NBA Play-In: Lakers-Pelicans Preview, Props & Prediction

The NBA playoffs officially tip off with Tuesday night’s play-in game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the New Orleans Pelicans, who will play host to the one-and-done series two nights after getting thumped at home by the very same opponent.

The Lakers (47-35) enter as the No. 8 seed, and didn’t even leave town after Sunday’s 124-108 win over the Pelicans (49-33), who had to settle for the No. 7 seed. Tuesday’s winner will advance to play the second-seeded Denver Nuggets in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.


The Pelicans are consensus 1.5-point favorites despite trailing by as many as 32 points on Sunday in a game that had potential for New Orleans to claim the No. 6 seed and avoid this rematch. It was actually the closest of the four meetings between the teams this season, three of which were won by the Lakers.

New Orleans has home-court advantage, or does it? The Pelicans have dropped their past five home games and haven’t won at the Smoothie King Center since March 28.

Los Angeles has predictably drawn 71 percent of the spread-line bets and 60 percent of the money at BetMGM, where the Lakers’ +100 moneyline has also been backed by 76 percent of the money. The same spread at BetRivers has seen the Lakers supported by a smaller majority with 57 percent of the bets and 55 percent of the money.

Prediction: LeBron James has owned Zion Williamson in their head-to-head matchups, and the veteran Lakers are poised to handle the Pelicans for a fourth time in five tries this season. –Lakers 118, Pelicans 110


LeBron James Over 26.5 Points (-115 at BetMGM): James averaged 25.7 points during the regular season, which he capped by averaging 32.7 points over the past three games. That included 28 points in 38 minutes on Sunday. James scored just 21 in a Feb. 9 home win over the Pelicans, but he did tally 35 in a New Year’s Eve win in New Orleans and had 30 in an in-season tournament win over the Pelicans earlier that month.


James isn’t feeling comfortable about the repeat matchup even though his squad just steamrolled the Pelicans on the latter’s home floor.

“Tuesday’s game is going to be extremely hard, extremely difficult, extremely physical,” James said. “I’ve always known that, when you play a playoff series — and I look at this like a two-game playoff series — if you win that first game, a team has multiple days to kind of sit on that feeling, or sit with that taste in their mouth of defeat.

“So they’re going to be extremely ready for us and we have to come in with the same sense of urgency that we had the previous game.”

Pelicans coach Willie Green certainly isn’t going to forget the bitter taste between now and tipoff.

“We have to come back with the right mentality,” Green said. “They were the aggressors. We have to be the aggressive team. We have to be the more physical team. We have to keep them out of our paint and make them take contested shots and rebound the ball.

“They played with a ton of force. They came out right away. At least for the first half, they punched us right in the mouth and kept going.”

James recorded 28 points, a season-best 17 assists, 11 rebounds and five steals during the easy win. Anthony Davis had 30 points on 13-of-17 shooting and collected 11 rebounds before leaving with back spasms just past the midway point of the final quarter.

Williamson had just 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting while often being guarded by James, and New Orleans gave up 70 first-half points after returning home from a 4-0 road trip.


Listed as questionable, Davis maintained there was no way he would sit out against the Pelicans, the team with which he spent the first seven seasons of his NBA career.

“No doubt that I’m going to play,” Davis said. “Get some treatment, keep it loose, just see how I feel over the next 24-36 hours.”

New Orleans forward Brandon Ingram (left knee) returned from a 12-game absence to score 13 points in 23 minutes Sunday. Ingram figures to be available for more minutes on Tuesday.


CJ McCollum has been a standout this month for the Pelicans and he scored 25 points on Sunday for his seventh straight game of 25 or more points.

McCollum had topped 30 four times during the stretch and is 42 of 80 (52.5) from 3-point range during the seven-game hot streak.

“We will be better in the next game. It was a good road trip. We got four wins on the road,” he said. “Now we have to take care of business on home court.”