LOS ANGELES — For the 30th time in 59 games, Lakers coach Darvin Ham looked at the court and saw five players who had never lined up together for the opening tip. Another combination of faces that this time included three new ones.
And from the looks of things, the Lakers might see this lineup again.
LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and newcomers D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt started the Lakers on their way to a 120-102 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night at Crypto.com Arena.
Russell, Beasley and Vanderbilt were all trade deadline acquisitions, and Ham was eager to see how the trio – all of whom had experience playing together before in Minnesota – connected on the court. So far, he is pleased.
“I definitely love the guys we acquired, and we just going to put it all together to see if it works,” Ham said.
The infusion of the three new players gave the Lakers (27-32) a jolt of energy and basketball sense that hasn’t been seen much since early in the season and helped them win for just the second time in six games.
Beasley and Vanderbilt leaped for rebounds and extended themselves to block shots. A Vanderbilt block prevented the Pelicans (30-29) from scoring off a turnover on an inbounds pass. D’Angelo seamlessly directed the offense while posting seven assists to go with his 21 points. The crowd roared in approval on his transition 3-pointer in the third quarter, obviously remembering the player who started his career in Los Angeles.
Whether it was the nagging foot soreness that caused him to miss the three games since he became the NBA’s all-time leading scorer or a willingness to let others take control, James was not as aggressive as he normally is early in the game. He had just eight points in the first half.
In the second half, though, James got more involved in the offense and finished with 21 points, six rebounds and six assists. James, who is averaging 30.2 points and 8.5 rebounds this season, did not play the final 6:41.
Anthony Davis finished with a game-high 28 points on 13-of-17 shooting, 10 rebounds and five assists, while Vanderbilt had six points and four rebounds and Beasley had eight points and three rebounds. New backup center Mo Bamba had four points, six rebounds and three blocked shots before fouling out in 16 minutes in his Laker debut.
The Lakers dominated early as all five starters scored in the first three minutes, giving Lakers fans and the coaching staff a quick glimpse of what the future could look like. But in this case, the future lasted less than 24 minutes.
Without Dyson Daniels (ankle), Zion Williamson (hamstring) and E.J. Liddell (knee injury management), the Pelicans didn’t put up much resistance at the start, falling behind by as many as 15 points. But midway through the second quarter, they used an 11-4 run to close the gap to 55-51 by halftime.
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The Pelicans continued to go inside and further trimmed the Lakers’ lead to one less than three minutes into the third quarter. New Orleans kept the game interesting with forward Brandon Ingram (25 points) and C.J. McCollum (22) coming up with big plays. Ingram scored on a pull-up jump shot off an assist from McCollum to pull within two 67-65 with 6:40 left in the quarter.
The Lakers, however, turned up the heat and outscored the Pelicans 12-2 to take a comfortable lead into the final quarter.
Now, the real test comes. Can the Lakers turn this energy into a sense of urgency? The Lakers head into the All-Star break two games out of the 10th seed in the Western Conference, the cutoff for the NBA’s play-in tournament with just 23 games left in the regular season.
“Like I told them, we have no more time, no more days, no more games to waste,” Ham said. “We got to take care of what’s in front of us and put our best foot forward every time we go out there.
“We have to take the wisdom and lessons from the wins and losses that we’ve got up to this point and realize we’re still in a position to make something happen and secure a postseason spot. We just have to go out and do it. We can’t keep talking about it.”
More to come on this story.