Pelicans advance to NBA playoffs despite missing Zion Williams

NEW ORLEANS — Brandon Ingram scored 24 points, Jonas Valanciunas added 19 points and 12 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans booked a spot in the NBA playoffs with a 105-98 victory over the Sacramento Kings in a play-in tournament elimination game on Friday night.

The Pelicans won without leading scorer Zion Williamson, who strained his left hamstring right as he reached the 40-point mark in a play-in loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night.

Undaunted, New Orleans used a balanced approach to improved to 8-5 this season without Williamson in the lineup.

Zion Williamson, right, looks on during the Pelicans’ 105-98 play-in win against the Kings on Friday in New Orleans. Getty Images

Six players scored 10 or more points, including reserves Larry Nance Jr. (13), Naji Marshall (11) and Jose Alvarado (10).

Trey Murphy III, starting because of Williamson’s absence, added 16 points for New Orleans.

De’Aaron Fox scored 35 points for Sacramento, and Domantas Sabonis had 23 points and 14 rebounds.

The game was a test of the Pelicans’ ability to handle the pressure of a do-or-die game after squandering two previous chances to lock up a playoff berth at home.

New Orleans lost to the Lakers in their regular-season finale on Sunday, missing a chance to lock up the sixth seed, before losing again to the Lakers on Tuesday.

Trey Murphy III posterized Domantas Sabonis for two of his 16 points on Friday. Getty Images

They entered their matchup with the Kings facing the possibility of becoming the first 49-win team in more than 50 years (Phoenix in 1972) to miss the NBA playoffs.

Instead, New Orleans improved to 6-0 against Sacramento this season, becoming the first team to go 6-0 in a season (without a playoff series) against an opponent since Denver against Minnesota in 1994-95.

The Pelicans also prolonged a streak of No. 7 seeds never missing the playoffs since the play-in tournament was adopted by the NBA in 2020.

The Pelicans’ Brandon Ingram goes to the basket for two of his team-high 24 points on Friday night. AP

Because of their loss to the Lakers on Tuesday, the Pelicans will open the playoffs as an eighth seed on Sunday at top-seeded Oklahoma City.

The Pelicans were sloppy early, committing six first-quarter turnovers that led to 11 Kings points. Sacramento led 24-17 after a turnover by Herb Jones led to a layup by Fox, who scored 18 points in the first half.

Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado — a Christ the King product — reacts after being fouled by Sacramento’s Davion Mitchell on a drive to the basket on Friday night. USA TODAY Sports

McCollum’s reverse layup and Murphy’s 3 helped the Pelicans quickly closed the gap, and New Orleans built a 13-point lead in the second quarter.

Marshall gave the Pelicans a jolt with a 3 and a steal from Keegan Murray that he converted into a breakaway dunk.

Murray appeared to hurt himself when he fell while losing the ball, and went to the locker room shortly after.

That development further thinned the depth of a Kings squad already missing Malik Monk (right knee) and Kevin Huerter (left shoulder).

Valanciunas’ short hook shot and Ingram’s layup put the Pelicans up 53-40 late in the half before Fox’s 3 helped the Kings trim it to 54-45 at halftime.

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