LeBron James' triple-double helps Lakers secure eighth place for play-in game

Your eyes would tell you quickly.

The Lakers, at their very best this season, have gotten 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 sides of the ball, the Lakers have been as hard to beat as anyone. On the nights 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 he’d get.

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

The Lakers looked they did because James looked like he did.

Offensively, his court vision carved the Pelicans defense 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.

The two teams will play in the 7/8 play-in game Tuesday here 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.

But even though the Lakers locked themselves into the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference play-in tournament, assuring themselves two chances to advance, the feelings weren’t all good. They couldn’t be with Anthony Davis, who was forced to the back to watch the game’s final minutes.

With the Lakers up 21 midway through the fourth, Davis tried to follow a Gabe Vincent miss, 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 had to leave the court and head back to the locker room. After the game, Ham described the injury as a spasm and was “optimistic” that Davis will play Tuesday.

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

They led by double-digits in the first and held off a New Orleans push in the second 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 threes.

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

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