Lakers survive Pelicans’ rally, advance to matchup vs. Nuggets

LeBron James posted 23 points, 9 assists and 9 rebounds, and the Los Angeles Lakers secured a playoff berth with a 110-106 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans in the Western Conference play-in tournament on Tuesday night.

Zion Williamson had 40 points and 11 rebounds in his NBA postseason debut. But shortly after tying the game at 95 on a driving layup with 3:19 to go, Williamson went to the locker room, throwing a towel to the floor in disgust as he walked into the tunnel with an apparent injury.

After the game, Pelicans coach Willie Green stated Williamson had “left leg soreness.”

“He’s going to have some imaging on it tomorrow, and we’ll figure out more,” Green said.

Soon after Williamson exited, James hit a jumper, Anthony Davis dunked Austin Reaves’ alley-oop lob, D’Angelo Russell hit a 3 and Davis grabbed a crucial offensive rebound, after which he hit two free throws to help the Lakers hold off New Orleans.

Davis tallied 20 points and 15 rebounds. Russell scored 21, hitting five times from deep.

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The Lakers advance to face defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets in the first round in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference finals, which was swept by the Nuggets. Game 1 is scheduled for Saturday night.

The Pelicans on Friday will take on the Sacramento Kings.

The Lakers went 14-of-35 from 3-point range.

The Pelicans hit 9-of-29 from deep, and Williamson didn’t get a lot of help from the Pelicans’ usual high scorers. Brandon Ingram missed 8 of 12 shots and finished with 11 points. CJ McCollum missed 11 of 15 shots and scored nine.

Trey Murphy III put up 12 points, hitting two 3s from beyond 28 feet in the second half to help New Orleans come back to tie the score from a deficit as large as 18 points.

The Lakers led 75-57 after Rui Hachimura’s layup in the third quarter, but New Orleans got back in the match by outscoring Los Angeles 19-8 during the final 5:31. Williamson sparked the surge with a pair of layups. Murphy pulled up for a 31-foot 3-pointer in the final minute of the third, and Williamson’s free throw made it 83-76 at the end of the quarter.

The Pelicans finally tied the score when Williamson slammed down Jose Alvarado’s alley-oop lob in transition to make it 93-all with 3:53 to go.

Looking to redeem themselves for a lackluster 128-108 loss to the Lakers in Sunday’s regular-season finale, the Pelicans put together a promising opening quarter and took a 34-28 lead on Herbert Jones’ 3.

That, however, was one of just four 3s — in 16 attempts — that New Orleans hit in the first half. The Lakers, meanwhile, went 10-of-20 from deep during the opening two quarters, with Russell hitting three.

Los Angeles outscored New Orleans 34-16 in the second quarter, leading by as many as 14 after James, who had 15 first-half points, hit a pair of free throws to make it 58-44.

Williamson, who scored 20 first-half points, cut New Orleans’ halftime deficit to 10 points with a pair of inside baskets, starting when Ingram found him on a backside cut for a dunk. Williamson then dribbled the length of the court for a layup at the horn that made it 60-50.

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