Los Angeles’ LeBron James goes to the basket in the first half of a play-in tournament game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night in New Orleans. Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — LeBron James had 23 points, nine assists and nine rebounds, and the Los Angeles Lakers secured a playoff berth with a 110-106 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans in the Western Conference play-in tournament on Tuesday night.

Zion Williamson had 40 points and 11 rebounds in his NBA postseason debut. But shortly after tying the game at 95 on a driving layup with 3:19 to go, Williamson went to the locker room, throwing a towel to the floor in disgust as he walked into the tunnel with an apparent injury.

Soon after, James hit a jumper, Anthony Davis dunked Austin Reaves’ alley-oop lob, DeAngelo Russell hit a 3 and Davis grabbed a crucial offensive rebound, after which he hit two free throws to help the Lakers hold off New Orleans.

Davis had 20 points and 15 rebounds. Russell scored 21, hitting five times from deep.

The Lakers advance to face defending NBA champion Denver in the first round in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference finals, which was swept by the Nuggets. Game 1 is Saturday night.

The Pelicans will take on the winner of the other West play-in game between Golden State and Sacramento on Friday.


The Lakers went 14 of 35 from 3-point range. The Pelicans hit 9 of 29 from deep and Williamson didn’t get a lot of help from the Pelicans’ usual high scorers. Brandon Ingram missed 8 of 12 shots and finished with 11 points. CJ McCollum missed 11 of 15 shots and scored nine.

Trey Murphy III scored 12, hitting two 3s from beyond 28 feet in the second half to help New Orleans come back to tie it from a deficit as large as 18 points.

The Lakers led 75-57 after Rui Hachimura’s layup in the third quarter. But New Orleans got back in the game by outscoring Los Angeles 19-8 during the final 5:31 of the period.

Williamson sparked the surge with a pair of layups. Murphy pulled up for a 31-foot 3-pointer in the final minute of the quarter and Williamson’s free throw made it 83-76 at the end of the period.

The Pelicans finally tied it when Williamson slammed down Jose Alvarado’s alley-oop lob in transition to make it 93-all with 3:53 to go.

Looking to redeem themselves for a lackluster 128-108 loss to the Lakers in Sunday’s regular-season finale, the Pelicans put together a promising opening quarter and took a 34-28 lead on Herb Jones’ 3.


That, however, was one of just four 3s — in 16 attempts — that New Orleans hit in the first half. The Lakers, meanwhile, went 10 of 20 from deep during the opening two periods, with Russell hitting three.

Los Angeles surged into the lead by outscoring New Orleans 34-16 in the second quarter, leading by as many as 14 after James, who had 15 first half points, hit a pair of free throws to make it 58-44.

Williamson, who had 20 first-half points, cut New Orleans’ halftime deficit to 10 with a pair of inside baskets, starting when Ingram found him on a backside cut for a dunk. In the final seconds of the period, Williamson sprinting mot of the length of the court on the dribble for layup at the horn that made it 60-50.


76ERS: It’s April and the postseason looms for the 76ers, which really only means one thing in Philadelphia: Joel Embiid is dealing with some kind of affliction.

One of the greats in the game, Embiid has accomplished just about all there is to do in the NBA. He’s an MVP. A two-time scoring champion. A seven-time All-Star. This season, Embiid even scored 70 points in one game.


Yes, Embiid’s season-accomplishments have made him worthy of max contracts and Olympic teams and all the other spoils that go with blossoming into one of the most must-watch players in the NBA.

But it’s playoff time once more and that’s the season when things get dicey for Embiid. The 7-footer has played through injuries since the day he was drafted and it’s more of the same this season. He tweaked his surgically repaired left knee last week, and while Coach Nick Nurse expected his big man to go Wednesday night in the play-in game against Miami, there’s never a guarantee Embiid will be structurally sound enough to withstand a grinding postseason run. His availability – rather, lack of it – is the most substantial reason the 76ers have failed to advance beyond the second round in the Eastern Conference playoffs in his seven full seasons in the NBA.

Yeah, but what about all those old adages about “next man up” or how a team is “more than one person” that are supposed to highlight that success and failure go beyond one player?

Forget it, Philly.

The 76ers finished 31-8 this season with Embiid – about a 65-win pace – and a woeful 16-27 without him.

As Embiid goes, so go the Sixers.


“Every chance that I can be out there,” Embiid said earlier this month, “I’m going to take it.”

The chance to go deep in the playoffs is tight for Embiid and his teammates.

The Sixers need to beat Jimmy Butler and the Heat to actually make the playoffs, where they’d earn the No. 7 seed and play the New York Knicks in the first round. If the Sixers lose, they must win the next play-in game on Friday to clinch the No. 8 seed in the playoffs and play No. 1 Boston.

Lose both and Philly’s season is over.

RETIREMENT: Blake Griffin announced his retirement after a 14-year career that included six All-Star selections, Rookie of the Year honors and a dunk contest victory.

Griffin said in a social media post that he’s “thankful for every single moment” of his career. He was the No. 1 overall pick by the Los Angeles Clippers out of Oklahoma in 2009. He missed his first season with a knee injury, but rebounded to earn Rookie of the Year honors in 2011, when he won the All-Star Game dunk contest.


Alongside Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan, Griffin’s high-flying plays rejuvenated the Clippers franchise and earned it the nickname “Lob City.” He was traded to the Detroit Pistons during the 2018 season as his ability to soar dwindled and injuries piled up.

Griffin was able to reinvent his game in Detroit with a reliable 3-point shot and was selected for his sixth All-Star Game in the 2018-19 season. He averaged 24.5 points and 7.5 rebounds that season.

Griffin, 35, also had stints in Brooklyn and Boston. He did not play in the 2023-24 season.

He averaged 19.0 points and 8.0 rebounds in his career. He finished third in MVP voting behind Kevin Durant and LeBron James in the 2013-14 season.

SUNS: Phoenix and guard Grayson Allen have finalized a multi-year deal that will keep him with the franchise following the best season of his NBA career.

The deal is worth $70 million over four seasons, according to ESPN.

Allen, 28, averaged a career-high 13.5 points per game while leading the NBA with a 46.1% percentage from 3-point range. He was one of the team’s few consistent players, providing constant floor spacing and long-range shooting while All-Stars Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal found their footing.

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