Pelicans vs. Lakers Preview: Back LA, LeBron James to Cover Spread

Austin Wang gives his detailed thoughts, including his top pick, for Sunday's NBA game between the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers.

Pelicans vs. Lakers Odds

Pelicans Odds +105
Lakers Odds -125
Over/Under 224.5
Time 10 p.m. ET
Odds via BetMGM. Get up-to-the-minute NBA odds here.

The NBA playoffs are just around the corner and the Los Angeles Lakers (27-32) have found themselves in an uncomfortable position.

LeBron James and his teammates are currently the ninth seed, holding on for dear life as they have to adjust to life without Anthony Davis (once again) as he recovers from an ankle injury that will sideline him at least the next four weeks.

To add to the troubles on the court, one of the biggest NBA storylines over the last couple of weeks has been James’s relationship with the Lakers’ front office, bringing his future with the organization into question.

The Lakers will be hosting the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday night, airing live on ESPN.  This will be the first of three matchups between these two teams for the rest of the season.  Each of these games will be meaningful for both teams in determining the playoff picture in the Western Conference.

So, can James and the Lakers take care of business at home? Or will new-look New Orleans deliver another loss underperforming Los Angeles?

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans are currently the 11th seed and only a game behind the Portland Trail Blazers. They are fresh off an outright win against the number one seed Phoenix Suns, albeit it was without Chris Paul. CJ McCollum is looking very comfortable in his new uniform and the team appears to be gelling a bit better.

McCollum has really given this Pelicans team a spark on offense. In the six games he has played, he has averaged 29.0 points per game on 52.8% shooting from the field and 41.3% from behind the arc. The Pelicans are ranked 7th in Offensive Rating (117.2) during this timeframe, per NBA Advanced Stats. This is a welcomed change of tune for a Pelicans team that has had trouble scoring all season long.

Star forward Brandon Ingram has missed a total of 16 games this season. Without his presence for stretches in the season, the Pelicans have had to rely on Jonas Valanciunas to pick up the scoring. With all three healthy and expected to play against the Lakers, the Pelicans have a trio of deadly weapons that should keep the Lakers defense busy.

Ingram was really struggling after McCollum joined the team, so it was promising to see them both have a great game in the big win against the Suns. However, I am not buying too much into this win. The Suns were on the second night of a back-to-back and without Paul, so I’d like to see some more consistency out of the Pelicans.

Los Angeles Lakers

James was reportedly disappointed with the front office’s inaction during the trade deadline. He made indirect comments during the All-Star Weekend that suggested he could eventually leave the Lakers and expressed the desire to play with whichever team drafted his son, Bronny. Other rumors and reports had James trying to get general manager Rob Pelinka replaced.

James’ agent, Rich Paul met with Lakers owner Jeanie Buss on Friday. Paul reportedly insisted James is making no effort to seek changes in the Lakers’ front office and that James’ “primary objective” is to remain with the franchise.

On the court, it has been a sad state of affairs for this season’s Lakers. It was painfully obvious with their offseason acquisitions of Russell Westbrook, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony, this team still had a lot of holes and gaps to fill.

However, based on name recognition alone, lofty expectations were placed on this Lakers team to be title contenders.  They’ve consistently disappointed and their roster just doesn’t seem to fit well with another.

To be fair, Davis, Westbrook and James have only played in 20 games together. We aren’t seeing the full potential of this team due to injuries.

We will likely see Howard get the start at center to match up with Pelicans big man Valanciunas. Howard played well in his last start with a double-double (14 points, 16 rebounds). Austin Reaves made his first start last game in Davis’s absence, so we will likely see that again. Malik Monk will lead the reserves off the bench that could have success against a thin Pelicans bench.

Pelicans-Lakers Pick

Since James joined the Lakers in the 2018-2019 season, the Lakers are 9-2 against the Pelicans.

I like the Lakers to bounce back after a loss. This season, the Lakers are 14-5 straight up and 11-8 against the spread as the favorites after the lost their last game, per the Sports Data Query Language at Gimme the Dog.

On the other hand, I see the Pelicans in a let-down situation. They are 2-12 straight up and 4-10 ATS as the underdogs after their won their last game, per the SDQL.

In addition, I can see James being more motivated after being in the midst of so much controversy in the NBA media in the last couple of weeks. I’ll take the Lakers to get the win at home and cover the spread.

Pick: Lakers -1.5 (up to -3)