LOS ANGELES – There are already countless interesting storylines surrounding Friday’s meeting between New Orleans and the Los Angeles Lakers – including the return to Staples Center of former Lakers players Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart – but it’s also a matchup of two recently-hot teams. On the heels of a 13-game losing streak that stretched into mid-December, New Orleans (11-23) is now tied for the longest active winning streak in the NBA, with its four consecutive victories matching current runs by Milwaukee, Utah and Oklahoma City. Meanwhile, the Lakers (27-7) lost four games in a row last month, capped by a Christmas defeat vs. the LA Clippers, but have since won three straight. Both modest win streaks feature some quality opposition, with the Pelicans knocking off three opponents that are over .500 (Denver, Indiana, Houston), while the Lakers bested Dallas five days ago.
Other notes after Friday’s morning shootaround in California:
Ingram and Hart spoke to the media this morning, but Ball did not. The ex-Lakers have consistently downplayed the significance of the two early-season games against Los Angeles, which continued this morning.
Asked about the level of emotion that will factor into facing the Lakers, Ingram responded, “My focus is to be the same guy. Be aggressive and try to be efficient at the offensive and defensive end, and be there for teammates. For me, it’s another hard-playing game.”
Hart noted that New Orleans has already played once in Staples this season, having faced the Clippers on the same court in November.
“(But) it’s always a different feel when you walk in here and see the purple and gold,” Hart said of the surroundings during Friday’s shootaround. “It was cool. The nets felt familiar, so that was a good thing.” …
New Orleans appeared to be on its way to a memorable win Nov. 27 when it built a double-digit lead over the Lakers, but Los Angeles won the fourth quarter 35-21, posting a 114-110 road victory.
“I think we’re a better team than we were a few weeks ago,” Ingram said, alluding to the previous head-to-head meeting. “We’re more locked in, with a little bit more sense of urgency. The trust factor is there, and we just continue to progress.” The Pelicans have gone 5-1 in their last six games and moved to within 3.5 games of eighth-place San Antonio (14-19) in the Western Conference. The Spurs have a very daunting upcoming schedule, including their next two games both against Milwaukee. …
Hart on Ball, who is coming off a 27-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist triple-double Sunday vs. Houston: “He’s really starting to get that explosion back, and being able to switch gears. Obviously had that tough ankle injury toward the end of last season. He’s really starting to feel back to being himself and playing the game the way he always played it. That’s very exciting for us and the organization, to have that element back.” …
Ingram and Hart both discussed their positive experiences playing in the City of Angels.
“It brings back some good memories,” said Ingram, who remains close with current Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. “That’s the team that drafted me, made my dreams come true. I remember my draft class and every player that came through here. It was some enjoyable times.”
Hart: “We had a lot of fun. I think a lot of guys wonder if we didn’t have the injuries last year (during Los Angeles’ first season with LeBron James), what we could’ve done. But it’s always love with the (former Lakers players) and L.A. It was so much fun, the two years I had here. Those times are behind me, so I’ve got to look forward. But it was a great time.”