Lakers come back from down 21, but Pelicans hold on

LOS ANGELES -- In his third game as a Laker, Lonzo Ball flirted with a triple-double again and had some much-needed reinforcement with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's debut.

But surprisingly, the Los Angeles Lakers who gave the New Orleans Pelicans' Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins fits were mostly substitutes. While the Lakers (1-2) lost to the Pelicans 119-112, head coach Luke Walton might have found himself an interesting combination to use in games.

Down 93-72 with 2:37 left in the third quarter, the Lakers went on a 29-5 run largely with a group of Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma and Julius Randle. They eventually turned that deficit into a 106-101 lead with 5:48 remaining, but New Orleans (1-2) weathered the Lakers' surge and scored 11 straight late to secure the win.

After just missing out on a triple-double in his second game, last Friday at Phoenix, Ball followed up his sensational outing with eight points, a career-high 13 assists and eight rebounds. But unlike in Phoenix -- where the rookie faced very little resistance en route to 29 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists -- Ball had a much tougher time scoring against the Pelicans, shooting just 3-for-13 and finishing with five turnovers and a plus-minus of minus-24.

Ball got his first taste of the Pelicans' monstrous front line, which had its way with the Lakers. Davis had 27 points, 17 rebounds, three steals and three blocks, while Cousins filled it up with 22 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and two blocks for the Pelicans.

Ball tried going at the two at the rim at times -- he was rejected by Davis with 3:16 left in regulation, and the Lakers lost their lead right after that for good. The Pelicans duo also clogged the lanes at times for the rookie point guard, who has never faced an inside combination like this.

"I liked Lonzo's aggression tonight," Walton said. "He just didn't make shots ... the more he does it, the more comfortable he will get and the more he will feel the size and strength of what it is like in the NBA, and he will learn how to take advantage of that. Those two bigs he was trying to penetrate today, those are monsters out there. You are not used to playing guys like that, but I thought it was great for him to go in there and challenge them."

Caldwell-Pope, the Lakers' big signing in free agency, displayed the kind of two-way game that Lakers president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka want to see. The guard, who served a two-game suspension to start the season for a previous DUI in Michigan, scored 20 points and had two steals and a block. He gave the Lakers their first spark.

Down 64-42 late in the first half, Caldwell-Pope scored nine points and had a steal to get the Lakers within 11. Davis and Cousins kept pounding the Lakers to push the lead back up to 21 in the third. Ball went to the bench with the Lakers down 93-72.

Walton, searching for combinations early in the season, went with Clarkson, Hart, Ingram (with four fouls), Kuzma and Randle. That group played stellar defense and sent Staples Center into a frenzy, giving the young Lakers a surprising 101-98 lead with 7:23 left. Cousins picked up his fifth foul during that run, as well.

"That's probably the first time that lineup ever played together," Walton said. "But all five were fighting and talking and engaged and making plays. You got to be willing to play that hard and that group was."

Cousins, though, would tie the game at 110-110 with a tip-in, and then his two free throws after that gave the Pelicans a lead that they would not relinquish.

Hart said trying to front Cousins, as he had to do at one point in the second half, was incredibly difficult and that seeing Cousins in person was quite the experience.

"DeMarcus is big as hell! You all see me back there try to rassle with him?" Hart said. "Their size is huge. You only see it on TV, but to see it up close in the post, trying to stop him from getting the ball, it was tough. The size, you don't get to see that on TV. He was huge. I've looked small before, but I looked like I was a little kid to him."

Some of the Lakers' young talent had their first big L.A. moments. Hart, seeing the first meaningful minutes of his career, hit a big 3 and was a plus-21 on the night. Kuzma scored a career-high 20 points and at one point stood his ground against Davis on a face-up and slapped the ball off Davis for a turnover.

Clarkson looked every bit the sixth man Johnson wants him to be this season, leading the Lakers in scoring with 24 off the bench. Johnson said he wants Clarkson to compete for Sixth Man of the Year, and so far, the guard has 59 points off the bench -- most in the NBA.

As for Ball, his 26 assists through three games are the most ever by a teen through that amount of games. But it only gets more difficult for the No. 2 overall pick, who next faces John Wall and the Washington Wizards on Wednesday.

"I was shooting shots, it just wasn't going in," said Ball, who missed all five of his 3-point attempts for the game and went 0-for-2 from the field overall in the fourth quarter. "Next game is Wednesday, shoot the same shots."