The Los Angeles Lakers may have swept the season series against the New Orleans Pelicans but exciting times lie ahead for both teams.
After it was all over, LeBron James embraced Zion Williamson at halfcourt, unsurprising considering the amount of attention that their lack of interaction received last Tuesday.
The 17 year-vet clearly respects the rookie phenom both in his postgame comments and his play, going over the 34 point mark for the second game in a row against New Orleans and posting his 13th triple-double of the season while Anthony Davis sat with a sore right knee.
James will never admit it but he sits up in his chair a little straighter for these Pelicans games now. Williamson is his heir apparent, an unbelievable physical force that feels less like his popular comparison of Charles Barkley and more like Mike Tyson.
The 19-year-old is 15 games in and is on his 11th consecutive 20-point outing. Williamson recorded a career-high 35 points on just 16 attempts in a losing effort. His ability to efficiently generate points close to the basket using sheer strength pops off the screen like a modern-day Shaquille O’Neal.
The hype behind Williamson has dimmed the spotlight on how the rest of the story has come together for New Orleans.
The Pelicans lost their star rookie’s services for the early part of their campaign and limped out to a 6-22 start to the season. They are now 18-11 since Christmas and have benefitted from Brandon Ingram becoming an All-Star in Williamson’s absence.
Ingram is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, and steals. He will likely earn himself a max offer sheet as a restricted free agent in the summer.
It was speculated that Ingram could benefit from a change of scenery after fitting sometimes awkwardly alongside James who is a unique offensive engine that requires specific parts around him for success. Ingram appears more confident in New Orleans and has already hit more threes this season (129) than he did during his three-year tenure with the Lakers.
Lonzo Ball has come back from injury and begun to look like he will soon take New Orleans’s best passer title away from Drew Brees.
Ball is in a perfect role as a tertiary offensive option and primary ball distributor. He pushes the floor with Russell Westbrook like urgency in transition which leads to easy baskets via long pass or putting his elite speed to use for layups.
What puts the Pelicans over the top is the Ball is also a plus defender. When he and Jrue Holiday are healthy together they can give opposing backcourts real problems.
Lonzo Ball is so much fun pic.twitter.com/gUl4xkX677
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) March 2, 2020
Before we get too lusty-eyed over a possible Lakers/Pelicans round one matchup, New Orleans still has a lot of work to do. Memphis still holds a three-game lead over them for the eighth slot.
A lot of ground has been covered since Williamson’s return and the Pels will have to continue to handle business while missing JJ Redick for at least the next two weeks with a left hamstring strain suffered on Friday against Cleveland.
They would love a chance to see what their core can do in the playoffs but it is clear that no matter how the playoff push turns out, there are bright times ahead.