LOS ANGELES — The Lakers’ first impression of their revamped roster Wednesday was also the last look they would get as a team before the All-Star break. And it was a good one.
“I think we’re going to continue to build off tonight,” LeBron James said after scoring 21 points in the Lakers’ 120-102 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, playing for the first time since LA overhauled its team at the trade deadline . “I think our skill sets all kinds of fit each other.”
LA trotted out its 30th different starting lineup in its 59th game of the season — the most in the NBA — but this one, featuring three recently acquired players in D’Angelo Russell at point guard, Malik Beasley at shooting guard and Jarred Vanderbilt at power forward, seemed to click right away.
The Lakers jumped to a 12-2 lead and didn’t look back, pushing their advantage to as many 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 on 13-for-17 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds and two blocks. “One, for us to get on the winning side of things going into the break, to feel good about ourselves and not let a loss kind of linger over 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 out of the 10th seed and final play-in spot and 3½ games out of the sixth seed, which guarantees a first-round berth without the play-in tournament .
“We got a lot of work to do still,” said James, who returned against the Pelicans following a three-game absence due to a sore left foot and ankle. “And every game is going to be tough for us, especially going down the stretch, knowing the type of push that we need to make. I want the guys to enjoy the break but don’t get 100% detached because we want to come back and try to keep this thing going.
“I feel really good about what we have brewing, but it’s going to take a lot of commitment from us going down the stretch so I’m looking forward to that.”
James made his first public comments about the trades that sent Russell Westbrook, Juan Toscano-Anderson and Damian Jones to the Utah Jazz; Patrick Beverley to the Orlando Magic; and Thomas Bryant to the Denver Nuggets. James evaluated the players the Lakers received in return.
“First of all, I shout out and salute the guys that left,” James said. “Russ, Pat, JTA, DJ and Thomas. Those five guys. We all started the season together and tried to work to make some things happen and be the best that we could be out on the floor. So I salute those guys and their commitment to us trying to be as good as we could be on the floor. And right now, I mean, I like the guys that we have coming in. I mean, it’s going to take some time for us to get to know one another , but I know that 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, shifty point guard,” James said about the former Lakers No. 2 pick, back for his second stint with the franchise. “He can space the floor. Very crafty. Very deceiving with his quickness, the way he plays the game.”
Beasley went only 2-for-7 from 3, but was a plus-15 in his 23 minutes.
“Obviously, we got a laser in Malik that we just never had this season,” James said. “A guy, whenever he’s on the floor, no matter if he’s making it or not, you have to respect him because of his ability to shoot the ball. He has kind of that JR Smith feeling to him that he can miss 10 in a row and he can make 10 in a row right after that.”
Vanderbilt scored six points, making 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,” James said. “He can do a little bit of everything. His defensive ability, his offensive rebounding ability you saw tonight.”
Mo Bamba also made his Lakers debut on Wednesday, fouling out in 16 minutes, but tallying six rebounds, 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 pick up,” James said.