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Lakers’ confidence grows with another road victory, a 126-99 win over Pelicans

Lakers forward Brandon Ingram drives to the basket against Pelicans center Alexis Ajinca during the first half Saturday.
(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)

Minutes after the Lakers beat the New Orleans Pelicans, 126-99, one of their youngest players made the kind of statement that might have seemed a little bold one month ago.

“We’re 2-0 on this road trip, 3-0 is what we’re looking for,” Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell said. “Two-and-one is unacceptable.”

With it, Russell maintained the micro-focus his head coach wants from the team — he mentioned the next opponent. But with it he also highlighted something developing in this young Lakers team. They now have the confidence to expect wins.

On Saturday night at the Smoothie King Center, the Lakers improved their record to 6-4, by dropping the Pelicans to 1-9. It’s the first time since the end of the 2012-13 season the Lakers have been at least two games above .500.

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“It’s just a confidence thing, honestly,” Lakers Coach Luke Walton said. “It’s them having faith. Trusting in each other. The pressure builds at the end of the game, teams pick up their defense and it gets a lot more difficult to score. We were letting that get the better of us.

“Recently you can see them staying calm and making the extra pass and trusting that the next guy will make the right play and the next guy will knock down the shot. That’s why you see so many different guys for us make big plays so far.”

Saturday’s win featured many of the things Walton loves to see.

The Lakers shared the ball so well they had 36 assists, more than in any Lakers game since April 8, 2014. Five players hit double figures. Jordan Clarkson led the team with 23 points, Lou Williams had 21 and Russell had 22. In all, the Lakers guards scored 84 of the team’s 126 points, and accounted for all 16 of their three-pointers.

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They fed off the playmaking ability of forward Julius Randle, who finished the game with eight points, eight assists, 11 rebounds and a plus/minus of 17.

“Everybody played a part in it,” Clarkson said. “Julius is doing a great job of getting everybody involved, making plays. He calls so much attention guys gotta turn their heads, and we’re out there moving on the backside getting easy jump shots.”

It also featured something Walton doesn’t love to see.

Again, the Lakers started with less intensity than their coach wants. At halftime Pelicans center Anthony Davis already had 21 points, and New Orleans held a 56-55 lead. Every Lakers starter had a negative plus/minus rating in the first half, while every member of their second unit had a positive rating.

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“They did a great job as far as bringing the energy and giving the coaches what they were looking for,” Russell said of the team’s second unit. “That made it easier for us when we got back in going into the second half.”

It helped, too, that the Pelicans lost their only offensive threat for more than five minutes. With 8:12 remaining in the third quarter, Davis injured his back and went into the Pelicans’ locker room.

For the next 4:53, the Lakers buried the Pelicans with a 14-0 run.

From there the Lakers’ killer instinct arose. Even when Davis returned, the Lakers kept pulling away. They led by as many as 29 points before winning by 27.

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Walton saw the seeds of the confidence he’s seeing now back when the Lakers played the Atlanta Hawks. That was their first road win of the season, and came against a then-undefeated team. Before the game, the coaches had shown the players a clip of a story in which the Lakers were identified as being part of the soft part of the Hawks’ schedule. The team responded with an upset on the second night of back-to-back games.

Including that game, the Lakers have won five of their last six games. That’s something this team hasn’t done since the end of the 2012-13 season.

“Let people keep not respecting us,” Young said. “Let us fly under the radar and by the end you’ll see some good results.”

If the Lakers keep this up, they’ll need a new motivational technique.

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tania.ganguli@latimes.com

Twitter: @taniaganguli


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