Pelicans cruise past Kings, claim West’s No. 8 seed

Brandon Ingram recorded 24 points, six rebounds and six assists and the New Orleans Pelicans clinched the Western Conference’s final playoff berth with a solid 105-98 victory over the visiting Sacramento Kings on Friday night.

Jonas Valanciunas had 19 points and 12 rebounds and Trey Murphy III added 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists as New Orleans cruised despite the absence of Zion Williamson (left hamstring strain).

Reserves Larry Nance Jr. (13 points), Naji Marshall (11) and Jose Alvarado (10) contributed off the bench for the Pelicans, who will face the top-seeded Thunder in the first round of the postseason. That series opens Sunday in Oklahoma City.

New Orleans went 6-0 against the Kings this season, counting the play-in victory.

De’Aaron Fox had 35 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals for the Kings. Domantas Sabonis finished with 23 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and three steals, Harrison Barnes scored 17 points and Keegan Murray had 11 for Sacramento, which will miss the playoffs for the 17th time in the past 18 seasons.

Williamson was hurt in New Orleans’ Tuesday loss to the Los Angeles Lakers and is slated to be re-evaluated in approximately two weeks.

The Pelicans shot 51.8 percent from the field, including 7 of 19 (36.8 percent) from 3-point range.

Sacramento made 40.9 percent of its attempts and was 11 of 41 (26.8 percent) from behind the arc. Davion Mitchell added 10 points for the Kings.

New Orleans led by nine after three quarters and quickly elevated the gap to 20.

Valanciunas converted a three-point play, Ingram scored four straight points and Alvarado knocked down a 3-pointer during a 10-0 spurt that saw the Pelicans take a 97-77 lead with 6:35 left.

The Kings closed within seven in the final minute before Herbert Jones blocked a 3-point attempt by Fox and had the ball passed to him for a dunk with 8.1 seconds left.

Jones scored 12 first-half points as the Pelicans held a 54-45 halftime advantage. Fox scored 18 in the half for Sacramento.

The Kings led 31-29 early in the second quarter after a basket by Mitchell before New Orleans responded by scoring 24 of the next 33 points to open up a 13-point advantage.

Ingram began the third quarter with a three-point play to give the Pelicans a 57-45 lead. Jones made a 3-pointer to make it 65-51 with 9:11 to play in the period.

Mitchell later knocked down two treys during a 9-2 run as Sacramento moved within 71-64 with 5:37 remaining.

Ingram’s late basket gave New Orleans an 83-74 lead entering the final stanza.