The New Orleans Pelicans came out with a sluggish effort in the regular season finale against the Los Angeles Lakers. Now the two squads are locked into the seventh vs. eighth-seed NBA Play-In Tournament game on Tuesday. LeBron James finished with 28 points, 17 assists, 11 rebounds and five steals to set up a rematch. CJ McCollum fought back yawns after the latest loss knowing full well the team's legacy is on the line Tuesday.

An admittedly “passive” Zion Williamson refused to make excuses after losing to the Lakers on national television for the second time this season. Willie Green's Pelicans know they let a golden opportunity to secure a top-six seed slip away. New Orleans opened the game by practically giving Los Angeles a red carpet to the rim while not being able to buy a basket on the other end. The Pelicans made only five of their first 19 triples and James was on triple-double alert by halftime.

McCollum couldn't pinpoint a single area where New Orleans could lay blame or fix all ills. The Lakers shredded the Pelicans in too many ways.

“I think it was a combination. They got turnovers. They got out in transition, some lobs, some dunks, some slips, some back door cuts. It was a combination of everything,” McCollum detailed. “I had some (turnovers) early and they got out and ran in transition but overall I think 19 turnovers is too many. They are going to get points off of those; they are going to get threes and dunks to feed off that. We got to do a better job taking care of the ball.”

The Pelicans' most recent road trip went well on the court (4-0), but the last leg of the travel logistics was a nightmare. The team did not fly out of San Francisco until 21 hours after tipping off against the Golden State Warriors. The Lakers had the rest advantage and had even been in New Orleans longer than the Pelicans thanks to plane troubles on the west coast.

McCollum did not want to hear that type of excuse after a grueling 82-game season (not including the In-Season Tournament run).

“No excuses,” McCollum stated. “We didn't play well enough to win tonight. We'll be better in the next game but it was a good road trip. We were able to get four wins in a row which is nice. Now we've got to take care of our home court.”

Pelicans' offense sputtering down the stretch

New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum (3) dribbles against Los Angeles Lakers guard Austin Reaves
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The Pelicans had a promising nine-minute stretch that was too little too late against the Lakers. New Orleans cut a 32-point deficit down to 17 points with 10 minutes remaining. Los Angeles kept New Orleans at arm's length the rest of the game. Green is known as a defense-first coach, but this is the era of wide-open scoring. The team has to recognize when to lean into each aspect of the game.

McCollum, for example, knows the Pelicans have to keep scoring regardless of any defensive lapses if the team wants to have any postseason success.

“It starts with us executing better on offense,” McCollum continued. “Giving ourselves a chance by getting a shot every time, not allowing them to get out and run in transition…I'll have to watch the film but we didn't give up 40 points in the third quarter. We didn't give up 40 points in the fourth quarter. Some of it was turnovers. Some of it was better execution on offense and then communicating better on defense.”

Winning basketball is based on the same foundations of a well-rounded relationship: Communication is the key. The Smoothie King Center crowd had no reason to cheer and at the quietest moments, the Pelicans still could not be heard hyping each other up.

McCollum was adamant when asked about necessary adjustments due to a lack of communication and offensive cohesion versus the Lakers.

“(We can improve) communicating better and being more solid. Making sure the guys we want shooting are shooting,” McCollum explained. “They have a real paint presence obviously, with Lebron trying to get downhill consistently then AD being a roll threat. He's offense rebounding and had a couple of dunks. Then coming with back doors, they got a couple of ghost cuts on us. I think that kind of opened (the game) up a little bit but we've just got to do a better job being more solid, more sound defensively.”

The Pelicans can find one positive takeaway from the game despite the loss. Brandon Ingram was available following a few weeks on the shelf thanks to an unfortunate, ill-timed knee contusion.

“It was good to have him back out there,” McCollum added. “Him getting out there and continuing to get game touches, game experience, game defense down the stretch we thought was important. I'm glad he felt up for the challenge. Obviously, we'd like to get a win with him returning but we weren't able to tonight.”

The Pelicans need a win Tuesday or the front office will be under immense pressure to pinpoint an offseason move that would shake up a locker room that had higher expectations at the start of this season.