LAS VEGAS -- — LeBron James scored 30 points in less than three quarters and the Los Angeles Lakers steamrolled the New Orleans Pelicans 133-89 on Thursday night to reach the championship game in the NBA In-Season Tournament.
The Lakers will play the surprising Indiana Pacers on Saturday night for the inaugural NBA Cup. Indiana advanced with a 128-119 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in the other semifinal. Unlike the other tournament games, the championship game will not count in the regular-season standings.
Los Angeles' run to the title game, James said, is indicative of the team's potential. He was particularly pleased with the defense, which held New Orleans to 35.8% shooting, and the Lakers also had a 59-42 rebounding advantage.
“I think we are starting to get a feel for what we need to become a team for us to win basketball games, to be consistent,” James said. “Defensively, we're really, really starting to tap into that like, OK, we've got to defend every single night. When we defend, we give ourselves a chance to win every night.”
Pelicans coach Willie Green said he credited his team in the locker room with making the semifinals, "but tonight was a total letdown. We’re all disappointed in our competitive spirit against the Lakers. You’ve got to give them credit. They came out and dominated. ... But tonight we took a step in the wrong direction."
New Orleans led 30-29 after the first quarter, but James opened the second scoring the Lakers' first 11 points, and suddenly a one-point deficit was a 40-33 lead.
During that stretch, James made three 3-pointers in a row. The last two came from the league and tournament logo, firing up the pro-Lakers crowd. The nearly 39-year-old superstar even took three charges.
“Any time your best player sacrifices his body, takes three charges in the first half, especially with Zion coming down the paint, it sets a tone,” Reaves said. “That shows to everybody else how locked in he is to win this, and how locked in he is every game.”
By halftime, James had 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting. He went to the bench midway through the third quarter, which should give him plenty of energy for the championship against a Pacers team like that likes to push, well, pace.
“They are young,” Davis said. “They are scrappy. They get out and run, and they play the right way. So it’s going to be a test for our defense for sure.”
Los Angeles has won three consecutive games and four of its past five. Coach Darvin Ham said the focus, aggressiveness and unselfishness during this recent span make the Lakers “damn near unstoppable.”
“It’s a beautiful thing to see this early,” Ham said. “I think the intensity that this tournament brings reveals that because it’s not just a regular-season game. It doesn’t feel like that. The stakes are way higher and you see people in those delicate moments what they are truly made of, at least the beginning stages.”
Pelicans: Host Minnesota on Monday night.
Lakers: Face Indiana on Saturday night in Las Vegas in the title game.
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- Kevin Cutler
- Scott Foster
- Ashley Moyer-Gleich