By Agence France-Presse
LeBron James and Anthony Davis scored all but one of Los Angeles’ points in the final quarter as the Lakers rallied to beat the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks 113-103 and clinch a playoff spot on Friday.
The dynamic duo combined for 67 points as James scored 11 of his team-high 37 points in the final quarter and Davis scored 14 of his 30 in the fourth in the clash between the teams with the league’s best records.
The two stars played keep away from their teammates and would have shut out the rest of their bench had guard Alex Caruso not made a free throw with 14 seconds left on the clock and the game out of reach for Milwaukee.
“I am extremely tired,” said James, who also had eight rebounds and eight assists in 37 minutes of playing time.
The Lakers clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 2013, ending a seven-year tailspin.
Reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo had a double double with a team-high 32 points and 11 rebounds in the loss. He was matched up against James for much of the evening.
The Lakers earned a measure of revenge with Friday’s win. In their initial meeting this season on December 19 in Milwaukee, the Bucks defeated the Lakers 111-104.
Antetokounmpo played a huge role in that victory with 34 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.
“He got to the free-throw line a lot,” said James of Antetokounmpo on Friday. “He is such a great player. I just wanted to keep a body in front of him and make it tough on him.”
Kyle Kuzma, with 11, was the only other Laker to finish in double figures while the Bucks had five in double figures.
The Bucks led by as much as nine in the first half before the Lakers forced a tie 48-48 at halftime. Davis was limited to five points in 10 first-half minutes because of foul trouble.
James also talked about the possibility of playing NBA games without fans in the arena due to fears over the coronavirus outbreak.
The league sent a memo to each team on Friday asking them to develop contingency plans to combat the spread of the virus. One of the alternatives is playing games behind closed doors.
“Nah. It’s impossible,” said James. “If I show up to the arena and there ain’t no fans in the crowd, then I ain’t playing.
“I ain’t never played the game without no fans. Ever since I started. This ain’t Europe.
“I play for my teammates and I play for the fans. That’s what it is all about.”
The Lakers have another difficult opponent on the weekend. On Sunday they face Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers, who are in second place behind the Lakers in the Western Conference standings.
James said he wants to enjoy their third win in a row for a few hours before he starts thinking about how to play the Clippers.
“I am going to get some rest tonight. Get a good dinner and a glass of wine, maybe two. Then lock in on Clippers tomorrow,” James said.
Elsewhere, Josh Hart scored 19 points with 12 rebounds and rookie Zion Williamson tallied 17 points as the New Orleans Pelicans snapped a three-game winless streak with a 110-104 win over Miami on Friday.
This was the first game in the last 14 that rising star Williamson scored fewer than 20 points, but the host Pelicans still managed to pull out the victory in front of a crowd of 18,300 at the Smoothie King Center.
Brandon Ingram woke up in the fourth quarter to offset a poor shooting night by making two key late jump shots. Ingram made just four of 20 shot attempts.
Jrue Holiday scored a team high 20 points and Lonzo Ball had 16 in the win.
Jimmy Butler scored 28 for the Heat, Duncan Robinson scored 24, including eight three pointers. Goran Drajic scored 15 and Andre Iguodala had 10 for Miami, who saw their four-game winning streak stopped.
Robinson broke the Heat’s single-season record of 227 three-pointers which was previously held by Wayne Ellington.
Elsewhere, Mike Conley scored 25 points thanks to some brilliant three-point shooting as the Utah Jazz overcame a poor performance from Donovan Mitchell to beat the injury-riddled Boston Celtics 99-94.