The Los Angeles Lakers have won their first two matchups against the New Orleans Pelicans, but Tuesday night's battle introduces an entirely new complication in the form of Zion Williamson. The No. 1 pick has rampaged through the NBA over the past month with few teams finding a sustainable method of containing him.
Tonight, though, he'll face a defense built specifically to contain players like him. The Lakers allow only 106.2 points per 100 possessions, the fifth-best mark in all of basketball, and they lead the NBA in blocking 6.8 shots per 100 possessions. Williamson has had his way with lottery opponents so far. The Lakers are an entirely different animal, and they are led by the very player Williamson has spent most of his rookie season compared to.
LeBron James is the standard against which all rookie phenoms are judged. Williamson has lived up to that standard so far, but he has a long way to go if he is ever going to catch the king. Beating the king would be a nice start. As well as he has played, Zion doesn't yet have a marquee win. Taking down the greatest player of this generation in their first-ever matchup would be a fairly strong indicator that Williamson himself is headed down a similar path.
So how will this showdown shake out? Here's how you can watch and find out.
How To Watch
- When: Tuesday, Feb. 25, 10 p.m. ET
- Location: Staples Center -- Los Angeles, California
- TV: TNT | Stream: fuboTV (watch for free)
- Odds: NOP: +270 | LAL: -330 | O/U: 239.5
So who wins Pelicans vs. Lakers? And which side of the spread hits well over 50 percent of the time? Visit SportsLine now to see which side of the Lakers vs. Pelicans spread you need to jump on, all from the model that has crushed its NBA picks, and find out.
Lakers: With a bit less than two months remaining in the season, the Lakers have more or less locked up home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs. They lead the Denver Nuggets -- who they've already beaten twice -- by five games with only 27 remaining, so the No. 1 seed is virtually set. The next two months will largely be about playoff prep, and in New Orleans, the Lakers are faced with a potential first-round opponent they'd likely rather not see.
The Pelicans are 7-3 in their last 10 games. Zion Williamson is currently ranked seventh among all players in terms of points per 100 possessions, and New Orleans' starting lineup with him in it alongside Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram and Derrick Favors is outscoring opponents by a staggering 23.2 points per 100 possessions. As a point of reference, the most commonly used Lakers' starting lineup outscores opponents by only 13.4 points per 100 possessions (albeit in a much larger sample). The Pelicans are not a typical No. 8 seed. The Lakers don't want to deal with them in the first round.
The Lakers will have two chances to help prevent that from happening in the next week, with another matchup coming on Sunday. The Pelicans are currently three games out of a playoff spot, trailing the Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers, so if the Lakers want to keep it that way, they'll have to take care of business twice in the next six days.
Pelicans: Williamson has passed almost every test the NBA has given him so far, but his lone failure came against a team very similar to the Lakers. The Milwaukee Bucks, with two elite rim-protectors in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez, held him to only 5-of-19 shooting in an ugly loss. While other teams have great individual rim-protectors, only the Lakers come close to Milwaukee's depth in terms of defending the basket thanks to Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard. Tonight is Williamson's chance to prove that he can score against the best.
It's also his chance to see where he measures up against the best. This is his first game against LeBron James, the superstar he is most often compared to as a young phenom with unbridled athleticism. James has since evolved into the sort of complete player that Williamson hopes to one day become, and while the two are unlikely to defend each other all that much, this is exactly the sort of moment that a young James rose to early in his career. Tonight will serve as an excellent barometer of whether or not Williamson can do the same.
Game prediction, pick
Take a look at New Orleans' wins since Williamson entered the lineup. Jayson Tatum missed the Boston game. Jaren Jackson Jr. sat out when they played Memphis. The rest came against non-playoff opponents. Denver, Houston, Milwaukee and Oklahoma City have all beaten them. Until the Pelicans prove that they can actually take on contenders, picking them to do so would be irresponsible. So for now, the edge here belongs to the Lakers. Pick: Lakers -7.5