LOS ANGELES – The lakersThe first glimpse of their revamped roster on Wednesday was also the last glimpse they would get as a team before the All-Star break. And it was a good one.
“I think we’ll continue to build tonight,” Lebron James said after scoring 21 points with the Lakers win 120-102 above that Pelicans from New Orleans, playing for the first time since LA overtook his team at the close of trade. “I think our skills all fit together somehow.”
LA, in its 59th game of the season, fielded its 30th different starting lineup – the most in the NBA – but this one with three recently acquired players D’Angelo Russell at the point guard, Malik Beasley at Shooting Guard and Jared Vanderbilt with power forward, seemed to click immediately.
Leading 12-2, the Lakers didn’t look back, increasing their lead to as much as 20 against a Pelicans team they’re trying to catch in the Western Conference playoff picture.
“It was good,” said Anthony Davis, who led LA with 28 points in 13-for-17 shooting, plus 10 rebounds and two blocks. “One so that we come into the break on the winning side, feel good and don’t let a defeat linger for the next six, seven days. … But for standings purposes it’s also a good win for us.”
At 27-32 overall, the Lakers are 13th in the West — two games from the 10th seed and final play-in spot, and 3½ games from the sixth seed, which means a first-round berth without the play-in tournament guaranteed .
“We still have a lot of work to do,” said James, who returned after three games against the Pelicans due to pain in his left foot and ankle. “And every game is going to be tough for us, especially going down the track when we know what kind of push we have to do. I want the guys to enjoy the break but not get 100% detached because we want to come back and try to keep this thing going.
“I’m feeling really good about what we’re brewing but it’s going to take a lot of commitment from us as we go down the track so I’m looking forward to it.”
James made his first public comments about the trades being sent Russell Westbrook, Juan Toscano Anderson And Damien Jones for the Utah jazz; Patrick Beverly for Orlando magic; And Thomas Bryant for the Denver nuggets. James rated the players the Lakers received in return.
“First of all, I want to shout out and say hello to the guys who’ve left,” James said. “Russ, Pat, JTA, DJ and Thomas. These five guys. We all started the season together trying to work on making some things happen and being the best we could be on the floor. So I salute these guys and their commitment that we try to be as grounded as possible. And at the moment I like the guys that are coming in. I mean it will take time to get to know each other but I know they play the game at a high level.”
Russell had 21 points and seven assists against New Orleans.
“I know D-Lo is a really good, shady point guard,” James said of the former Lakers No. 2, who has returned for his second stint with the franchise. “He can spread the floor. Very smart. Very deceptive with his speed playing the game.”
Beasley only went 2-for-7 from 3 but was up 15 in his 23 minutes.
“Obviously we got a laser in Malik which we just never had this season,” said James. “A guy, whenever he’s on the ground, whether he makes it or not, you have to respect him for his ability to kick the ball. He kind of has that JR Smith feeling that he can miss 10 in a row and he can do 10 in a row right after that.”
Vanderbilt scored six points, made all three of his shot attempts and added four rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block while checking Brandon Ingram on defense.
“Vando is a Swiss army knife,” said James. “He can do a little bit of everything. His defensive skills, his offensive rebound skills you saw tonight.”
Mo Bamba also made his Lakers debut Wednesday, fouling in 16 minutes but rebounding six, three blocks and scoring a one-handed hammer dunk off a feed from James while he was out there.
“I just love what we were able to take away,” James said.