Los Angeles’ starting lineup switch overcame a big night from Pelicans forward and former Laker Julius Randle, concluding with L.A.’s 119-125 momentous victory over New Orleans on Feb. 27.
Headed into the contest, L.A. (30-31) desperately needed a win after dropping two straight, including one to this same struggling Pelicans (27-36) team five days prior. Anthony Davis didn’t play in the 128-115 Lakers loss on February 23.
However, Davis played this time while Rajon Rondo entered the Lakers’ starting lineup for his tenth start. With Rondo in at point guard, L.A. moved Kyle Kuzma to the starting center position for a new small-ball lineup. Rondo finished the game with 11 points, 16 assists and seven rebounds in 37 minutes.
“We needed a win,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton said about inserting Rondo into the starting lineup.
The Lakers head coach added that they needed to do something different heading into the Pelicans game.
“Rondo has won championships,” Walton told the media after the win. “Let’s get him on the court and see what happens.”
Overall, the Lakers head coach said he was pleased with the team win. Los Angeles finished with 37 assists and only eight turnovers which was a much needed improvement for a team that ranks second to last in the league for turnovers per game with 15.9.
“We took care of the ball,” LeBron James said after the victory. “We made a conscious effort.”
James finished the night with 33 points, 10 assists and six rebounds. He also cited bringing a natural ball handler like Rondo back into the game as a reason why the offense flowed better.
“It’s just about protecting home court,” Rondo said about the win over the same team they lost to a few days ago. “We’re gonna come out and give them [Fans] something to cheer about.”
Otherwise, the Lakers got double-figure outings from everyone in the starting lineup. It was the tenth time this the season.
Kyle Kuzma added 22 points and five rebounds while Brandon Ingram finished with 23 points, six rebounds and four assists on 8-of-14 shooting from the field.
Kuzma led a stretch where the Lakers he had three of four consecutive Lakers dunks midway through the third quarter.
“One dunk is big enough but we had four straight,” Kuzma said about that series giving the team momentum. “You feel the energy within the building and the crowd, and we played off that.”
Speaking of energy, Javale McGee gave the Lakers their biggest spark off the bench. He added 10 points on five-of-five shooting as well as four rebounds and a block in 11 minutes.
Randle leads the Pelicans
Still, the Pelicans didn’t make anything easy. Julius Randle led New Orleans with 35 points and six assists versus his former team.
“I just tried to be aggressive from start,” Randle said after the loss.
Pelicans All-Star Anthony Davis said Randle played well on both sides of the floor and took the challenge of battling LeBron. As for Davis’ night, he added 22 points and 8 rebounds in only 21 minutes.
“I don’t let anybody steal my joy,” Davis said about his limited minutes. “When I step between those lines to play basketball, I’m happy.”
Otherwise, Jrue Holiday, an L.A. native, also added 19 points and 10 assists for New Orleans.
Off-the-bench, Frank Jackson and Darius Miller were big for the Pelicans too. Miller added 11 points and three rebounds while Jackson finished with 15 points and four rebounds.
More Notes from the game
With less than four minutes left in the second half, the Pelicans would cap off a run with a Jrue Holiday three-pointer in transition. L.A. would trade buckets with the Pelicans after that which made the score 53-52.
Down one, Ingram hit a layup to give the Lakers a lead again. Kuzma would convert both free throws on the next L.A. possession. Then, LeBron capped off the run with a dunk of his own to give the Lakers a five point advantage with 1:47 remaining in the first half. They would finish the second quarter up 63-57.
New Orleans would again take a lead with about seven minutes left in the third thanks to an Elfrid Payton post, spin-move finished with a layup. Kuzma answered with a contested dunk of his own on the next possession after the Lakers timeout.
After that, Brandon Ingram slashed down the lane for an easy layup. Next Kuzma got another dunk, this one wide open. Finally, LeBron James capped off the Lakers run with a dunk in transition but that wasn’t all. L.A. would still the inbound pass and find Kuzma for another open dunk that gave the Lakers a 75-79 lead. This is was the sequence where the crowd woke up and Lakers appeared to build momentum.
Still, Julius Randle would give his best effort. The former Lakers first round pick hit a contested three with about four minutes left that pulled New Orleans within three. However, LeBron answered with his own three.
The Pelicans still weren’t done. With about 37 seconds left in the third, Julius Randle hit a layup to give the Pelicans a 92-91 lead. Brandon Ingram would answer with a mid-range jumper on the other sided of the floor.
The Fourth quarter was all the Lakers. JaValee McGee and Rajon Rondo led the efforts early. McGee scored the fourth quarter’s first points thanks to a Rondo assist. He converted the next Lakers points too which gave the Lakers a 99-92 lead with under ten minutes left. Rondo added his own three-pointer followed by a layup off a New Orleans miss which pushed the lead to 12.
Still, the Pelicans wouldn’t go away. Jrue Holiday hit a two-pointer after a Lakers missed free throw that brought the Lakers lead down to two. He answered another Lakers basket with a layup on the next Pelicans’ possession which made the game 108-111 with four minutes left.
Right before the two minute mark, Darius Miller hit two of three free throws to bring the game within four. Miller would hit a three following a Lakers miss that made it a one-point game at 118-117.
Brandon Ingram drove to the lane and hit a contested layup with about 1:17 left to push the Lakers’ lead back to three points.
After a New Orleans miss, LeBron James hit a falling-away three over Miller that gave the Lakers a six-point advantage with 31 seconds left. James would steal the ball with 28 seconds and a 123-117 lead after the Pelicans’ timeout. James was fouled and sent to the free throw line, where he missed both which made the game way too dramatic.
What’s next for the Lakers
Entering the night, the Lakers were three games out of the playoffs. They trailed the Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs in the nine and eight spot, respectively. Both the Kings and Clippers lost on the same night which helped the Lakers gain a game in the Western Conference playoff standings.
Next the Lakers host another home contest versus the Milwuakee Bucks, who have the league’s best record, on March 1 at 7:30 P.M. PST. Walton did not commit to keeping the starting lineup the same for that game as he said he would look at the matchups.