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2023-24 Western Conference Play-In Preview: Los Angeles Lakers vs. New Orleans Pelicans

Lakers Pelicans

Lakers Pelicans NBA
The Lakers and Pelicans will both be appearing in their third play-in game in five years. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

2023-24 Western Conference Play-In Preview: Los Angeles Lakers vs. New Orleans Pelicans

It’s that time of year! The Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans will tip-off this season’s postseason slate Tuesday evening inside Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, La., at 7:30 p.m. EST.

Ironically enough, the Lakers and Pelicans both find themselves in their third play-in game ever, but first against each other. Los Angeles secured a 16-point victory against New Orleans Sunday to boost them into the No. 8 seed while New Orleans, the No. 7 seed, is coming off the best regular seasons in their franchise’s history.

Let’s preview the first Western Conference play-in!

What to know about the Los Angeles Lakers:

Starters:

Key Reserves:

The Lakers had an uneven season, but closed the 82-game slate by winning 11 of their final 14 games, including a 124-108 win over the Pelicans in the regular season finale. Los Angeles entered with a pair of lopsided wins over New Orleans already this season, winning by 44 and 17 points, respectively, with one 20-point loss on New Year’s Eve.

The Lakers capped off the regular season with the No. 15 offense and No. 17 defense, though they sported the fourth-best offense (with eighth-worst defense) post-All-Star break, scoring 117.3 points per 100 possessions with the second-highest effective field goal percentage (58.3) and true-shooting percentage (61.6) over that span. They were buoyed in part due to a starting lineup change, leaning more into the group that got them to the Western Conference Finals last year instead of Prince and Cam Reddish.

Their newfangled starting five has a plus-5.5 NET Rating in 389 minutes played together, considerably the best among their high-usage lineups this season. Getting Vincent back from injury at the point-of-attack is also important for LA against New Orleans’ collection of lead/secondary ballhandlers.

What to know about the New Orleans Pelicans:

Starters:

Key Reserves:

One of the biggest swing factors for New Orleans entering 2023-24 was their health: Could their best two players (Ingram, Williamson) remain healthy? Ingram appeared in just 54.9 percent (45-of-82) of his team’s regular season games; for Williamson, that number dipped to 35.4 percent (29-82).

That wasn’t the case this season. Ingram returned Sunday after missing three weeks with a knee injury, but still appeared in 64 games this year while Williamson played in 70 games–the healthiest season of his career. As a result, the Pelicans finished 16 games above .500 for the first time since 2008-09–when it also finished 49-33–sporting the NBA’s 11th-best offense, 6th-best defense and 6th-best NET Rating.

Questions?

1. Will Ingram’s re-insertion disrupt any flow?

Whenever one of your best players misses an extended period of time, the reintegration process can be difficult. McCollum and Williamson both thrived in Ingram’s absence, scoring 26.7 points and 26.6 points per 75 possessions, respectively. Ingram’s 23 minutes on Sunday weren’t bad, scoring 13 points with five rebounds on 6-of-9 shooting, but this trio has been below average offensively in non-garbage-time situations (114.0 ORTG in 1533 possessions; 43rd percentile), per Cleaning The Glass. You always want at least one–perhaps even two–of your three-best on the floor at all times, but I’m interested to see how Ingram and the rest of the offense look against a struggling Lakers defense.

2. Who wins the paint battle?

Both of these teams focus on generating paint touches will keeping others out of the paint.

The Lakers courted the NBA’s third-lowest 3-point frequency (32.9) while the Pelicans held the eighth-lowest (34.0), per CTG. The Pelicans took the majority of their attempts in the mid-range (32.4 FREQ%; 7th), but still placed in the top-10 in rim frequency while Los Angeles ranked second in rim frequency (36.0), trailing only Orlando (38.5).

Both teams also ranked in the top-10 in lowest rim frequency allowed, with Los Angeles and New Orleans placing No. 5 and 10, respectively. Both teams were poor at protecting the rim, but Los Angeles deserves the slight leg up, as they have one of the league’s premier shot blockers in Anthony Davis and another solid rim protector in Jaxson Hayes, a former Pelican. New Orleans is the better defense, but both teams want to play a physical brand of basketball on the interior–thus the team who’s likely the most physical wins this game.

Prediction: Lakers win 115-110

How do you see this Western Conference play-in game shaking out? Let us know in the comments!

***

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