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Pelicans beat Kings without Zion Williamson to reach NBA Playoff spot

In a crucial elimination game for the NBA play-in tournament, the New Orleans Pelicans, led by Brandon Ingram’s 24 points and Jonas Valanciunas’ double-double, defeated the Sacramento Kings 105-98 on Friday evening.

This win secured their position as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, setting them up for a first-round matchup against the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Pelicans rallied around each other in the absence of their leading scorer, Zion Williamson, who was sidelined with a left hamstring strain.

“We stayed together. We supported each other. We played for each other,” Valanciunas said. “We all want to reach the play-offs. And we did that by playing good basketball, by supporting each other, helping each other on defense, on offense, by sharing the ball, you know, by playing well. It’s fun basketball to play this way.”

New Orleans demonstrated a well-rounded team performance with six players scoring in double figures, including significant contributions off the bench. Larry Nance Jr., Naji Marshall and Jose Alvarado combined to add 34 points, a testament to the team’s depth and resilience.

“You get 34 points off your bench, it’s a great night for them, a tough night for us,” Kings coach Mike Brown acknowledged.

The Kings, led by De’Aaron Fox’s 35 points and a double-double from Domantas Sabonis, fought hard but were unable to overcome their shooting woes and the Pelicans’ aggressive interior play. Sacramento struggled from the field and the free throw line, which ultimately cost them the game.

The matchup was a do-or-die situation for the Pelicans, who had previously wasted two chances to secure a playoff berth at home. Despite the early turnovers that benefited Sacramento, New Orleans quickly recovered and closed the gap in the first quarter with critical plays from CJ McCollum and Trey Murphy III.

“It feels good. This was a goal at the beginning of the year,” Ingram said. “We had another opportunity today and we came in and everyone contributed.”

Naji Marshall provided a crucial boost with a three-pointer and a steal that led to a breakaway dunk, energizing the team and the home crowd. The Pelicans built a 13-point lead at halftime and maintained a comfortable margin through the second half, leading by as much as 20 points in the fourth quarter.

This win not only advanced the Pelicans to the playoffs, but also avoided a historic disappointment, as no 49-win team had missed the playoffs in over 50 years.

“We earned it. That’s how we felt going into this game,” Nance said. “We deserve to be in the play-offs. You don’t win 49 games by accident.”

As the Pelicans prepare to face Oklahoma City, they carry the momentum of a team that has proven itself capable of rising to the challenge, even in the face of adversity and high stakes.