LeBron James returns as new-look Lakers beat Pelicans

The proof doesn’t simply counsel a deep breath and a pause. It calls for it.

For 58 video games, the Lakers have been wildly inconsistent, extra ups and downs — and actually, extra downs — than anybody contained in the Lakers’ locker room wished to abdomen.

But earlier than their remaining recreation earlier than the All-Star Game, Lakers coach Darvin Ham grinned.

A brand new lineup was about to debut — perhaps the lineup he and the group has looked for all 12 months.

Maybe issues could be totally different, like truly totally different, this time, the Lakers wholesome and complete. And they didn’t disappoint, earlier proof or not.

The Lakers beat New Orleans 120-102, heading into the All-Star break with some good vibes and a smidge of momentum.

Ham opened with D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt alongside Anthony Davis and the returning LeBron James — the complete roster out there to the Lakers’ rookie coach for the primary time for the reason that commerce deadline.

“I have a few surprises up my sleeve,” Ham stated earlier than the sport.

Everything was aces early, the Lakers opening Wednesday evening’s recreation with eight consecutive factors on their solution to a 17-4 lead.

“It was about trying to create as much balance as we possibly could,” Ham stated afterward.

The Lakers assisted every of their first 12 made baskets, taking part in a few of their most stunning basketball of the season.

“For close to 48 minutes, it looked pretty good,” James stated after scoring 21 factors following a three-game absence due to foot soreness.

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But deep breath. Pause.

The issues the Lakers have had alongside the best way of their season the place they’ve by no means been over .500 can’t be overcome in a single quarter.

New Orleans prolonged possessions on the offensive glass, an issue that has crippled the Lakers for a lot of the season.

Their three-point taking pictures, which began so scorching within the opening minutes, cooled means down with James, Rui Hachimura and Mo Bamba combining to overlook all of their 14 three-point makes an attempt.

And the crew was largely a multitude on the free-throw line, attending to the road however hovering round 60% for a lot of the recreation, ending 22 for 36. “We left a lot of points out there,” Ham stated.

Still, the Pelicans’ pushes had been all the time met with responses, the crew having one in every of its finest nights of the season in as must-win of a recreation as you possibly can have in mid-February.

Lakers ahead Anthony Davis (3) drives in opposition to the New Orleans Pelicans at Crypto.com enviornment on Wednesday.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

The Lakers are hopeful that the break will be a possibility to refine their recreation plans to their new personnel, the drastic roster modifications demanding new performs and new coverages.

“My coaching staff and I talked about that extensively,” Ham stated. “We were actually in their meeting today, digging through the roster, putting different combinations up on the board. Absolutely. Not just offensively, but defensively as well. Add a guy like Vandy and add a guy like Mo, we just have that extra rim protection aside from AD. It’s going to be huge.”

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Some of the modifications are apparent— the additional taking pictures creating additional area for driving and slicing. The Lakers had been ready to make use of that to run a number of performs for lobs, together with one to James.

Austin Reaves additionally discovered James on a back-cut resulting in a three-point play to assist stave off a mini Pelicans run within the fourth.

With James and Davis on the ground, it was straightforward to see how the most recent Lakers would match. Beasley flew round, the ball rapidly hitting his palms earlier than he launched his jumper. Vanderbilt hounded Brandon Ingram, forcing Ingram to make extremely tough pictures each time he might get one off (and to Ingram’s credit score, he made some robust ones).

And Russell, taking part in in his first residence recreation in Los Angeles since April 9, 2017, probed out and in of the protection, attacking in pick-and-roll and getting scorching within the third.

“We just competed,” stated Davis, who led the Lakers with 28 factors and 10 rebounds.

After scoring six straight factors, a stretch Russell punctuated with a high-arced pull-up three in transition, he bounced again down the courtroom pointing to the “Lakers” throughout his chest. “Like I never left,” he appeared to say. He scored 21 factors and picked up a team-high seven assists.

Before the sport, Ham stated he thought Russell might assist the Lakers make their late-season push by being “Regular ol’ DLo.”

“A really good pick-and-roll player. Really good shooter. Really not going to have to force anything,” Ham stated in a staccato scouting report. “Just play with the flow within the flow of everything we’re doing and just be assertive. Even, you run into that problem with Bron and AD on the floor sometimes where guys tend to defer and defer and defer, but we want him to be aggressive.”

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It wasn’t an issue — for now — and whereas the proof would possibly counsel folks wait to make judgments, Lakers followers have every week to benefit from the prospects that they witnessed the beginning of one thing new.

“I called it a Q-of-L win,” Ham stated with a smile. “Quality of life.”