LOS ANGELES (AP) — LeBron James looked to be in playoff form when he hit deep 3s, delivered an accurate, no-look, behind-the-back pass out of a double team to Alex Caruso under the basket, or flipped an alley-oop lob to Anthony Davis while running a fast break.
But when James used a spin move on the dribble to convert a lay-up against two defenders in the fourth quarter, he landed on Nickeil Alexander-Walker's foot, fell to the floor and remained on his back for several seconds before checking out of the game for good.
"I'll be fine," James insisted after his game-high 25 points led the Los Angeles Lakers to a 110-98 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday night.
While the victory was the Lakers' fifth straight, it was not enough to pull them high enough in the Western Conference standings to skip the NBA's new play-in format involving the seventh through 10th seeds.
Portland beat Denver to finish sixth, meaning the Lakers would have to win one of up to two play-in games to secure a regular playoff spot as either a seventh or eighth seed.
James called his latest injury "a tweak" of the high right ankle sprain that sidelined him for 26 of the Lakers' final 30 regular-season games.
"I'll be in the lineup on Wednesday," James predicted, referring to the Lakers' play-in opener against eighth-seeded Golden State. "The time is now and I'm ready for it."
Davis scored 14 points and Andre Drummond had 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Lakers, who played starters and top substitutes between 21 and 30 minutes in a victory that would have helped them finish sixth had Portland lost.
"I don't look at our seeding. It doesn't matter," James said, noting that he and Davis both missed significant time with injures this season. "Obviously we know we wanted to play a lot better this season, but injuries took a toll on our team. We're finally starting to get whole, starting to feel a little bit better about our situation."
Willie Hernangomez had 19 points and 13 rebounds, and Naji Marshall added 18 points — including a turnaround, half-court heave off the glass as the first half ended — for New Orleans.
The Lakers never trailed, but had some trouble pulling away from an undermanned Pelicans squad missing top scorers Zion Williamson (left hand fracture) and Brandon Ingram (left ankle sprain).
"We had some important guys out with injury, so it was just another opportunity for other guys. Everybody was working really hard," Hernangomez said. "I'm really happy with the opportunity that I had."
With about five minutes left in the third quarter, Pelicans forward James Johnson had a chance to tie it at 76 with three free throws, but missed them all.
Soon after, Davis made a pair of free throws and followed that with a dunk on the next possession, igniting a 16-3 Lakers run to close the quarter in which Davis added a reverse layup and another driving lay-in as he was fouled.
Caruso chipped in with a driving floater from the lane and a 3, and the Lakers took a 91-76 lead into the final period.
(© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
for more features.