NBA play-in

Zion, Ingram-led Pelicans face red-hot LeBron, Lakers as NBA play-in tips off


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Zion, Ingram-led Pelicans face red-hot LeBron, Lakers as NBA play-in tips off

DRIVE. Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) dribbles against New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) during the second half at Smoothie King Center.

Stephen Lew/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

No. 7 New Orleans and No. 8 Los Angeles tussle in the 2024 NBA play-in for the right to face defending champion Denver in the playoffs' first round

The New Orleans Pelicans could have avoided a rematch against the Los Angeles Lakers by winning the regular-season finale between the teams and claiming a top-six playoff spot.

Instead, the Lakers again outclassed the Pelicans and didn’t even have to leave town as the two teams will square off in New Orleans on Tuesday (Wednesday, April 17, Manila time) during the NBA play-in round.

The winner of the contest between the No. 8 seed Lakers (47-35) and No. 7 Pelicans (49-33) will advance to play the second-seeded Denver Nuggets in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

The loser will get a second chance to make the playoff field on Friday when its play-in opponent will be the Golden State Warriors or Sacramento Kings.

The Lakers led by as many as 32 points during Sunday’s convincing 124-108 win over New Orleans. Los Angeles beat the Pelicans by 44 points Dec. 7 and won three of this season’s four matchups.

Lakers star LeBron James isn’t feeling comfortable about the repeat matchup even though his squad just steamrolled the Pelicans on the latter’s home floor.

“Tuesday’s game is going to be extremely hard, extremely difficult, extremely physical,” James said.

“I’ve always known that, when you play a playoff series — and I look at this like a two-game playoff series — if you win that first game, a team has multiple days to kind of sit on that feeling, or sit with that taste in their mouth of defeat.

“So they’re going to be extremely ready for us and we have to come in with the same sense of urgency that we had the previous game.”

Pelicans coach Willie Green certainly isn’t going to forget the bitter taste between now and tipoff.

“We have to come back with the right mentality,” Green said. “They were the aggressors. We have to be the aggressive team. We have to be the more physical team. We have to keep them out of our paint and make them take contested shots and rebound the ball.

“They played with a ton of force. They came out right away. At least for the first half, they punched us right in the mouth and kept going.”

James recorded 28 points, a season-best 17 assists, 11 rebounds and five steals during the easy win. Anthony Davis had 30 points on 13-of-17 shooting and collected 11 rebounds before leaving with back spasms just past the midway point of the final quarter.

Davis, listed as questionable on the injury report, maintained there was no way he would sit out against the Pelicans, the team with which he spent the first seven seasons of his NBA career.

“No doubt that I’m going to play,” Davis said after Los Angeles won for the 11th time in its past 14 games. “Get some treatment, keep it loose, just see how I feel over the next 24-36 hours.”

New Orleans forward Brandon Ingram (left knee) returned from a 12-game absence to score 13 points in 23 minutes Sunday. Ingram figures to be available for more minutes on Tuesday.

CJ McCollum has been a standout this month for the Pelicans and he scored 25 points on Sunday for his seventh straight game of 25 or more points.

McCollum had topped 30 four times during the stretch and is 42 of 80 (52.5) from 3-point range during the seven-game hot streak.

But McCollum’s latest solid effort had little effect on Sunday’s game. Zion Williamson had just 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting while often being guarded by James, and New Orleans gave up 70 first-half points after returning home from a 4-0 road trip.

“We didn’t play well enough to win,” McCollum said. “We will be better in the next game. It was a good road trip. We got four wins on the road. Now we have to take care of business on home court.” –

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