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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 close their regular season, the New Orleans Pelicans sought redemption in the opening game of the NBA Play-In Tournament on Tuesday. Instead of redemption, the Pels got a high-intensity 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 Denver on Saturday in the first round of the playoffs. The Pelicans will host the Sacramento Kings — who knocked off the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday — in an elimination matchup Friday.

LeBron James scored a team-high 23 points, to go along with nine assists and nine rebounds. Lakers D’Angelo Russell, who scored 21 points and added seven assists, was also instrumental in the victory, shooting 5 of 11 from 3. Former Pelican Anthony Davis put up 20 points and notched a game-high 15 rebounds.

Williamson, whose 40 points paced 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 left leg soreness.

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

The Pelicans reduced their 18-point deficit to seven points entering the fourth quarter, and found a spark from there, pushing 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 93-93, but the Lakers ultimately put the game away after Williamson’s shock exit with just over three minutes left.

How will Lakers fare against Nuggets?

This was a spirited 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 last season’s Western Conference finals. The Lakers will certainly be heavy underdogs entering the series, but they’re confident that their new starting lineup and high-powered offense will give them a chance to defeat the defending champions.

The obvious challenge will be solving Denver’s crunch-time offense, which has shredded the Lakers 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’s no wrong choice for Lakers

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(Photo: Jonathan Bachman / Getty Images)

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