The New Orleans Pelicans are a really good basketball team. They won 49 games this 2023-24, which is definitely A LOT! The Pelicans also finished the regular season with the sixth-best net rating and point differential in the entire NBA. Only the Boston Celtics, Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves and New York Knicks were better as a squad in those metrics than New Orleans. And yet, the Pelicans find themselves in the Play-In tournament with a non-zero chance of missing the playoffs entirely. Such is life in the Western Conference.

New Orleans could've stamped their playoff fate with a win on Sunday over the Los Angeles Lakers. They also could've earned the sixth seed if the Timberwolves beat the Phoenix Suns. Neither happened. Now, the Pelicans are staring down a rematch with the Lakers on Tuesday. Los Angeles dominated them on Sunday and will try to replicate that on Tuesday. Unfortunately for New Orleans, the Lakers have a couple of spots on New Orleans' roster they can continue to poke and expose in the play-in.

Pelicans lack size

Herb Jones, Trey Murphy III, Jose Alvarado, and Dyson Daniels are all outstanding defensive players. They are a big reason why the Pelicans finished this season as the sixth-best defense in the NBA despite their three best players not being known as stout defenders. But, neither of them are especially big. Of that foursome, Murphy is listed as the biggest at 6-foot-8 and 206 pounds.

They can get by against most teams, especially if their best and primary playmaker. But that's not the case with the Lakers. LeBron James is a 6-foot-9, 250-pound terminator who can do everything on a basketball floor. On Sunday, he had no problem bullying any defender the Pelicans put in front of him.

LeBron was 11-20 from the field and scored 28 points. Of his 11 makes, only one was outside the paint. He also got to the free throw line six times and made all of his freebies. The Pelicans just simply didn't have an answer for him. James was able to overpower any of those guys listed above. When Zion Williamson was defending him, he had no problem blowing by him either. New Orleans tried to prevent this by sending a ton of help and attention his way, but it didn't matter.

James winded up with 17(!) assists in their Sunday showdown, which was a season-high. He had so many assists that the scoreboard in New Orleans literally could not keep up.

The issue for New Orleans is that not only is LeBron massive, but the rest of the Lakers' frontcourt is, too. They also have to deal with Anthony Davis, who is not only 6-foot-10 and 253 pounds but also an outstanding, nimble, and dynamic athlete. Rui Hachimura is no slouch either at 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds. As excellent as James was on offense, Davis was the same defensively. He completely barricaded the paint and owned the boards. AD did this while also adding 30 points.

The Pelicans just really aren't built to defend two players as big and skilled as James and Davis. Larry Nance Jr. is a solid small-ball center option, but he isn't big enough to really deter those two. Jonas Valanciunas curiously played just seven minutes, and though he isn't known as a big defensive presence, he at least is big at 7-feet and 265 pounds.

The Pelicans have their hands full on Tuesday. They went 1-3 against the Lakers in the regular season and play them again to stave off a winner-take-all game later in the week. Los Angeles' size has been a big problem for them and could be again in the play-in. But one stout performance could silence that noise and get the Pelicans into the playoffs. That's all New Orleans should be focusing on at the moment.