LeBron’s Lakers take on Pelicans as NBA play-in tips off

Author: AFP

LeBron James will be out to extend his 21st NBA campaign on Tuesday when his Los Angeles Lakers open the NBA play-in tournament against the New Orleans Pelicans, the winner booking a playoff meeting with the defending champion Denver Nuggets.

The Lakers closed the regular season with a dominant victory over the Pelicans on Sunday. James said the Lakers can’t afford a let-down against a Pelicans team eager to turn the tables.

“They’re going to be extremely ready for us, and we have to come in with the same sense of urgency,” said James, who at 39 remains a formidable force in the league. The losing team will get one more chance to reach the playoffs, taking on the winning team from Tuesday’s game between the ninth-seeded Sacramento Kings and 10th-placed Golden State Warriors for a first-round meeting with Western Conference top seeds Oklahoma City.

Last season the Lakers came through the play-in to reach the Western Conference finals, where they were swept by Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets.

The Miami Heat did even better out of the play-in, earning the eighth seed in the East and reaching the NBA Finals where they also succumbed to Denver.

The Heat will be trying to retrace that path when they travel to Philadelphia on Wednesday to play the 76ers — the winner booking a first-round meeting with Eastern Conference second seeds the New York Knicks.

“We’ve had some great battles with (Miami),” 76ers coach Nick Nurse said. “I always expect that versus them.”

Nurse was confident that reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Joel Embiid, who sat out the final game of the regular season to rest his surgically repaired knee, would be “ready to go” against Miami.

The Sixers are 31-8 with Embiid playing this season.

The loser of that game will play the winner of Wednesday’s Atlanta-Chicago contest for the eighth and final playoff berth in the East — and a first-round meeting with the top-seeded Boston Celtics.

In New Orleans on Sunday, James posted a triple-double and spearheaded the Lakers’ defensive effort on Pelicans big man Zion Williams.

“He’s a beast,” James said of Williamson, who is trying to lead New Orleans to the playoffs for the first time since 2022.

But the Lakers’ might be more concerned on Tuesday with the status of their own star Anthony Davis, who hobbled out of Sunday’s win in the final minutes, saying his back “locked up” after he took a shove. The Warriors and Kings will be fighting for their post-season lives in Tuesday’s second game in Sacramento.

Warriors star Stephen Curry scored 50 points in game seven to lead Golden State to victory over the Kings in the first round last year.

But the teams have split their four meetings this season, including the Warriors’ one-point loss in Sacramento in November in a game they led by 24.

In fact, the last three regular-season games between the Warriors and Kings were decided by one point.

“You can’t be intimidated by what’s in front of you, you’ve just got to embrace it,” Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson said. “It’s exciting – we’ve got a great shot to win in Sac, and then don’t look ahead, just try to take care of business in Sacramento.”

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