Kenrich Williams takes a jumper Dec. 21 at the Lakers

Behind the Numbers presented by HUB International: Lakers at Pelicans (2/23/19)

by Jim Eichenhofer

A look at three key numbers related to Saturday’s game at the Smoothie King Center between the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans (6 p.m. Central, Fox Sports New Orleans, WRNO 99.5 FM):

64: Days since the only previous meeting of the season between the Lakers and Pelicans, a 112-104 Los Angeles victory on Dec. 21 at Staples Center. To the two teams, it probably feels more like two years ago, instead of two-plus months. Both teams have endured constant distractions in recent weeks, with New Orleans going 4-6 in its 10 games since Jan. 28 and Los Angeles at 3-5. The Pelicans have been a slightly better squad than the Lakers at both ends of the floor during that four-week timeframe, ranking No. 22 in offense (108.0 points per 100 possessions) compared to L.A. at 23rd (106.7). On the defensive end, New Orleans has actually improved in relation to the early portion of 2018-19, placing 21st (the Lakers are 27th since Jan. 28). When factoring in the entire season, New Orleans is eighth in offense and 24th in defense; the Lakers are 21st in offense and 13th in defense. The Pelicans’ rotation has changed so drastically since the Dec. 21 matchup in California that Tim Frazier and Solomon Hill were starters that night, but DNPs last night at Indiana. In addition, a third starter from Dec. 21, Anthony Davis, will sit out Saturday’s game due to rest.

7: Via, New Orleans rank in points per game by rookie players since Jan. 28, which includes production from the first-year combo of Frank Jackson (Duke) and Kenrich Williams (TCU). The Pelicans have gotten 18.9 points per game from Jackson and Williams during that timeframe, which began a day before Williams’ breakthrough performance in Houston. The only teams that have received more scoring from first-year players recently are rebuilding squads Atlanta, New York, Phoenix and Cleveland, along with much-improved Sacramento and Dallas. Largely as a result of Williams’ work on the boards, New Orleans is also fifth in rookie-generated rebounding in that time period. The Pelicans are playing rookies at the fifth-highest rate (113 total minutes) since Jan. 28, trailing only the Hawks (169), Knicks, Suns and Mavericks.

3: Games out of eighth place in the Western Conference for the Lakers (29-29). The LA Clippers are currently in the No. 8 spot at 33-27, while sixth-place Utah (32-26) and seventh-place San Antonio (33-27) are also exactly six games over .500, but hold tiebreaking edges. Saturday’s game marks one of numerous chances for New Orleans (26-34) to play the role of spoiler during the stretch run of ’18-19. It’s also the first of three remaining games between the Pelicans and Lakers (the others are Wednesday in Los Angeles, then March 31 back here in the Crescent City). The Lakers are trying to end a five-year streak of missing the playoffs, tied for the NBA’s fourth-longest active drought (Sacramento 12 years, Phoenix eight, Orlando six, Denver and New York both five).

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