Tue, 22 Jun 2021

Play-in or playoffs? Lakers face Pelicans with seed in question

Field Level Media
16 May 2021, 23:19 GMT+10

The defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers' postseason spot will be determined on the final day of the regular season.

The Lakers (41-30) will visit the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday, hoping to avoid the Western Conference play-in tournament.

A victory by the Lakers and a loss by Portlandat Denver on Sunday would give Los Angeles the No. 6 seed.

If either of those games goes the other way, the Lakers will be the seventh seed and host the winner of Sunday's Memphis-Golden State contest in a play-in game Wednesday night because Portland (41-30) owns the head-to-head tiebreaker against Los Angeles. Portland beat the Lakers in two of the teams' three meetings this season.

LeBron James returned from a six-game absence due to a sore ankle to score 24 points on Saturday as the Lakers posted a 122-115 win over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.

"I felt pretty good, a lot better I did than last time I suited up," said James, who returned from a 20-game absence to play in two games before soreness sidelined him again.

"I think every game I'll get better and better. I like where I am today, (but there's still) a lot of room for improvement as far as strength, mobility, and movement."

Point guard Dennis Schroder also returned after being in the NBA COVID-19 protocols since May 2. He had 14 points and four assists against the Pacers.

"It was nice to see our full cast of characters for really, the first time all season," Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. "We can be a lot better on defense, and we have to be to win in the playoffs ... but with our full arsenal of players, we're excited about what we can accomplish."

The injury-plagued Pelicans (31-40) were eliminated from play-in contention earlier this week as they lost four of five on a road trip. They have played the last two games without injured starters Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Steven Adams, and will do so again against the Lakers.

The injuries have created expanded opportunities for young players such as second-year guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker, second-year center Jaxson Hayes and undrafted rookie forward Naji Marshall.

Alexander-Walker scored 30 points in a 125-122 loss Friday at Golden State. He put the Pelicans ahead 122-121 with 25.9 seconds left, but they couldn't hold on.

"I would say I have been more calm and mature," Alexander-Walker said of his development this season. "I think the first half of the season, I was so eager to prove something that I became my worst enemy.

"I have a tendency to do that. Everybody in the organization, everybody in my family, they were telling me to keep me out of my own head -- just playing the game, letting everything come."

The Pelicans followed a pattern from recent losses Friday, falling behind by double digits at halftime, then battling back only to come up short in the final moments.

They allowed 41 first-quarter points to the Warriors, who were missing their top three scorers, and trailed by 18 at halftime.

"We didn't try at all in the first half," Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said. "We didn't try, we didn't focus, we made no effort whatsoever. In the second half, we tried."

--Field Level Media

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