LeBron James, Lakers Win Play-In vs. Zion, Pelicans as NBA Fans Assess Nuggets Series

The Los Angeles Lakers took care of business Tuesday night against the New Orleans Pelicans, and their reward is a date with the reigning NBA champions.

L.A. secured the seventh seed in the Western Conference with a 110-106 victory over the Pels at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.

LeBron James nearly had a triple-double, finishing with 23 points, nine rebounds, nine assists and three steals. Anthony Davis scored 20 points and hauled in 15 rebounds. The contributions of D’Angelo Russell were vital as he poured in 21 points and dished out seven dimes.

Russell’s three-pointer from the corner inside the final minute gave his team some valuable breathing room.

Zion Williamson was the night’s biggest star as he posted 40 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. Los Angeles simply had no answer for the 6’6″ forward inside and the outcome may have been different if he hadn’t been forced to exit due to an unspecified injury.

The Lakers were up by as many as 18 points before New Orleans stormed back in the second half. The Pelicans tied the game at 93-all with under four minutes to play to set the stage for a tense conclusion.

It was a stunning reversal which raised concerns that aren’t totally erased with Los Angeles managing to hold on.

When the Lakers were in cruise control heading into halftime and early in the third quarter, some fans began looking ahead to a first-round encounter against the Denver Nuggets.

The Nuggets followed up their Western Conference Finals sweep of the Lakers by taking all three meetings during the regular season.

What some envision as a straightforward matchup isn’t so cut and dried for others.

The 2023 playoffs certainly provided a strong counter to the idea the Lakers can ride their top-end talent to the NBA Finals.

James and Davis combined to average 54.6 points in the conference finals last year and it wasn’t enough to get a single game on Denver. While the final scores of that series were close, a sweep is a sweep no matter how you cut it.

And the Nuggets may not be as good as they were last year, but they were still 10 wins better than Los Angeles during the regular season.

The Lakers didn’t do themselves any favors Tuesday night because their inability to put the Pelicans away in the second half offers a foreboding sign for the first round. New Orleans’ comeback also forced James and Davis to go the distance when they instead would’ve gotten a bit of rest toward the end if Los Angeles had maintained its sizable advantage.

If a quick exit does beckon for the Lakers, then the warning signs were all there.

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