NEW ORLEANS – 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.