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LeBron James’ triple-double helps Lakers secure eighth place


Your eyes would tell you quickly.

The Lakers, at their very best this season, have received the kind of all-around dominance from LeBron James that made him the best player in the league — a surefire ticket to the end when winning mattered most.

But with 39 years on his bones and 21 seasons worth of mileage on his legs, James has had to pick his spots. On the nights when James has been able to play with his foot on the gas on both ends of the court, the Lakers have been as difficult to beat as any team. In the games when age and fatigue keep James glued to the paint, closing out on a shooter with his eyes instead of his effort, they’ve been in trouble.

Sunday, in their final game of the regular season and in desperate need of a win, coach Darvin Ham had a feeling which version of James he’d get.

“When we see that type of energy, it’s great,” Ham said before the game. “It lets us know — he’s pretty much always locked in, but again, we understand the stakes.”

The Lakers looked the way they were because James looked the way he was.

Offensively, his court vision carved the Pelicans apart. Defensively, he tortured Zion Williamson and took the Pelicans’ biggest threat totally out of the game. He had a double-double by halftime and a triple-double before the end of the 124-108 win.

“It just sets a tone,” Ham said of James’ play.

The two teams will play in the 7/8 play-in game Tuesday in New Orleans, with the winner advancing to the playoffs. The loser will host the winner of Golden State-Sacramento game for the final spot in the playoffs.

James finished with 28 points, 11 rebounds and 17 assists — his fifth triple-double of the season.

With the victory, the Lakers locked themselves into the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference play-in tournament, assuring themselves two chances to advance.

“I just read the game and I was just finding my teammates and I just tried to put the ball on time and on target for either jump shots or guys at the rim,” James said of his passing. “I just tried to be very efficient with my play.”

He had 13 assists in the first half — at one point Austin Reaves said he looked up and wondered if there was a typo on the scoreboard.

But the feelings weren’t all good after Anthony Davis was forced to the locker room to watch the game’s final minutes.

With the Lakers up 21 midway through the fourth quarter, Davis tried to follow a Gabe Vincent missed shot, but after a slight shove in the back, he landed awkwardly. On the next possession, he appeared to try to stretch something on the left side of his lower body before signaling to the bench for a sub.

He eventually left the court for the locker room.

The Lakers, though, dodged a serious problem. Davis said his back merely “locked up” on him after the push and awkward landing.

He said he’d definitely play Tuesday against the Pelicans, in a game that’s scheduled for 4:30 p.m. PDT.

James opened the game on a passing tear, dishing out eight assists in the first eight minutes as the Lakers showed little respect for the Pelicans’ interior presence.

They led by double digits in the first half and held off a New Orleans push in the second half before making another run to go up big. They held a comfortable cushion the rest of the game.

All five starters scored in double figures, including D’Angelo Russell, who bounced back from a mini-slump to score 19 while making five three-pointers.

Williamson shot just four for 13 from the field with James getting most of the assignment. CJ McCollum scored 25 points and Brandon Ingram returned to the court to score 13.

The Lakers now have the challenge of doing this again Tuesday, a road team needing to sweep a two-game set against a Pelicans team ready for revenge.

“That’s exactly what it feels like. So, you don’t get too high on one win because you have to come back and play again,” James said. “So, we played good ball tonight but some things we can be better at and there are some things we can take from today. But at the end of the day, the game on Tuesday is a new game and it’s an opportunity for us to get better.”


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