After a much-needed win at home against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Los Angeles Lakers took their first step in climbing their way back into the playoff picture. Kyle Kuzma and LeBron James each had extremely efficient scoring nights and Rajon Rondo stole the show with a game-high 16 assists en route to a double-double. The trio of Ingram, Kuzma, and James showed up late and Lakers survived what should have been an extremely winnable game at home. James, in particular, hit a dagger 3 pointer with 21 seconds left to put the Lakers up 123-117.
Pelicans star Anthony Davis was once again on his regular 21-minute restriction, yet had an incredibly efficient night going for 22 points on just 14 shots. Julius Randle had a monster performance back in Staples Center and was a relentless force attacking the rim for his entire time on the court. Randle would end with a game-high 35 points on an effective 11-22 from the field.
Updated Lakers Playoff Chances
After the win against the Pelicans at home, FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO projection system says the Lakers did not improve their playoff chances at all. Still stagnant with a 19% chance to make the playoffs, this game was more crucial in the sense that the Lakers didn’t drop a winnable game. FiveThirtyEight’s ELO forecast is a bit more hopeful following the win, increasing the Lakers playoff chances from 6% to 8%.
While neither projection offers too much good news to Laker fans, this game against a depleted Pelicans unit was about as close to a must-win game that the Lakers have seen so far. Still three games out of the 8th seed with one of the NBA’s toughest remaining schedules, the Lakers cannot afford to lose any more games to non-playoff teams. It may have been ugly, but the win was crucial in getting the struggling Lakers back on track.
Rajon Rondo’s Big Night
Despite going just 5-15 from the field, Rondo had a huge impact on the game facilitating the offense. Rondo led the Lakers with a whopping 16 assists and pitched in 11 points to round out his double-double. His biggest impact, however, came on the defensive side of the ball. Rondo was instrumental in helping to shut down former backcourt mate Jrue Holiday who went 8-19 from the field to go with 1-9 from 3. Holiday’s ineffectiveness was a massive factor down the stretch and helped the Lakers avoid a near epic collapse.
With Lonzo Ball out for the foreseeable future, the Lakers need Rondo to step up and be the secondary ball handler off LeBron James. Especially considering that James has been known to take a play off defensively every once in a while, having Rondo and his defensive IQ quarterbacking the team is invaluable while making a playoff push. Just listening to Laker broadcasts, you can often hear Rondo barking out directions to his teammates as they get back on defense.