Lakers lock up No. 7 seed with play-in tournament win over Pelicans, setting up rematch with Nuggets

The New Orleans Pelicans didn’t have to win Tuesday’s play-in tournament game against the Los Angeles Lakers.

For their collective psyche, they needed to win the game given their abysmal outing Sunday in the regular-season finale with a guaranteed spot in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs on the line. The Lakers clobbered the Pelicans 124-108 Sunday, creating a rematch Tuesday in a play-in game with the No. 7 seed at stake.

The Pelicans followed up a disastrous performance with a much better but still inadequate performance marred by the late-game exit of Zion Williamson, who sustained an injury and didn’t play the final 3:13 with the game on the line.

The Lakers defeated the Pelicans 110-106 Tuesday, and the Lakers will play the No. 2-seeded Denver Nuggets in a first-round, best-of-7 series starting Saturday in Denver. While that’s not an ideal matchup for the Lakers – they have lost eight consecutive games to Denver, including a sweep in last season’s conference finals and three regular-season games in 2023-24 – at least the Lakers are in the first round.

The same cannot be said for the Pelicans. They need to win Friday at home against the Golden State-Sacramento winner to get the No. 8 seed and first-round series against top-seeded Oklahoma City.

Williamson came to play after scoring just 12 points on 13 shots in Sunday’s loss. He had a game-high 40 points and collected 11 rebounds, five assists, one steal and one block. He didn’t get enough help, and the playoff experience from the Lakers, especially from LeBron James and Anthony Davis, subdued New Orleans.

James wasn’t as magnificent as his 28-point, 17-assist, 11-rebound triple-double performance Sunday, but he had 23 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, and Davis had 20 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks.

The Pelicans trailed 75-57 in the third quarter and fought back to make it 93-93 on a Williamson dunk with 3:53 left in the fourth quarter. Williamson exited the game with 3:13 remaining in the fourth quarter and went to the locker room – just after he tied the score at 95-95.

And the Lakers went on a 9-5 run to take a 104-100 lead on D’Angelo Russell’s 3-pointer with 51.3 seconds left.

The Lakers’ 14 3s on 40% shooting from that range was a difference-maker, too. New Orleans went just 9-for-30 (30%) on 3s.

The Lakers also outscored the Pelicans 26-11 from the foul line and made eight consecutive free throws in the final 2:57.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lakers lock up 7-seed in NBA playoffs with play-in win over Pelicans