The Lakers started the season on a five-game losing streak before scoring a 121-110 victory at home Sunday over the Denver Nuggets. They were the last team in the NBA to finally win a game this season.
It was also the first victory for new Lakers head coach Darvin Ham, who has somewhat extended himself on a limb with his decision to use Russell Westbrook off the bench. The plan took flight against the Nuggets, with Westbrook scoring 18 points and sealing the victory with a driving basket with 1:36 remaining.
Westbrook's consistency issues last season, his first with the Lakers, and his caustic tone throughout, have not been a good look. So Ham made the change in roles, asking the veteran scorer to embrace the team concept while swallowing his pride.
"I told him, 'Man, just listen to me. Believe in me, bro. I'm gonna put you in a position to succeed with the group. But you have to put the group first. It can't be about me or I or mine. It's gotta be us, ours, we,'" Ham said. "And he's done that."
LeBron James scored a team-high 26 points in the victory while Anthony Davis had 23 points and 15 rebounds despite struggling through an ongoing lower-back strain.
"It's all manageable," Davis said. "Just gotta do what I can to make sure I'm on the floor to help the team win."
The Pelicans know all about working through injuries. Zion Williamson not only missed all of last season, but he also missed consecutive games after a hard fall last week before returning Sunday to help New Orleans to a 112-91 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Williamson had his first double-double of the season -- 21 points, 12 rebounds -- and dished out seven assists.
The contribution came as Williamson worked through residual hip and back pain.
"Still a little sore, man," Williamson said. "I've taken a lot of falls, but I ain't never had a fall like that one. But it was fine enough for me to play. Unless I'm truly injured, I'm going to be playing the game of basketball. That's just how I am."
As Williamson returned, starters Herb Jones (knee) and Brandon Ingram (concussion protocol) missed their third consecutive game. Ingram is expected to be out again against the Lakers, his former team.
Naji Marshall has helped New Orleans pick up some of the slack, averaging 17.7 points with 5.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists over the past three games as the Pelicans are 2-1 in the stretch, having also defeated the Dallas Mavericks.
Marshall also has contributed solid defense from his small forward spot.
"I think his confidence is growing more and more as he gets more minutes," Pelicans head coach Willie Green said. "Especially with guys being out. He's taking shots. He's guarding the best players. It makes our depth that much better going forward."
--Field Level Media