Jaxson Hayes shoots a layup over Lakers defenders

Behind the Numbers presented by Entergy: Lakers at Pelicans (5/16/21)

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

A look at three key numbers related to Sunday’s game at the Smoothie King Center between Los Angeles and New Orleans (8 p.m. Central, Bally Sports New Orleans, NBA TV, ESPN Radio New Orleans 100.3 FM):

2: Outcomes Los Angeles needs Sunday night in order to move up to sixth place and avoid the play-in tournament, which is scheduled to begin Wednesday in the Western Conference (the East will tip off Tuesday). The 41-30 Lakers are in a standings deadlock with 41-30 Portland, but the Trail Blazers own the tiebreaker based on a 2-1 season-series triumph, so the only way for Los Angeles to clinch a top-six seed Sunday is to beat New Orleans, combined with Portland losing at home to Denver. If the Lakers remain the No. 7 seed, they will host either Golden State or Memphis in the Staples Center three nights from now. If Los Angeles can jump up to sixth place tonight, it will meet Denver or the Clippers in a best-of-seven West quarterfinal series that begins next weekend. The Nuggets are an interesting variable in that equation because if they win tonight at Portland, they’re guaranteed to claim the No. 3 seed. However, a Nuggets loss Sunday could mean Denver drops to fourth (if the Clippers beat Oklahoma City) and sets up a first-round matchup vs. Dallas or Portland.

18-17: New Orleans home record this season. The Pelicans have a chance to post a winning mark in the Smoothie King Center for the first time since 2017-18, which was also the most recent playoff appearance for the Pelicans. New Orleans went 19-22 at home during the controversy-marred 2018-19 campaign, followed by a 15-21 record during the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season. Prior to those consecutive losing home slates, the Pelicans were plus .500 in their own building for five consecutive seasons, starting in 2013-14 when the franchise changed nicknames. New Orleans went 18-14 at home this season when Zion Williamson was in uniform, dropping games without him vs. Miami, Orlando and Atlanta, by an average of 12.7 points.

10: Rank among all NBA rookies in both rebounding and assist average for Naji Marshall. The undrafted player from Xavier (Ohio) is putting up 4.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game, numbers that are actually a bit misleadingly low, because most of Marshall’s early-season games were limited-minute cameos. Marshall is also 30th among rookies in scoring average (7.4). Since April 1, Marshall ranks third among first-year pros in total rebounds (140), along with 10th in minutes (641), 12th in points (225) and 10th in assists (79). Via NBA.com, those 79 assists place Marshall second among non-guard rookies over that timeframe, behind only Houston’s Jae’Sean Tate (85 assists).

PREVIOUS GAME STARTING LINEUPS

LA LAKERS (41-30, 7TH IN WEST)

Saturday win at Indiana

Dennis Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond

Notes: This group is 1-1, debuting April 30 with a home loss vs. Sacramento. Schroder was sidelined the next game and did not return until yesterday’s victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. … Los Angeles has used 25 different starting lineups this season, with the most common going 15-5 and featuring Schroder, Caldwell-Pope, James and Davis, but with Marc Gasol at center instead of Drummond. No other combination has produced more than four wins or been used more than six times.

NEW ORLEANS (31-40, 11TH IN WEST)

Friday loss at Golden State

Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Eric Bledsoe, Naji Marshall, James Johnson, Willy Hernangomez

Notes: This group is 0-2, debuting with a loss at Dallas on Wednesday. … Primary New Orleans starters Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Williamson and Steven Adams have already been ruled out for Sunday’s game due to injury. The Pelicans have used 15 different starting lineups this season, with the most common going 17-24 and featuring that quartet along with Bledsoe. … New Orleans is tied with Sacramento (31-40) for 11th place. The Kings host Utah at 8 p.m., with the Jazz potentially needing a win to secure the No. 1 seed in the West (second-place Phoenix visits San Antonio at 1 p.m.).

PELICANS KEYS TO VICTORY PRESENTED BY FANDUEL

CONTROL THE PAINT

Of course, the personnel for both teams was unrecognizable compared to now when New Orleans pounded the Lakers 128-111 on March 23, but in that matchup, the Pelicans won rebounding 53-34 and points in the paint by a 62-32 margin. With New Orleans down multiple starters and three-point accuracy coming and going lately, dominance around the basket is a must to have a chance to beat the Lakers.

SPOILER ROLE

New Orleans has nothing to lose Sunday, but there is plenty of pressure on Los Angeles to win and provide a glimmer of hope of moving up to the No. 6 seed. With the Lakers dealing with multiple key injuries lately, having 5-6 days off and not playing a game until next weekend could prove very beneficial.

ROOKIE WRAPUP

The circumstances leading up to their NBA debuts were vastly different, but Sunday is an opportunity for rookies Kira Lewis Jr. (2020 lottery pick, has played in 53 games this season), Marshall (undrafted in 2020, 31 games) and Didi Louzada (second-round pick in 2019, two games) to make a final impression as the Pelicans enter the offseason.

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