On Tuesday night, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the New Orleans Pelicans, 110-106, in the Play-In Tournament to earn the No. 7 seed in the West. The Lakers will face Nikola Jokic and the No. 2 seed Denver Nuggets in the first round of the 2024 NBA playoffs.

This is a rematch of last season’s Western Conference Finals, which Denver won in a gentleman’s sweep. The Nuggets earned the West’s No. 2 seed, behind the Oklahoma City Thunder, who owned the tiebreaker between the powerhouses.

It’s hard to bet against arguably the greatest player of all-time, James, but the Nuggets’ masterful core will be favored over the Lakers. Now, the Pelicans play on Friday as they await the winner of the Sacramento Kings-Golden State Warriors game late Tuesday evening, with the winner taking on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Thunder.

The Lakers needed a team effort to push past star Zion Williamson and the Pelicans. Before going down with an injury with roughly three minutes left in the game, Williamson tallied 40 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists on 63% shooting, with the team’s next-highest scorer having 12 points (Trey Murphy III).

James and Anthony Davis put forth the strongest efforts for Los Angeles, with LeBron recording 23 points, 9 assists, 9 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks, but his efficiency was poor, shooting 6-of-20 from the field and 20% from 3-point range. Meanwhile, Davis finished the evening with 20 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocks on 37.5% shooting in 40 minutes of action. The backcourt duo of D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves combined for 37 points and 12 assists on 12-of-25 shooting. A poor second half allowed New Orleans to keep the game close, but ultimately James and Russell sealed the game with clutch scores in the final minutes.

Looking ahead to the Lakers-Nuggets series, James and Davis will match up well against Michael Porter Jr. and Jokic, but star guard Jamal Murray could be a major problem for the Lakers’ backcourt (Russell and Reaves). Murray rises to the occasion in the playoffs, averaging 26.1 points and 7.1 assists on 47.3% shooting during Denver’s 2023 championship run.

After the win over New Orleans, James was asked about the matchup and he gave Denver credit as the reigning champs and made it clear that a tough series is ahead of them.

The Nuggets swept the season series against the Lakers, winning each of the three matchups. The first came in late October (119-107), then in early February (114-106), and finally on March 2 (124-114). James and the Lakers will have a chance to get revenge for last year’s Conference Finals loss, but the reigning-champion Nuggets won’t make it easy.