Nickeil Alexander-Walker shoots over Clippers center Ivica Zubac

Pelicans shootaround update presented by Entergy: Zion returns, young guards seek second strong game in L.A.

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

It wasn’t clear exactly who Sindarius Thornwell was referring to – perhaps NBA fans on social media, perhaps media members – but the guard/forward noted after Friday’s shootaround that he heard many doubts about New Orleans’ ability to compete with the Clippers two days ago on national TV. The matchup did not ultimately result in a Pelicans victory, as the hosts held on late for a 111-106 verdict in the Staples Center, but New Orleans still came away with several silver linings. Nickeil Alexander-Walker (37 points) played his best game in the NBA, as did rookie Kira Lewis Jr. (10 points in only his third career appearance).

“I think we did a good job,” Thornwell said of the Pelicans’ effort against the Clippers. “I think we did better than a lot of people expected, with us not having (Eric Bledsoe, Lonzo Ball and Zion Williamson), guys we depend on to do a lot for us. A lot of people watching the game thought it was going to be a blowout. It just shows the work guys not getting a lot of chances to play are putting in away from the lights.

“Kira and Nickeil, they’ve been working since training camp started, competing every day, going at the starters every day, just being prepared for that moment. Treating the 3-on-3s like games and practices like games, so that when you do get a chance to play and your opportunity, there’s no difference between the practices and the games. You’re still in your routine.”


Williamson returns to action Friday after his first DNP of 2020-21, which was forced by an inconclusive COVID test result. He was cleared for all team activities Thursday. Bledsoe remains questionable due to right eye irritation, but Ball is out. …

Los Angeles’ player availability for Friday’s game bears watching, because All-NBA selections LeBron James (left ankle sprain) and Anthony Davis (lower back tightness) are both listed as questionable, as is Wesley Matthews (Achilles soreness). Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is probable with a left ankle sprain.

Los Angeles Lakers (10-3) scouting report

Offensive efficiency rank: 4 (114.8)

Defensive efficiency rank: 1 (104.4)

Streak: Won 4

Go-to guy: Former Pelicans perennial All-Star forward Davis was the team’s leading scorer last season, averaging 0.8 points more than James, but early in 2020-21, James has taken over as the top point producer (24.3), with Davis (22.1) second. James’ game-to-game scoring consistency has been uncanny so far in 2020-21, with him tallying at least 18 points in all 13 appearances, but never more than 29 (oddly, he’s notched exactly 26 points five times). Davis’ season high is 34 points at San Antonio on Jan. 1.

On the rise: One of the top individual stories of a condensed NBA preseason, second-year guard Talen Horton-Tucker is the rare relatively unknown Lakers player, but fans are starting to become more familiar with “THT.” A second-round pick in 2019 from Iowa State, he’s compiled three double-digit scoring games this season, despite never logging more than 24 minutes.

Previous game starting lineups

NEW ORLEANS (4-6)

Wednesday loss at LA Clippers

Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Sindarius Thornwell, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Steven Adams

Notes: The Pelicans will be using their third different starting alignment of the season Friday, because Williamson is returning to action after missing Wednesday’s game, but Ball remains out. … In two career NBA starts, Alexander-Walker has scored 29 and 37 points, for an average of 33.0.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS (10-3)

Wednesday win at Oklahoma City

Dennis Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol

Notes: This is L.A.’s most common starting group, with a 6-2 record in eight games. The same quintet –  but with Kyle Kuzma replacing Caldwell-Pope at shooting guard – is 2-1. … Beyond the six aforementioned Lakers, Matthews and Markieff Morris have started one game apiece.

Pelicans keys to victory

NEXT MAN UP, PART II
New Orleans hoops fans will be staying up late Friday to watch how Alexander-Walker follows up his 37-point eruption from Wednesday against the Clippers, as well as the way Lewis fares after a 10-point night in his debut as part of the rotation.

ELITE BOARD BATTLE
Statistically, these are the NBA’s two best rebounding teams, with New Orleans grabbing 54.4 percent of all available boards and the Lakers ranking second at 53.5. For comparison’s sake, Milwaukee led the NBA last season in that statistic at 52.4. No team has finished a season higher than 54.0 percent since Oklahoma City (54.1) in 2015-16.

GET TO THE FOUL LINE
An interesting “game within a game” will occur at the New Orleans offensive end, where the Pelicans rank fourth in the league with 25.5 free-throw attempts per game, but the Lakers’ defense allows the least foul shots (17.9). It would also help if the Pelicans start converting free throws at a higher rate (71.4 percent, ranks 28th in NBA), but they get to the charity stripe frequently against most opponents.

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