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LeBron James, Lakers hold off Pelicans in Play-In Tournament, will face Nuggets in first round



LeBron James, Lakers hold off Pelicans in Play-In Tournament, will face Nuggets in first round

After a disastrous loss to the Los Angeles Lakers to end their regular season, the New Orleans Pelicans sought redemption on Tuesday in the opening game of the NBA Play-In Tournament. Instead of redemption, the Pels got an intense affair that ended in a 110-106 loss after star Zion Williamson’s 40-point game and early exit.

With the win, the Lakers earned a meeting with the defending champion Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs on Saturday in Denver. The Pelicans will host the Sacramento Kings – who defeated the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday – in an elimination game on Friday.

LeBron James scored a team-high 23 points, adding nine assists and nine rebounds. Lakers D’Angelo Russell, who scored 21 points and added seven assists, also played a key role in the win, shooting 5-of-11 from 3. Former Pelican Anthony Davis scored 20 points and recorded a game-high 15 rebounds.

Williamson, whose 40 points tied for both teams, also finished with 11 rebounds and five assists. He walked to the locker room in the final minutes of the game with what Pelicans coach Willie Green later described as pain in his left leg.

But with Williamson, the Pelicans shook off their Sunday sluggishness with a back-and-forth night. They had a 10-point lead in the opening seconds of the second quarter, but Los Angeles found the momentum before halftime and took a 10-point lead into the half. From there, the Lakers continued to build in the third while continuing to limit CJ McCollum (nine points total) and Brandon Ingram (11 points), who looked away after playing in his second game back after missing the previous 12 games with a knee injury . .

The Pelicans cut their 18-point deficit to seven points entering the fourth quarter, and found a spark from there, pulling to within two points after a 9-0 run that included a Williamson block on James that led to a Jose Alvarado 3. Alvarado then assisted Williamson on a monster dunk to tie the game at 93-93, but the Lakers ultimately put the game away after Williamson’s shocking exit with just over three minutes remaining.

How will Lakers fare against Nuggets?

This was a gritty win for the Lakers, who staved off the Pelicans’ second-half rally to secure the No. 7 seed and advance to face the No. 2 Nuggets in a rematch of the Western Conference finals of last season. The Lakers will certainly be heavy underdogs entering the series, but they are confident that their new starting lineup and high-powered offense will give them a chance to beat the defending champions.

The obvious challenge will be solving Denver’s crunch-time offense, which has torn the Lakers apart over the past calendar year. Denver has won eight straight games against the Lakers entering Game 1 on Saturday. — Jovan Buha, Lakers senior writer


Win and face Denver, or lose and risk elimination? There is no wrong choice for Lakers

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(Photo: Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)