Top Takeaways from LeBron James, Lakers' Loss vs. Pelicans

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistApril 2, 2022

Top Takeaways from LeBron James, Lakers' Loss vs. Pelicans

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Lakers lost again on Friday night, dropping a pivotal game to the New Orleans Pelicans 111-114.

    The return of LeBron James (ankle) and Anthony Davis (MCL, foot) was supposed to provide hope for an L.A. squad on the outside looking in. The Lakers gave the Pelicans everything they could handle, but they faded down the stretch—along with Los Angeles' playoff hopes.

    James was terrific, as he's been all season, finishing with 38 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Davis dropped 23, 12 and six against his former team. However, the Lakers got relatively little from their supporting cast, which has been par for the course. Russell Westbrook had just 12 points in 31 minutes and was a dismal 5-of-15 shooting.

    The Pelicans, meanwhile, got big performances from Brandon Ingram (29 points) and CJ McCollum (32 points) to outlast the Lakers. It was a back-and-forth game, but New Orleans outscored L.A. 28-24 in the final frame to clinch the victory.

    Los Angeles has lost five straight and sits a game behind the San Antonio Spurs for the final play-in spot in the West. The reality is that even with their stars on the court, the Lakers aren't good enough or deep enough to beat playoff-caliber teams consistently.

    With five games left, Los Angeles needs help to reach the play-in tournament, and losing to the Pelicans—who hold the No. 9 seed in the West—was a massive blow. Here are some other key takeaways from the game.

Too Little, Too Late for the Lakers

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    The big takeaway is this: Los Angeles lost a game that it needed to win. At 34-43, the Lakers have no margin for error, and they made too many mistakes against the Pelicans.

    While James made an impact, he was just 13-of-23 from the floor—which is not good enough. Westbrook was largely invisible once again. The bench underwhelmed, and L.A.'s stars weren't able to carry the team when it mattered most.

    Up by five with just over five minutes remaining, the Lakers fell apart. James, Davis and Westbrook went a combined 0-for-8 from the field as New Orleans went on a 13-4 run to take control. Falling apart has been the story of the Lakers' season.

    "Just feels like you can't catch a break," James said, per ESPN's Dave McMenamin. "No matter what's going on on the floor, it just feels like the ball bounces the other way. The ball doesn't always bounce in our favor. Or a call doesn't go in our favor. It's just like, when it rains, it pours for our year. It's just the way it's been going."

    Yes, Davis was playing for the first time since mid-February, and he and James need time to get back in sync. The problem is that the Lakers don't have time. This was a must-win game, and Los Angeles squandered a prime opportunity.

    The Lakers are a better team with James and Davis in the fold—that's not a question—but at this point, it's not enough. Had the pair been healthy a couple of weeks ago, or even a couple of games ago, this loss might not have hurt as much. But Los Angeles has lost eight of its last 10 and no longer controls its own destiny. Every loss stings.

Los Angeles Is Still Clinging on to Hope

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    While Los Angeles may not have time to get back into the play-in mix, the Lakers haven't given up hope. Given everything that has transpired this season—the injuries, the failed Westbrook experiment, questions about coach Frank Vogel's future—few would blame the Lakers for packing it in over the final few games.

    That's not what the Lakers intend to do.

    "I think there is a lot of belief. We know what we're playing for," Davis said, per Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times. "We know the position that we're in. We know we're playing against some top teams. So, I think we have to believe."

    James is chasing a scoring title, of course, which would be remarkable for the 37-year-old. The rest of the Lakers are still fighting for an 83rd game. The final stretch won't be easy, though.

    Of Los Angeles' final five games, only one—an April 8 matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder—is against a squad not currently in the Western Conference playoff field. The Lakers need to steal a game or two and hope that San Antonio stumbles.

    Things might not go the Lakers' way—they rarely have this year—but we can expect Los Angeles to come out swinging each and every night.

    And who knows? The Lakers are already playing elimination basketball, and if they find their rhythm over the next eight days, they could enter the play-in as a dangerous team that can make some noise. It's probably not going to happen, but at least the Lakers believe.