With the New Orleans Pelicans having returned from their brief road excursion, coach Monty Williams ticked off the areas in which he’d like to see improvement.
Heading into Wednesday night’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Smoothie King Center, Williams had defense at the top of the list after the Pelicans were shredded by the Cleveland Cavaliers’ trio of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
Secondly, Williams mentioned not turning the ball over. And he’d like to see the Pelicans take advantage of being at home by winning impressively.
“We have to continue to build our home court,” he said. “That’s a big deal for us, winning at home and taking advantage of our ability to score. But we’ve got to defend better.”
For the Pelicans, the game likely will afford that opportunity as well as being a gauge of the team’s home-court advantage.
In previous seasons, save for last season with guard Kobe Bryant was out injured, New Orleans’ home games against the Lakers were annual reminders that this city’s NBA team was not quite there yet with having a strong, loyal home fan base. Embarrassingly, the arena would be divided among those pulling for the home team and Lakers fans, with the latter usually being the loudest as the game neared its end and the visiting team pulled away to victory.
However, like last season’s Lakers, this season’s edition is nowhere near the Lakers of deceased former owner Jerry Buss. Those teams were championship contenders year in and year out.
Last season, the Lakers were a collection of second-line players, except for power forward Pau Gasol, who signed with the Chicago Bulls in the offseason.
These Lakers, 1-5 heading into Tuesday night’s game at Memphis, likely will provide ample opportunity for Pelicans fans to drown out those of the team from L.A., if there are many present.
On paper, the Lakers would appear to be defenseless against the drives of Tyreke Evans, Anthony Davis’ shots and offensive rebounds, and the Pelicans’ fast break, with Ryan Anderson shooting 3-pointers.
Los Angeles allows an average of 112.7 points per game, which is last among the NBA’s 30 teams. The Lakers are last in defensive field-goal percentage (48.4), second-to-last in opponents’ 3-pointers per game (10.0), 28th in defensive 3-point percentage (41.8), 26th in opponents’ assists per game (23.8) and 23rd in rebounding differential, with foes outrebounding them by 3.1 per game.
However, Williams points out that they still have Bryant, who in his 19th season is second in the NBA with a 26.5 points per game scoring average.
“They’ve got Kobe, and they’ve got some veterans on their team that have been in good programs and won a lot of games,” Williams said. “I’m talking about (power forward Carlos) Boozer, (point guard Jeremy) Lin. (Center Jordan) Hill is a guy who can play.”
Of concern heading into the game is that the Lakers showed rare defensive capabilities in Sunday’s win against Charlotte, holding the Hornets to 13 points in the third quarter.
“It just looks like they get after teams, and they put so much pressure on you on the offensive end (102.8 ppg),” Williams said. “It looks like they were zoning a little bit, and teams that do that can break your rhythm.”
The Lakers have seven new players. However, through several systems and as much wear and tear on his body as anyone who ever played in the league, Bryant remains the major threat. New Orleans fans have seen him have 40- and 50-point games against their team. Perhaps the unkindest cut of all came two season’s ago when he led the Lakers back from 25 points behind to a victory in which they scored the game’s final 20 points.
“We’ve played against him so many times before, we look (on tape) at our pick-and-roll coverages with him, when he gets the ball in the sweet spot, how we help out,” Williams said. “And yet, coach (Byron) Scott is running a different system. They’re running that Princeton stuff, so he’s got high pick-and-roll sets as opposed to when he was in the Triangle.
“When he was with coach (Mike) Brown, they ran a lot of San Antonio stuff. So we’ve guarded him in different spots, but it’s the same Kobe.”
Sports Illustrated has an in-depth article in its latest edition on Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson and his struggle to find meaning and hope after the suicide of his girlfriend, Gia Allemand, during the summer of 2013. The article is titled “Love, Loss and Survival” and was written by Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard. … Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis leads the league in blocks (4.17 per game) and rebounds (13.0), and is fifth in scoring (24.5) and steals (2.50). … Scott coached the New Orleans Hornets from 2004-2009, guiding the team a 56-26 record and the Southwest Division title in 2008.