearly all other positions.?Combo guard Jrue Holiday has been too quiet to comprise a realistic “Big Three” as New Orleans hoped he would, and though his play has been solid, it has been nevertheless very unspectacular.

Cousins and Davis had really thrived, but the Pelicans lack scoring on the perimeter and really have no starting-caliber small forward at all. Instead, the team has used E’Twaun Moore and Holiday often on the wing, but neither brings the defensive presence required to stop the big bodies that the team encounters so frequently.?That leaves Davis on his lonesome now, and the result often is that he ends up in foul trouble. When teams can find a way to even remove one of those two stars (by attacking the rim), it renders New Orleans in a world of trouble simply because the team really is a two-man squad.

One hates to break the argument down to matters so simple, but the Cousins experiment will likely end a relative failure, if only because expectations were simply too high to begin with.

In some senses, it is an exciting treat to see two gifted big men like the Kentucky bigs playing together, but that does not mean the formula is necessarily that of what it takes to build a contending team. Even if New Orleans could re-sign Cousins, adding the right pieces around him and Davis, and Holiday, is a monumental challenge to Dell Demps, and one that the GM has yet to come close to solving. Then, there is the remaining question of what Cousins will be when he returns next season, if it is in New Orleans or otherwise.

LAL Notes:

The Lakers made some waves at the trade deadline in dealing Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson for Cleveland Cavaliers guard Isaiah Thomas. Thomas will serve as a big scorer and spark off the bench behind rookie Lonzo Ball, though he has struggled mightily since leaving the Boston Celtics and has his clear defensive limitations as a 5-foot-9 guard. Even so, to obtain a player who finished top-5 in MVP voting a year ago at the low cost of Clarkson and Nance has to be seen as a good move for L.A. The only outstanding issue is that Thomas is a defensive nightmare, and the Lakers are already putrid on that end of the court.

Over the last 10 games, Utah product and rookie Kyle Kuzma has tailed quite a bit. He is averaging 11 points, three rebounds and 1.2 assists over his last 10 games while playing just 23.3 minutes a night. It is possible he has hit the rookie wall, especially looking at his 41.8 percent shooting percentage, which has been just 35.7 over the Lakers last three games.

Brandon Ingram is coming on strong, however, and has averaged 17 points and 5.8 assists over the Lakers last five games. He posted 26 points on 9 of 12 shooting in the win over Phoenix.

Lonzo Ball has ruled out with a knee injury that will cause him to miss this contest, too. Josh Hart has been starting at the point.

Julius Randle has seen an uptick in playing time and is averaging 18.1 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 27 minutes a night over the Lakers’ past 10 games. Randle had 19 points, 12 rebounds and two assists in the 102-99 victory over Brooklyn on Feb. 2, and he has averaged 19.2 points and nine rebounds over his last five games. He had 21 points, five assists and eight boards in the win over Phoenix.

Perhaps he is being showcased for an eventual trade, or it is really just the decline of Kuzma’s rookie season. It is difficult to tell which, if not both, is the case.

The fact that Randle has come on in Kuzma’s decline is no accident, but the Lakers have been winning more games with the more-experienced Randle seeing the bulk of the minutes at the 4-spot. L.A.’s defense has been so poor already, that it can only improve even if Randle is defensively undersized as a power forward. Nance Jr’s departure does clear the front court crowding up some.

The Lakers have the different cogs to rotate in at forward, and if Kuzma begins (or continues?) to hit a rookie wall it will only result in more minutes for the more-productive veterans. That is to say, the Lakers may win a few extra games despite being in an overall tank effort, simply because Randle is a rougher and better interior player than Kuzma, and Nance Jr. is a better defender than both, but defense is a clear non-issue given the trade for Thomas, and the Lakers are still in a rebuild. So, there is that.

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