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Rui Hachimura Helps Lakers Edge Pelicans in NBA Play-In Tournament

Los Angeles Lakers starting forward Rui Hachimura had 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting in a narrow victory on the road against the New Orleans Pelicans.

By beating the New Orleans Pelicans 110-106 in the NBA Play-In Tournament on Tuesday, April 16, Rui Hachimura and the visiting Los Angeles Lakers advanced to the playoffs.

Up next: A rematch with the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets, who eliminated the Lakers from the playoffs in the 2022-23 season with a four-game sweep in the Western Conference finals.

The No 2 Nuggets will play host to the Lakers, the West's No 7 seed, in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series on Saturday, April 20.

To secure a spot in the playoffs, Los Angeles coach Darvin Ham's team received a big boost from its starting five in New Orleans. Led by LeBron James (23 points, nine rebounds, nine assists), all five starters reached double figures in points. Guard D'Angelo Russell had 21 points, including five 3-pointers, and six assists. Big man Anthony Davis chipped in with 20 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks. Guard Austin Reaves added 16 points and six assists.

Lakers forward Anthony Davis shoots over Pelicans guard Dyson Daniels in the second half. (Stephen Lew/USA TODAY SPORTS)

Power forward Hachimura contributed 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting, making both of his 3-point shots. He added one rebound, one assist and one steal in nearly 33 minutes of court time.

Davis praised the collective effort of Lakers players not named Davis and James on Tuesday, noting the duo shot a combined 12-for-36 in the win over the Pelicans, who had a 49-33 record in the regular season.

"The way those guys played kept us in the game, got us the big lead and ultimately won the game for us," Davis told reporters after the game.

Los Angeles led 60-50 at halftime.

Rui Hachimura Makes Solid Scoring Contributions in the 3rd Quarter

Hachimura scored eight points in the third quarter, including a layup at the 6:21 mark to put LA ahead 75-57.

The Pelicans then rallied to tie it at 95-95 with 3:19 remaining in the final quarter. But the Lakers held on for the win.

It was a rematch of the teams' final game of the regular season at the same venue, the Smoothie King Center. The Lakers beat the Pelicans 124-108 on Sunday.

"They made their run, threw some heavy blows at us [and] they kept swinging," Ham said of the Pelicans. "We kept fighting back ― meet force with force. …. That's a hard, hard ballclub to play, their length, their athleticism, their skill, their ability to shoot the ball."

Former No 1 draft pick Zion Williamson paced the Pelicans with 40 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in his first career postseason game.

On winning the game, Ham said: "It revealed a lot about us and what we're made of and the ways these two games went. One was, you know, a fairly big cushion throughout the game, and then tonight [it] was hard fought, as we anticipated, and so I'm just proud of our guys."

In his postgame remarks, Ham called it "a beautiful team win." He highlighted the overall impact of the team's supporting cast to augment the scoring production of Lakers superstars James and Davis.

"All those guys, they stepped up, they buckled down, they made play after play after play in key moments," he said, citing Hachimura among the players who made key contributions.

Rui Hachimura
Rui Hachimura strips the ball from the Pelicans' Brandon Ingram in the second half on April 16. (Stephen Lew/USA TODAY SPORTS)

Info on the NBA Playoffs

Teams that finish seventh through 10th in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference standings compete in the NBA Play-In Tournament for their respective conference to determine the final two seeds for the NBA playoffs. 

The Lakers (47-35) finished eighth in the West, while the Pelicans placed seventh. Including the play-in game, the Lakers have won 12 of their last 15.

Lakers head coach Darvin Ham speaks with the media before the NBA Play-In Tournament game against the Pelicans. (Stephen Lew/USA TODAY SPORTS)

Looking ahead to the Lakers' first-round series against the Nuggets, Ham said his team will need to continue to focus on defense and rebounding.

"If you want to win big, you are going to have to defend and rebound," the coach commented. "Those are the two areas we continuously stressed that we need to be at an elite level, especially at this time of year going into what we are about to face."

The Boston Celtics (64-18) had the best overall record this season and are the No 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder tied for the top record (57-25) in the West.

Check out the full playoff schedule on the NBA's official website.

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Rui Hachimura Statistics: A Look Back at the 2023-24 Season

In a career-high 68 games during the regular season, Hachimura averaged 13.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists for the Lakers. He made a career-best 1.4 3-pointers per game.

After the Lakers 123-120 win over the Memphis Grizzlies in their next-to-last game of the season on April 12, Hachimura reflected on his role with the team. He also reminded the media what the team's expectations were for him when he was traded from the Washington Wizards to the Lakers in January 2023.

"They said they want me to be the guy at both ends [of the floor] to bring the energy," Hachimura told reporters in Memphis. "And they told me they want me to be aggressive on offense to help this team win, so [those goals] are still here right now. We talk about the same thing."

He added, "They've given me a specific job and a role for this team, and I wanted to help this team win, whatever. Even last year, this team was struggling but we made it to the Western Conference finals."

Summarizing the Lakers' up-and-down 2023-24 NBA season Hachimura called it a "crazy journey, for sure."

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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