February 23, 2024

This was the time to move forward, the final game of 2023, the final game of a stretch where the Lakers played 14 of 19 games away from Los Angeles.

As this chapter on the Lakers’ season was set to close, coach Darvin Ham made a bit of a proclamation pregame in New Orleans. The Lakers were going to push forward with a new starting lineup — this time with Rui Hachimura as the team’s fifth starter.

“I think this lineup that you see tonight, we’re going to stick with for the foreseeable future,” Ham said.

It lasted eight minutes.

Another blow to the team’s quest for consistency combined with a short turnaround after an emotional loss to Minnesota on Saturday meant the Lakers’ calendar year ended with a 129-109 loss to the Pelicans.

Hachimura, who moved into the starting lineup for Cam Reddish (out because of a groin injury), had to leave Sunday’s game in New Orleans because of a calf injury, another hiccup for a team that’s back to .500 (17-17).

“It is what it is,” LeBron James said. “It is what our record is and we have to figure it out and get better, for sure.”

The record has to be particularly discouraging considering how James and Anthony Davis have played to this point, the two stars being plenty good enough while the supporting cast has varied and scuffled.

James, playing for the second straight game with an illness, scored 34 points — the 11th most by a 39-year-old in league history. Davis and Austin Reaves had 20 each, but the Pelicans shot better than 50% from the field on three-pointers.

Injuries, again, forced the reshuffling in the first place, the Lakers playing without Reddish (groin) and D’Angelo Russell (tailbone bruise). But the new plan had to be re-worked after Hachimura quickly left Sunday’s game.

He’ll undergo further evaluation in Los Angeles.

Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr. tries to block a pass between Lakers forward Taurean Prince and forward Anthony Davis.

New Orleans Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr., center, tries to block a pass between Lakers forward Taurean Prince, left, and forward Anthony Davis in the first half Sunday.

(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)

Reaves, who the team has been reluctant to put back in the starting lineup, had to play with the group to start the second half. Reaves had 13 of his 20 points in the third.

But the Lakers, ultimately, looked too heavy-legged to respond to the Pelicans, who hung 42 points on L.A. in the first quarter without ever really slowing down.

The Lakers have are just 3-8 since winning the NBA’s first in-season tournament.

“Since the in-season tournament, we’ve been struggling,” Reaves said. “Health, injuries, sickness, we’ve kinda had some bad fortune there. But at the end of the day, that happens to everybody. But we have to look in the mirror and see what we can do to be better, what I can to do be better. And just get better.”

The team arrived in New Orleans after 3 a.m. Sunday following their loss in Minnesota. And while the league affirmed its ruling on James’ shot with his toe on the three-point line late, it reported missed calls on a goaltend and a charge that weren’t called against the Timberwolves.

Then the defense never physically bothered the motivated Pelicans, who last faced the Lakers in a 44-point rout in Las Vegas.

Zion Williamson scored 26 points, Brandon Ingram had 26 and CJ McCollum 22 for New Orleans, which trailed only for a single possession in the first quarter.

The Lakers now play 11 of their next 12 games in Los Angeles to start 2024.

“We’ve been a pretty good home team thus far and now we got to take advantage of it,” Davis said. “We get to sleep in our own beds, don’t have to worry about traveling. Our own resources. Get some practice time in and let guys get healthy. So it’s gonna be big for us to make this homestand a great one. We got to take advantage of it.”

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