I’m not sure if Adam Silver could have scripted the first In-Season Tournament odds any better. Not only do we have exciting young teams like the New Orleans Pelicans playing some of the most meaningful basketball of their lives, we also have older veteran teams like the Los Angeles Lakers out to prove that they still have another run in them.
The semifinal on Thursday, December 7 sees those two forces collide on a neutral court in Las Vegas, Nevada, and the NBA odds suggest this will be a tight game. These two franchises are forever connected because of the Anthony Davis trade, and both will see this game as a measuring stick for their current progress as well as an indicator of their future potential.
My NBA picks and predictions for Pelicans vs. Lakers believe that LeBron James is still among the best players on the planet in a single elimination game scenario, and I like him to show out against New Orleans.
Pelicans vs Lakers odds
Pelicans vs Lakers predictions
They say Father Time is undefeated. LeBron James would beg to differ.
LeBron is having his most efficient scoring season since his last season with the Miami Heat (which, brace yourself, was a decade ago) and he’s doing it with a much more limited roster, at age 39.
As we saw in last year’s playoffs, at this age, LeBron has difficulty dialing it all the way up for an entire seven-game series. But in the span of a single game, even one in which he plays all 48 minutes, he can still be every bit the difference maker he once was — which is to say, the clear best player on the planet.
That is a hell of a trump card to have in a tournament of this nature.
That said, the Pelicans do have something that the Phoenix Suns did not. New Orleans has size on the wing and a slew of strong perimeter defenders who can also guard up, including Herb Jones and Dyson Daniels. But I don't think that the Pelicans wings will be as impactful going against LeBron and company as they were against the Sacramento Kings
For one thing, the Lakers are just as big. Anthony Davis will maul most of the Pelicans centers, and LeBron can overpower most of their perimeter players. But it’s the synergy between AD and LeBron that should prove decisive.
The LeBron and Davis pick-and-roll is also likely to pay dividends in this matchup. The Pelicans play Jonas Valanciunas at starting center, and without Larry Nance Jr. in the lineup, it’s either Valanciunas, Cody Zeller, or Zion Williamson in that spot.
Those are all matchups that Lebron can attack off the dribble and if the Pelicans try to hedge, LeBron can thread the needle to AD on the roll. With limited size at the four-spot, AD should finish those with ease. James is averaging 6.6 assists this season and had 11 in the game against Phoenix on Tuesday.
If LeBron gets a traditional center on him, he’s still fast enough to blow right by for a layup, and he’s also happy to take an off-the-dribble three if he drags them out to the arc. Those are practice shots for James, who is shooting 38.7% from deep this season on 5.7 attempts per game.
So, the Pelicans' big wings are somewhat neutralized by the weakness of their defenders at the five and size at the four.
Of course, LeBron can do this in any game if he wants to. At 39, he just can’t do it every game.
What makes me confident that LeBron and the Lakers are going to functionally treat this like a playoff game? His minutes from the semifinal.
LeBron played over 40 minutes in their victory over the Suns, which is the first and only time he has played 40 or more minutes in regulation this season. He wants to win the NBA Cup, as do the Lakers as a whole.
As long as LeBron wants to win this thing that badly, I’m going to feel good about backing him.
Betting against LeBron in a win-or-go-home scenario remains one of the scariest prospects in all sports. Conversely, betting on a big performance from James with a spot in the final on the line carries the comfort of a conversation with an old friend.
Bet on these LeBron James odds to deliver on Thursday.
My best bet: LeBron James Over 35.5 points and assists (-108 at FanDuel)
Pelicans vs Lakers same-game parlay
LeBron James Over 35.5 points + assists
Under 230.5 points
Austin Reaves 12+ points
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For my semifinal same-game parlay, I’m pairing my best bet with the Under at 230.5 points along with Austin Reaves to score 12 or more.
I strongly suspect that this is going to be a low-scoring game because both the Lakers and Pelicans have had success beating opponents up with their size. While the Lakers have had the superior defense on the season, the Pels getting healthy has made them a terror to deal with on the wing.
I’m also backing Austin Reaves to score at least 12 points. Reaves has not had the season most expected after his runaway success at the FIBA World Cup and was even demoted to the bench by Darvin Ham.
But Reaves has begun to look more like himself recently, and he’s been closing games over D’Angelo Russell more frequently. Critically, he still has the absolute trust of LeBron and was empowered to hit the game-sealing shot against the Suns. Reaves has scored 12 or more in six of his last seven.
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Pelicans vs Lakers spread and Over/Under analysis
The Los Angeles Lakers opened between -1 and -1.5-point favorites for Thursday’s In-Season Tournament Semifinal matchup. Early betting has moved that to as high as -2.5 points at some sportsbooks and given that the Lakers are the most popular team in the NBA, don’t be surprised if that jumps another point before tip-off.
A key factor to consider here is that while this is technically going to be played on a neutral court in Las Vegas, this is functionally going to be a Lakers home game. L.A. is but a hop, skip, and a jump away, and Lakers fans travel.
That said, the Lakers have had one of the worst spread differentials in the NBA over the last two weeks. Per Cleaning the Glass, they’re underperforming the spread by an average of 3.5 points over their last six games.
The Pelicans by contrast are 13-8-1 against the spread on the season, the sixth-best mark of any team.
One final note: the Lakers have listed all three of LeBron, AD, and Jarred Vanderbilt as questionable to probable for this game. That stinks to the high heavens of pure gamesmanship to me, and nothing LeBron or AD has said in the intervening time gives anything other than the clear impression that they are going to play.
If you’re betting the spread, assume that L.A.’s stars are suiting up.
Thursday’s total opened between 230.5 and 229.5 and is available now as low as 229 at some oddsmakers. These two teams have both crafted elite defenses but in entirely different fashions.
The Pelicans beat you up on the wing and the perimeter, while Davis quarterbacks a defense that denies the rim at all costs. They both play slow and physical, so a grind-it-out game is very much in the cards.
Both teams have trended toward the Under over the course of the season, with the Lakers playing in 13 Unders out of 22 games, and the Pels playing in 12 out of 22.
Pelicans vs Lakers betting trend to know
The Under is 13-9 in the Lakers’ last 22 games. Find more NBA betting trends for Pelicans vs. Lakers.
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Pelicans vs Lakers game info
|T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, NV
|Thursday, December 7, 2023
|9:00 p.m. ET
Pelicans vs Lakers latest injuries
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