LeBron James scored 25 points before he appeared to mildly aggravate a right ankle injury and the Los Angeles Lakers closed out the regular season with a 110-98 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday night.
While the victory was the Lakers' fifth straight, it was not enough to pull them high enough in the Western Conference standings to skip the NBA's new play-in format involving the seventh through 10th seeds.
Portland beat Denver to finish sixth, meaning the Lakers would have to win one of up to two play-in games to secure a regular playoff spot as either a seventh or eighth seed.
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Anthony Davis scored 14 points and Andre Drummond added 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Lakers. They had their top players on the floor between 21 and 30 minutes in a game that could have lifted them into a top-six position had Portland lost.
Willie Hernangomez had 19 points and 13 rebounds, and Naji Marshall added 18 points — including a turnaround, half-court heave off the glass as the first half ended — for New Orleans.
The Lakers never trailed. But they had some trouble pulling away from an undermanned Pelicans squad missing top scorers Zion Williamson (left hand fracture) and Brandon Ingram (left ankle sprain).
With about five minutes left in the third quarter, Pelicans forward James Johnson had a chance to tie it at 76 with three free throws, but missed all three.
Soon after, Davis made a pair of free throws and followed that with a dunk on the next possession, pushing Los Angeles' lead to 80-73. That was the beginning of a 16-3 Lakers run to close the quarter in which Davis added a reverse layup and another driving lay-in as he was fouled.
Alex Caruso chipped in during the surge with a driving floater from the lane and a 3, and the Lakers took a 91-76 lead into the final period.
Early in the fourth, James waited for a double-team to approach him and then delivered an accurate, no-look, behind-the-back bounce pass under the basket to set up Caruso's uncontested layup.
James produced numerous highlights that delighted a number of fans who apparently came to see him in a game which had no playoff implications for the already eliminated Pelicans.
His six assists included alley-oop lob to Davis while running a fast break. He also hit a pair of deep 3s and converted numerous contested drives to the hoop.
But it was just his second tune-up since returning from a high ankle sprain that had sidelined him for 26 of the Lakers' previous 29 games.
He left the game after converting a spinning layup against two defenders. The play ended with him crashing across the baseline as he landed and he stayed down on his back for several seconds before getting up and walking to the end of the bench.
Although he proceeded to take off both shoes and tape from both ankles, he still stood intermittently to cheerlead, and did not exhibit outward signs of significant discomfort.
Lakers: Dennis Schroder scored 12 points and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 10. ... Shot 11 of 35 from 3-point range. ... Scored 62 points in the paint. ... Got 36 points from the bench, led by Caruso's nine points and eight each by Kyle Kuzma and Wesley Matthews.
Pelicans: Pelicans second-year center Jaxson Hayes appeared hurt his right leg badly enough in the second half that he had to be helped off the court by two teammates and did not put any weight on the injured leg. ... In addition to the absences of Williamson and Ingram, New Orleans also was without starting center Steven Adams (sprained toe) and starting point guard Lonzo Ball (sprained right thumb). ... Turned the ball over 21 times, leading to 23 Lakers points.
Lakers: Host Golden State on Wednesday night in the Western Conference play-in with the winner taking the seventh seed and a spot against Phoenix and the loser having to play another game to determine the eighth seed.
Pelicans: Enter the offseason looking for ways to improve a team that played entertaining and competitive basketball, but struggled with injuries to key players and dropped too many close games to make the postseason.