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SPORTS

LeBron James’ Triple-Double Lifts Lakers over Pelicans and Into a Play-in Rematch with New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — LeBron James closed out his 21st NBA regular season looking invigorated, formidable on both ends of the court and ready to produce in the postseason.

James had 28 points, 17 assists, 11 rebounds and five steals, and the Los Angeles Lakers claimed the eighth seed in the Western Conference with a 124-108 victory over New Orleans on Sunday that dropped the Pelicans out of a coveted top-six seeding.

“I just want to win. So, whatever the game presents itself for me to be,” said James, who also serves as a primary defender on Pelicans star power forward Zion Williamson. “I am a Swiss army knife. I’ve got to do it all on the floor, but none of it is predetermined.”

Anthony Davis had 30 points and 11 rebounds against the team that made him the first overall NBA draft choice in 2012 to help set up a rematch on Tuesday night in the same arena in the conference play-in.

Davis, who asked out of the game in the final minutes and walked gingerly back to the locker room holding his lower back, said his back “locked up” when he was shoved from behind while in the air, but added that his ailment was “nothing concerning.”

“There’s no doubt that I’m going to play” in Tuesday’s play-in game, Davis said. “Get some massages, get some treatment, just keep it loose. Just see how I feel over the next 36 hours and be ready.”

James’ triple-double was his fifth this season and his playmaking helped spearhead a dominant performance in the paint, where Los Angeles outscored New Orleans 68-42.

“They got whatever they wanted in the paint,” Williamson said. “They dominated us in the paint.

James said he set out to “read the game and just find my teammates.”

“Just try to put the ball on time and on target for either jump shots or guys at the rim,” James added. “Just trying to be very efficient with my play.”

James also helped hold Williamson, who averages a Pelicans-leading 23 points per game, to 12 points.

“He’s a beast. It’s almost impossible to stop him,” James said of Williamson. “So, just try to keep a body on him and just try to make it tough on him.”

Williamson, meanwhile, criticized himself for “being too passive.”

“I don’t think I was super aggressive the whole game,” he said.

Austin Reaves scored 20 points and D’Angelo Russell scored 19 for the Lakers, who won eight of their final 11 regular-season games.

CJ McCollum scored 23 for the Pelicans, who were coming off a four-game road winning streak and welcomed high-scoring wing Brandon Ingram back into the lineup, only to fall flat at home while trying to lock up a No. 6 seed and avoid the play-in.

Instead, the matchup was reminiscent of the NBA In-Season Tournament semifinal in Las Vegas in December, when the Lakers embarrassed the Pelicans 133-89.

“They punched us right in the mouth and they kept going,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “We let a really good opportunity slip away.”

Ingram, who had missed the previous 12 games with a left knee contusion, scored 13 points. Herb Jones added 18 points for New Orleans.

After Ingram’s 3 pulled the Pelicans to 28-24 at the first-quarter horn, the Lakers went to the foul line because of an apparent officiating error.

Official John Goble announced that Los Angeles mistakenly was not granted free throws on the Pelicans’ second foul in the last two minutes of the period. Taurean Prince made both.

The Lakers then opened the second quarter with Prince’s driving layup to make it 32-24. A reverse layup by James then sparked a 9-0 run to make it 41-26.

While New Orleans was missing 14 of its first 19 from deep, the Lakers were snagging long rebounds and converting in transition.

Reaves’ 3-pointer and his breakaway dunk gave the Lakers their first 20-point lead at 53-33. Another Reaves 3 made it 70-53.

The Lakers opened the third period with a 3 by Reaves, two more from deep by Russell and a cutting dunk by Davis that made it 83-57.

Another Russell 3 gave the Lakers their largest lead at 91-59.

“We’ve got to regroup as a team because we’re here now,” Williamson said. “We didn’t get the result we wanted, but our confidence is still there.”

UP NEXT

It’s a higher-stakes rematch in the same arena on Tuesday night, with the winner capturing the seventh seed in the Western Conference playoffs. The loser hosts another play-in game against the winner of a matchup between the ninth-seeded Sacramento Kings and 10th-seeded Golden State Warriors.


By BRETT MARTEL AP Sports Writer

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