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Lakers sink Pelicans to earn Nuggets playoff rematch

LeBron shines for LA, while New Orleans faces Williamson fitness worry

Updated: 2024-04-18 08:55
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Apr 16, 2024; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) dribbles against New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14) during the second half of a play-in game of the 2024 NBA playoffs at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA April 16, 2024.[Photo by Stephen Lew/USA TODAY Sports]

NEW ORLEANS — LeBron James, Anthony Davis and their supporting cast have the Los Angeles Lakers looking like a tougher outfit in the playoffs than they appeared to be just a few weeks ago.

The New Orleans Pelicans, meanwhile, find themselves on the brink of elimination and wondering about the health of star power forward Zion Williamson, whose dominant NBA postseason debut was cut short by an injury in the final minutes of a tight game.

James had 23 points, nine assists and nine rebounds, and the Lakers secured a playoff berth with a 110-106 victory over the Pelicans in the Western Conference play-in tournament on Tuesday night.

"Tonight we showcased what we were able to do both offensively and defensively," said James, whose team enters the playoffs having won 12 of 15 games. "We've got a good group going right now, a good rotation, a good plan, and guys are coming in ready to go."

Williamson had 40 points and 11 rebounds, but shortly after tying the game at 95 on a driving layup with 3:19 to go, Williamson went to the locker room, throwing a towel to the floor in disgust as he walked into the tunnel with an apparent injury.

After the game, Pelicans coach Willie Green said Williamson had "left leg soreness."

"He's going to have some imaging on it tomorrow and we'll figure out more," Green said.

Soon after Williamson went off, James hit a jumper, Davis dunked Austin Reaves' alley-oop lob, DeAngelo Russell hit a 3 and Davis grabbed a crucial offensive rebound, after which he hit two free throws to help the Lakers hold on.

The Pelicans "threw some heavy blows at us," Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. "They kept swinging. We kept fighting back.

"It revealed a lot about us and what we're made of," he added.

Davis finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds. Russell scored 21, hitting five times from deep. James was 10 from 10 on free throws and Davis hit 8 out of 10.

The Lakers advance to face defending champion Denver in the first round in what will be a rematch of last season's Western Conference finals — which ended in a Nuggets sweep. Game 1 is Saturday night.

The Pelicans will host Sacramento on Friday, with the winner earning the No 8 seed in the West. The Kings eliminated Golden State in the later play-in game on Wednesday night.

"Obviously, it's a tough loss for us," said Green, whose team could have secured the sixth seed in the playoffs in Sunday's final regular-season game, but lost at home to the Lakers, 124-108, setting up Tuesday's rematch. "We've got to feel this one tonight and regroup and get ready for another one."

Williamson, Green said, was "fantastic".

"He settled into the game. He just continued to attack. He found seams. He rebounded the ball. He played fast," Green continued. " (If) we had him for a few more minutes, maybe we had a chance to pull this thing off."

The Lakers hit 14 of 35 from 3-point range. The Pelicans hit 9 of 29 from deep.

Williamson didn't get a lot of help from the Pelicans' usual high scorers. Brandon Ingram — in his second game back from a 12-game absence due to a knee injury — missed 8 of 12 shots and finished with 11 points after spending the final few minutes on the bench.

"I just like the group that was on the floor at that time," Green said. "BI is still getting back, he's still finding his rhythm. So, I didn't want to force the issue."

CJ McCollum missed 11 out of 15 shots and scored nine points.

Trey Murphy III scored 12, hitting two 3s from beyond 28 feet in the second half to help New Orleans come back from an 18-point second-half deficit to tie the game.

The Lakers led 75-57 after Rui Hachimura's layup in the third quarter, but New Orleans got back in the game by outscoring Los Angeles 19-8 during the final 5:31 of the period.

Agencies via Xinhua

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