LeBron’s Lakers edge Pelicans to book playoff clash with Nuggets

LOS ANGELES: LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers held off a furious late rally to beat the New Orleans Pelicans 110-106 on Tuesday (Apr 16) and book a first-round NBA playoff clash with the defending champion Denver Nuggets.

Four-time NBA champion James scored 23 points with nine rebounds, nine assists and three steals to lead the Lakers in the play-in game victory that secured the seventh seed in the Western Conference.

The 39-year-old superstar is in the playoffs for the 17th time in 21 seasons and will get another shot at Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets, who swept the Lakers in the Western Conference finals on their way to the title last season.

Zion Williamson scored 40 points and keyed the Pelicans’ rally from an 18-point third-quarter deficit.

He threw down an alley-oop dunk to tie it at 93-93 then tied it at 95-95 with a driving basket in the lane with 3:19 remaining, but appeared to land awkwardly and was soon out of the game.

He threw a towel in disgust as he headed to the locker room for good.

The Pelicans kept the pressure on without him. They tied it twice more, but D’Angelo Russell’s three-pointer with 51.3 seconds remaining pushed the Lakers lead to four points and Los Angeles, with a timely rebound and a pair of free throws from Anthony Davis, held on for the win.

Russell drilled five of the Lakers’ 14 three-pointers on the way to 21 points. Davis scored 20 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the victory, which followed the Lakers’ win over the Pelicans on the final day of the regular season on Sunday.

“We understood after how we had played the last game that they were going to give us everything they had – the whole kitchen sink and the toolbox – and they did that,” said James.

“So it was a gritty win for us and we punched our ticket to the post-season.”

The Lakers will open their best-of-seven series against second-seeded Denver on Saturday.

“They’ve had a ton of success against our ball club, but there’s always a new day,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said.

“We like where we are, we like where the spirit of our group is. Everybody is excited about this challenge.”

The Pelicans still have a chance. On Friday they’ll face the winner of Tuesday’s game between the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings for the eighth and final playoff berth in the West.

Pels coach Willie Green said that Williamson, who also had 11 rebounds and five assists, would have medical imaging tests on his leg, but had no further information on the severity of the injury.

The 23-year-old power forward, whose career has been hindered by injuries, remains in search of his first playoff appearance since he entered the league as the top pick in the 2019 draft.

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