Improving Lakers ready for Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Pelicans swept the regular-season series against the Los Angeles Lakers last year for the first time in franchise history.

New Orleans will find the going much tougher this time around, however.

The 5-4 Lakers will continue their three-game road trip with a matchup against the 1-8 Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center Saturday. The Lakers are showing growing maturity, especially in downing Sacramento 101-91 on Thursday night. The Lakers had lost all four games to the Kings last season and had dropped seven in a row dating back to the 2014-15 season.

But the Lakers erased a first-half deficit by outscoring the Kings 56-36 in the second half. Point guard D'Angelo Russell scored 17 points, but he is trying to be more careful with the ball. He is averaging 3.2 turnovers a game.

“He has the ball handling and passing vision not to turn the ball over,” said Lakers coach Luke Walton. “We've seen it. He's still young, and there are good defenders. … He's got to take care of the ball better.”

The Pelicans, meanwhile, picked up a pair of important “victories” within 12 hours on Friday.

After defeating the Milwaukee Bucks 112-106 on the road Thursday night for their first win of the season after eight consecutive losses, the Pelicans found out Friday they soon will be reunited with their second-best player, point guard Jrue Holiday.

Although Holiday will not be in the lineup Saturday when the Pelicans host the Lakers, he appears ready to return next week from his leave of absence, which was necessitated by his wife Laura's surgery to remove a benign brain tumor.

The Vertical broke the story Friday, citing an NBA source who said Holiday plans to return next week. He may be back for the Pelicans' road game in Orlando next Wednesday, but it was more likely that he would return when New Orleans hosts Portland next Friday.

Holiday's wife gave birth to the couple's first child in September and then underwent the successful surgery.

“What he's got going on with his family is important,” said Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, who scored 32 points and grabbed eight rebounds in New Orleans' victory over Milwaukee. “He knows when he's ready to come back in, when everything's situated over there. You got to give him his space and just respect that. We try to keep in contact with him as much as possible. He knows when he' feels like he's ready to be back.

“He means a lot on both ends. He's talented offensively and defensively. He brings a lot to our team. He's our point guard, and it's going to be good to have him back.”

The Pelicans were breathing a sigh of relief after getting their first win of the season, especially since their margin of defeat in seven of their eight losses was 6.0 points.

“It's a load off our shoulders to finally get a win, to pull one out,” said point guard Tim Frazier, who will be headed for a backup role when Holiday returns. “The whole team was saying we can't lose this one. We bit down and grinded it out.”