Short-handed Lakers fall to Pelicans, lose third straight game
How do you stop Zion Williamson? Can you contain Brandon Ingram? Do you have the size to fight with Steven Adams?
The Lakers had none of those answers Tuesday, and for a night, that’s fine.
But take a step back after the Lakers’ 128-111 blowout loss in New Orleans and think about the bigger questions the Lakers have to be asking.
“What are we going to do without LeBron James and Anthony Davis? How are we going to get stops? How are we going to get scores? Can we hang on?”
That Talen Horton-Tucker is a key part of all the answers speaks both to the 20-year-old’s promise and the problematic situation the Lakers find themselves in with Thursday’s trade deadline nearing.
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He is the best young player the Lakers have, someone who can attack the basket with strength and athleticism and finish with a feathery touch.
“As he starts shooting the ball more consistently,” New Orleans coach Stan Van Gundy said, “he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with in this league.”
Horton-Tucker is valued inside and outside the organization, with James not hesitating to name him when recently asked about new players on the Lakers that he trusted come the playoffs.
“I know that he’ll be ready for it,” James said.
But can the Lakers wait?
Tuesday, they lost their third straight game, looking terribly undermanned against a team that entered the night 12th in the West. Ingram, the former Laker, scored 36 points. Williamson had 27 and nine rebounds. Tougher games are coming, and it’s still unclear when Davis or James, who wasn’t with the team in New Orleans after returning to Los Angeles, will be healthy to help.
“It’s a challenge. But it’s not nothing that we can’t overcome,” Kyle Kuzma said. “So I think we just got to look at the drawing board, continue to trust each other, try to play for one another on both sides of the ball. I think if we can do that, we give ourselves a chance every single night.”
The Lakers can take some comfort in the upcoming trade deadline. It’s not because it’ll be easy for the team to strike up a meaningful trade; it won’t. But according to sources, it’s growing increasingly likely that Cleveland won’t be able to deal center Andre Drummond, setting the stage for the Lakers to try to sign him once he’s bought out.
That would help clog the gaping hole they have in the middle — New Orleans scored 26 points in the paint in the first quarter alone.
But Drummond, a multiple All-Star, can’t fill the voids created by James’ and Davis’ absence.
Rival scouts and executives have targeted Horton-Tucker as the Laker with the most promise, and with his upcoming free agency, a player everyone knows is in line for a healthy raise this summer.
And unless the Lakers want to part with a 2027 first-round pick in a future shakier than the rim after a Williamson dunk, it’s almost certainly going to take Horton-Tucker as a sweetener in any deal that would give the Lakers the help they need.
Thing is, even despite games like Tuesday when he scored five points, the Lakers also view him as a big part of their future.
“It’s something we’ve talked about all year. I mean, let’s be honest, if you go back in the draft and redo the draft from last year, Talen Horton-Tucker would not go in the second round,” James said last week.
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“So we’re super-duper lucky and blessed to be able to grab him. … He’s a damn good player right now and he’s going to just continue to get better and better.”
It’s why scouts and executives around the NBA know the Lakers will be reluctant to deal him — a break-in-case-of-emergency option only if absolutely necessary.
And that’s not what Lakers coach Frank Vogel expects to happen.
“Those conversations are for the front office. My expectation is we’re gonna win games with this group, and I believe in the group that we have,” Vogel said of the trade deadline.
“If nothing happens, we’re gonna win games, and we’ll figure out a way to win games during this stretch. And it will benefit us in the long run. I’m not sure if we’ll see any changes or not.
“…Most trade deadlines are a lot of talks that result in nothing, and that’s my expectation as a coach.”
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