NBA play-in

Uphill climb: LeBron, Lakers edge Pelicans, clinch playoff spot


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Uphill climb: LeBron, Lakers edge Pelicans, clinch playoff spot

FOCUSED. Lakers forward LeBron James dribbles against Pelicans guard Dyson Daniels and forward Herbert Jones.

Stephen Lew/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

LeBron James and the Lakers outlast the Pelicans in the play-in, but face a tougher task versus the defending champion Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs

LeBron James recorded 23 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists and the Los Angeles Lakers clinched a playoff berth with a 110-106 victory over the host New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night, April 16 (Wednesday, April 17, Manila time).

D’Angelo Russell added 21 points for the seventh-seeded Lakers, who led by as many as 18 points in the play-in game. Anthony Davis had 20 points, 15 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots for Los Angeles.

“It was a good win for us,” James said. “We punched our ticket to the postseason, so it was a good win.”

The Lakers will face second-seeded Denver in the first round of the playoffs, with Game 1 on Saturday, April 20, in Colorado. The Nuggets are the defending NBA champions.

“They’ve had a ton of success against our ballclub,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said, “but there’s always a new day. We like where we are, we like where the spirit of our group is… Everybody is excited about this challenge.”

New Orleans star Zion Williamson scored 40 points on 17-of-27 shooting and collected 11 rebounds before exiting with 3:13 left in the game due to an undisclosed injury.

Trey Murphy III added 12 points for the Pelicans and Brandon Ingram scored 11.

New Orleans receives a second chance to claim a playoff spot on Friday night, April 19. The Pelicans will host the winner of the late Tuesday game between the Golden State Warriors and the Sacramento Kings.

“Whether it’s home or the road, we’re going to give it all we got,” Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr. said after New Orleans lost its sixth straight home game. “It’s a shame we got the home record we do. But it’s not for lack of trying, lack of love for this place. It’s just sometimes the chips don’t fall where you want them to. Hopefully we can change that Friday.”

Davis scored a tiebreaking basket to put the Lakers ahead by two with 1:23 left. Larry Nance Jr. split two free throws 15 seconds later to move the Pelicans within 101-100. Russell then drilled a corner three-pointer to give Los Angeles a four-point edge with 50.3 seconds to play.

CJ McCollum made a short jumper in the lane to pull New Orleans within 104-102 with 38.2 seconds left. Davis hit two free throws with 14.8 seconds remaining as the Lakers took a four-point lead and held off the charge.

Austin Reaves scored 16 points and Rui Hachimura added 13 for the Lakers, who shot 41.7% from the field and made 14-of-35 (40%) from three-point range.

New Orleans hit 46.2% of its shots, including 9-of-30 (30%) from behind the arc. Jose Alvarado, Herbert Jones, and Nance added 10 points apiece.

The Lakers led by 18 in the third quarter, but Murphy and Alvarado each buried a triple during a 9-0 surge as the Pelicans moved within 91-89 with 5:41 left in the game.

New Orleans caught the Lakers at 93 when Alvarado’s alley-oop pass was slammed through the net by Williamson with 3:53 left.

Williamson scored on a driving hoop 34 seconds later to knot the score at 95 but was injured on the play. He displayed his frustration before heading to the locker room.

Los Angeles held a 10-point halftime lead and soon used a 10-2 spurt to open up a 73-55 lead. Reaves capped it with a basket with 6:53 left in the third quarter.

Los Angeles led 83-76 entering the fourth quarter.

James and Russell scored 15 points apiece as the Lakers led 60-50 at halftime. Williamson had 20 points and eight rebounds in the half for New Orleans. –

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