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How the Lakers beat the Pelicans twice to punch their playoff ticket

Lakers forward LeBron James shoots between Pelicans guards Trey Murphy III and CJ McCollum.
Lakers forward LeBron James shoots between Pelicans guards Trey Murphy III and CJ McCollum in the second half Tuesday in New Orleans.
(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
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Hey everyone, this is Dan Woike. Welcome to this pre-playoff edition of The Times’ Lakers newsletter, which easily could’ve been the pre-offseason edition of The Times’ Lakers newsletter had it not been for two huge wins in New Orleans to set the stage for a rematch in Denver.

How did it happen? Be sure to thank the others.

Support staff

Gabe Vincent earned his place behind the microphone and in front of the Play-In Tournament banner with his physical point-of-attack defense, timely shot-making and hustle.

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He’s been back for just a little more than two weeks from the knee surgery that cost him most of his first season with the Lakers. His role in the offense is still undefined, his shot still not consistently there.

But fresh off LeBron James calling him a “winner,” Vincent showed why he was a major priority for the Lakers in free agency this past summer.

“It’s just all the little things. … Just trying to fill in the gaps,” he said of his mentality after the Lakers’ 110-106 win Tuesday. “… There’s a number of ways to impact winning, and I’m trying to find every which one there is.”

As the team recovers from two big wins against the Pelicans in New Orleans, helping push them from the bottom of the play-in into the No. 7 seed, the impact from the non-stars is a promising start to postseason play.

Last season, it was a huge shot from Dennis Schroder in the play-in tournament and big games from Rui Hachimura and Austin Reaves in the playoff opener.

On Tuesday, with James and Davis going an ugly 12-for-36 from the field combined, the Lakers needed every bit of offense it got from someone else.

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Hachimura quietly hit all but one of his six shots. Reaves helped lock up CJ McCollum while assisting on the two biggest Lakers’ buckets in crunch time. D’Angelo Russell carried the Lakers in the first half and drilled the dagger three in the fourth (with a key steal). And while Taurean Prince hit just two of his six threes, he blocked a Zion Williamson layup.

“Our supporting cast, stepping up the way they did on a night where Bron and AD were both missing the mark in terms of field goals, some tough, tough misses point-blank range,” Darvin Ham said. “But, our others, all those guys, they stepped up. They buckled down. They made play after play after play in key moments. … A beautiful team win.”

Postgame, James was visibly fatigued. And Davis, who was questionable Tuesday, said his back continued to spasm during the win against the Pelicans.

“It’s good that we won tonight. Get a couple days to get it back right. I still did feel it tonight,” Davis said. “A lot of the jump hook stuff I was feeling it. Back spasms, it’s tough. I’m trying to keep it as loose as possible and constantly moving and things like that, twisting and turning and things like that kind of limited me a little bit, but I’m still trying to go out there and be effective and help the team win. But I feel like I’ll be 100% as far as the back come Saturday.”

Among the keys to the series with Denver will be getting consistent production from the top of the roster, with James and Davis leading the way. But for as good as Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic were against the Lakers a year ago, Michael Porter Jr., Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Aaron Gordon were always ready to make a big play at a big moment.

The Lakers are going to need to match that. On Tuesday, in their first taste of postseason action, they showed that they’re capable.

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“It’s huge,” Vincent said. “You get tested a number of ways throughout the seasons, and I think we’ve had our ‘others,’ so to speak, step up in a number of ways a number of times this year. But at a time like this in a game that really matters for us as we move forward toward this postseason, I think it was huge. It was huge for us to show that we can handle the adversity.”

Ready to sprint

LeBron James did the brave (or maybe the dumb) move in the second half, stepping in front of a full-speed Zion Williamson while taking a charge.

He did that multiple times during the team’s meeting in the In-Season Tournament, but none were quite like this.

“That was a good one,” he said with a smile.

Ham was more appropriately descriptive.

“Like standing in the middle of a highway in front of a Mack Truck,” Ham said.

The play does speak to one of the bigger issues that Lakers have dealt with this season, a group that never found consistent defensive footing, in part, because James had to pick his spots on that end.

But James is healthier than he was at this time last season, and with the stakes high, he’s ready to get back in the middle of a highway again should it be necessary.

“Pace yourself for what? It’s now a sprint. It’s a sprint now. We already went through the marathon,” James said in the locker room. “… I’ll do whatever it takes. I mean ... it’s out the window. The season’s over. So it’s about just winning.

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“Win the game.”

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Song of the week

“How It Ends” by DeVotchKa (Live at Red Rocks)

One of my favorite NBA traditions is how the music in the Lakers locker room, when on the road, is usually bumping some local artist. In New Orleans, the Lakers listened to Lil Wayne and Birdman pregame.

With that in mind, I cooked up a Denver band search and saw DeVotchKa, who held real estate on my first iPod years ago with this song from the “Little Miss Sunshine” soundtrack.

In case you missed it

Lakers beat Pelicans, advance to face Nuggets in the playoffs

LeBron James has never been NBA defensive player of the year — and it really bugs him

Lakers vs. Pelicans: Our reporters break it down.

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Lakers know Pelicans present problems in rematch, but so does complacency

LeBron James’ triple-double helps Lakers secure eighth place for play-in game

Lakers played extra time against Grizzlies because of clock error

Stakes are clear for Lakers: Beat Pelicans and win 8th spot in West

Lakers defeat Grizzlies and get some good news about the play-in race

Until next time...

As always, pass along your thoughts to me at daniel.woike@latimes.com, and please consider subscribing if you like our work!

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