Lakers overcome Zion's 40, beat Pelicans to make playoffs

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) goes to the basket in the first half of an NBA basketball play-in tournament game against the New Orleans Pelicans, Tuesday, April 16, 2024, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Zion Williamson gave the Los Angeles Lakers his best shot on Tuesday.

It wasn’t enough. The Lakers overcame a late Pelicans rally and a big game from Williamson for a 110-106 win in New Orleans in the the NBA play-in tournament. With the win, the Lakers secured the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference playoffs and a first-round matchup with the reigning champion Denver Nuggets.

Zion scores 40, leaves game with injury

The Lakers built and blew an 18-point lead only to hold off a late rally by the Pelicans for the win. Williamson scored a season-high 40 points, but finished the game’s final moments in the locker room after suffering what appeared to be a non-contact injury. His health status wasn’t immediately clear at game’s end.

The Pelicans move on to Friday’s elimination game against either the Sacramento Kings or Golden State Warriors. Their immediate concern, however, is Williamson’s health. The winner of Friday’s game will secure the No. 8 seed and a first-round matchup with the top-seeded. The loser’s season is over.

Lakers build big lead, hold off Pelicans rally

The Pelicans took the early advantage in a fiery first quarter that saw runs by both teams and double technical fouls on Jose Alvarado and D’Angelo Russell. New Orleans took a 34-26 lead into the second quarter. There, the Lakers took control.

The Pelicans scored first in the quarter before the Lakers seized a 38-36 lead with a 12-0 run. By halftime, the Lakers led, 60-50 and appeared on their way to coasting to victory.

But New Orleans punched back in the fourth quarter with a 9-0 run to cut the Lakers lead to 91-89. A Williamson dunk then tied the game at 93-93 with 3:53 remaining. But he left the game after a layup with 3:19 remaining and the game tied at 95-95 and didn’t return.

With Williamson sidelined, the Pelicans battled until the game’s final moments. Russell hit a 3-pointer with 51.1 seconds left to extend a Lakers lead to 104-100. C.J. McCollum responded with a floater with 38.2 seconds remaining to cut the Los Angeles lead to two.

The Pelicans then forced LeBron James into fadeaway shot from the baseline that didn’t hit the rim. But Anthony Davis secured the offensive rebound and was fouled. He hit both of his free throws with 14.8 seconds remaining to extend the Lakers lead to 106-102. Los Angeles hit the rest of its free throws down the stretch to secure the win.

This story will be updated.

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