The Los Angeles Lakers delivered a dominant performance against the New Orleans Pelicans in the NBA In-Season Tournament semifinals on Thursday night. Led by superstar LeBron James’ 30 points in just 23 minutes, the Lakers cruised to a 120-102 victory to clinch a spot in Saturday’s tournament championship game against the Indiana Pacers.
LeBron Makes History with 30-Point Outburst
LeBron was simply unstoppable against New Orleans, putting up an extremely efficient scoring night on 11-14 shooting overall and 3-4 from downtown. With his 30 spot, King James made yet more history:
|Youngest to 32K points
|At age 38, LeBron became the youngest player ever to score 32,000 career points. He continues to reach new heights at an age where most players have declined significantly.
|12 30-point playoff games after turning 38
|LeBron recorded his 12th 30+ point game in the postseason since turning 38 years old this past December. The next highest on that list is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with 10.
The ageless LeBron did all his damage in just 23 minutes of play before taking the fourth quarter off with the game well in hand. His per-36 numbers translate to an unthinkable 40 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists.
Lakers Flex Their Muscles as Title Threat
The Lakers have endured a mediocre regular season to this point, struggling with injuries, lineup uncertainty and streaky outside shooting. But their dominant performance against New Orleans served notice that when healthy and clicking with LeBron orchestrating, this L.A. team has all the ingredients of a championship contender.
L.A. imposed its will early, outscoring the Pelicans 34-20 in the opening quarter behind LeBron’s 14 first-quarter points. The Lakers then delivered the knockout blow with a 36-16 second quarter to seize a commanding 70-36 halftime advantage. Their balanced attack featured six players scoring in double figures:
|Lonnie Walker IV
The Lakers shot a blistering 57.3% from the field and outscored New Orleans by 30 points in Davis’ 28 minutes. Los Angeles also dominated the glass (48-37) while holding the normally potent Pelicans offense to 40.5% shooting and outscoring them 58-46 in the paint.
If the Lakers can replicate this form and health in their upcoming playoff push, the rest of the West is on notice. Thursday night showed that when the players adopt coach Darvin Ham’s preferred style of gritty determination and quick ball movement, this L.A. team has few equals.
Zion, Pelicans Stunned in Lopsided Defeat
The Pelicans did not envision their season ending this way after an impressive start had them battling near the Western Conference’s summit. But injuries have eroded their rotation and Zion Williamson admitted after Thursday’s shellacking that the team lacks playoff experience outside himself and CJ McCollum.
That inexperience showed against the battle-tested Lakers, as Pelicans coach Willie Green lamented his team’s lack of physicality in the postgame press conference. Despite Williamson’s 27 points on an efficient 11-17 shooting, New Orleans struggled mightily when he sat. L.A. outscored the Pels by 20 points in Zion’s 13 minutes on the bench. McCollum’s inefficient 16 points on 7-20 shooting did little to pick up the slack.
The ignominious early exit after last season’s feel-good push to the playoffs leaves the Pelicans with more questions than answers heading into a pivotal offseason:
- How do they get Zion more playoff reps to prepare him for these intense spotlight games?
- How can they keep veterans like McCollum and Larry Nance Jr. fresh for the postseason grind?
- What roster tweaks are needed to get this talented squad over the hump?
Pacers Next Up for Red-Hot Lakers
While the Pelicans head to the drawing board, the Lakers must quickly refocus with a motivated Pacers squad awaiting in Saturday’s tournament finale. Indiana has been the surprise of this inaugural event, taking down Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks on Thursday behind new acquisition Eric Gordon’s season-high 32 points.
The Pacers match up well against Los Angeles with their collection of athletic wings and scoring versatility. Tyrese Haliburton runs the show capably at the point, while explosive young center Myles Turner protects the rim. But L.A.’s veteran savvy and motivation to validate their season may prove too much.
LeBron is now 5-0 lifetime when facing the Pacers in the playoffs, having dispatched them in three straight first-round series from 2012-2014. With King James operating at an otherworldly level this postseason and Anthony Davis by his side, Indiana likely needs a herculean effort from Haliburton and/or Gordon to pull the tournament upset.
Look for the Lakers to impose their will early again after Thursday’s dominant showing. But if the scrappy Pacers can hang around into the second half behind a raucous home crowd hungry for a tournament crown, we could be in for a classic Saturday night thriller to determine the first-ever “NBA Cup” champion.
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