Thursday, December 7, 2023

Lakers blow 23-point lead to Pelicans despite 39 points from LeBron James, fall to 10th in Western Conference

LeBron James CJ McCollum
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Every time you think that it just can’t get any worse for the woebegone Los Angeles Lakers, they manage to hit a new low. They entered Sunday’s matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans a half game ahead of their Western Conference rivals for the No. 9 seed in the standings. When LeBron James gave them 25 first-half points to help build a lead that got as high as 23 points, it looked as though they’d be able to create a bit of a cushion in the standings.

Well, you’ve read the headline. You know that’s not what happened. The Pelicans torched the Lakers for 41 points in the third quarter and wound up winning 116-108 behind a stellar all-around offensive effort. Four of their five starters scored between 18 and 26 points, and rookie reserve Trey Murphy added 21 of his own largely in a stellar second half. Meanwhile, no Lakers aside from James, Russell Westbrook and Malik Monk even managed to reach double figures.

The loss struck a devastating blow to the Lakers’ dwindling hopes of reaching the playoffs. The Pelicans now lead the Lakers by half of a game for the No. 9 seed, but by beating them head-to-head, they have no secured the season-series tiebreaker. The two sides have played twice this season, both Pelicans wins, and only have one head-to-head matchup left on the slate. The 31-43 Lakers are now just a single game up on the 30-44 Spurs, and while the two of them split their season series 2-2, the Spurs have all but clinched the conference record tiebreaker with four extra wins over western foes.

The cherry on top for New Orleans? They have a chance to own the Lakers’ 2022 first-round pick, provided it falls in the top 10. If the Lakers were to fall behind San Antonio in the standings, the Pelicans would have a far greater chance of keeping that pick. They’ll have another chance to help their cause when these teams meet again on April 2.

James tweaked his ankle in the loss, but remained on the floor. With games in Dallas and Utah coming up this week, the Lakers will need him healthy Even if he’s good to go, coach Frank Vogel said it best after the game. “Time’s running out on us,” Vogel said. With his job on the line, most of the roster set for free agency and both James and Russell Westbrook fighting against Father Time, Vogel has no idea just how right he is. At this rate, it will only be a matter of weeks before this era of Lakers history comes to an end.

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