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LAKERS: Los Angeles punches ticket to postseason in thrilling fashion against Pelicans



LOS ANGELES — In 2021, Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James said whoever decided to implement the NBA play-in tournament should be fired. However, it seems like the James and the Lakers don’t mind the tournament too much, as they made their third play-in appearance in four years and advanced to a first-round matchup against the Denver Nuggets.

Once again looking to secure the Western Conference’s seventh seed, the Lakers entered New Orleans with the conference’s eighth-best regular season record and beat the Pelicans in a nail-biter to secure their playoff spot. It was the fifth matchup of the season between the two teams, following a recent Lakers victory over New Orleans on Sunday.

After the Lakers embarrassed New Orleans on the Pelicans’ home floor over the weekend, the Pelicans gave LA everything they had from the opening tip. The first quarter featured back-and-forth scoring between the two teams and after the opening 12 minutes, the Lakers found themselves trailing 26-34. Despite the deficit, they had reason to be optimistic, as D’Angelo Russell scored 13 points and had four assists in the first quarter to keep Los Angeles in the game.

Los Angeles started off the second quarter much more impressively and eventually took a 41-38 lead thanks to a Gabe Vincent three-pointer. Vincent easily had his best game as a Laker yesterday, putting up nine points off the bench and making two three-pointers with one steal. The Lakers were able to grow their advantage to as many as 14 in the second quarter and entered halftime leading 60-50, outscoring New Orleans 34-16 in the period. At halftime, James had 15 points, four rebounds and five assists, while Russell had 15 points with six assists.

The Lakers started the third quarter on fire and extended their lead to 18 with less than seven minutes remaining in the period. However, Los Angeles was not totally safe. New Orleans came back and trimmed the Lakers’ lead to seven entering the fourth. Leading 83-76 to begin the final period, the Lakers surrendered 31 points in three quarters to Zion WIlliamson and it looked like the Pelicans had the necessary momentum to advance.Even though New Orleans made the game competitive again, the Lakers ultimately weathered the storm.

Los Angeles took a 91-80 lead after a basket from Anthony Davis and tried to do everything the team could to put New Orleans away, but the Pelicans kept fighting back and eventually tied the game at 95 with 3:19 remaining. The game-tying shot was Williamson’s 17th field goal and 40th point, but he then exited the game and did not return with what is now being called a left hamstring strain.

Down Williamson the rest of the way, the Lakers took advantage of the huge break and escaped New Orleans with a win. Los Angeles outscored the Pelicans 15-11 in the final minutes and earned its fourth win of the year over New Orleans, including a previous winner-take-all game in the in-season tournament semifinal. All five Lakers starters  finished as double-digit scorers and James led the way for the Lakers with a near triple-double: 23 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.

After a hot first quarter, Russell cooled down, but still posted 21 points and six assists, while Davis finished with a double-double, scoring 20 points and grabbing 15 rebounds along with three blocks and one steal. Los Angeles also received 29 combined points from Rui Hachimura and Austin Reaves, who scored 13 and 16, respectively.

With the win, the Lakers are now 3-0 in the play-in tournament and have secured the seventh seed each time they have appeared in the tournament. Last season, the seventh-seed Lakers went all the way to the Western Conference finals after beating the second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in the first round and the sixth-seeded Golden State Warriors in the second round. However, in the conference finals, Los Angeles was swept by the eventual champion Denver Nuggets. The Lakers have a chance to redeem themselves this time around as their win over New Orleans locked them into a first round matchup against Denver.

As the Lakers gear up to face the Nuggets, they will have three full days of rest before their true postseason run begins. Game one between the Lakers and Nuggets in Denver is set to tip off at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday.

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