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LAS VEGAS — The signs that LeBron James was going to have a special performance in Thursday’s In-Season Tournament semifinal appeared suddenly.

And the New Orleans Pelicans didn’t find an answer to the James-led onslaught, with the Lakers crushing the Pelicans, 133-89, at T-Mobile Arena to advance to the championship game of the inaugural event on Saturday against the Indiana Pacers.

With the Lakers (14-9) trailing 30-29 after the first period, James opened the second quarter by knocking down a 3-pointer to give the Lakers a lead.

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On the Lakers’ next possession, he made another 3-pointer. And then another one to give them a five-point lead. The last two 3-pointers came from the league and tournament logo and sent the pro-Lakers Vegas crowd into a frenzy, followed by a layup one minute later to give James 11 points in the quarter’s first three minutes.

James scored 18 of his 30 points in the second quarter – a season-high in a quarter for any Laker this season – to give the Lakers a 67-54 lead going into halftime.

“I’m a simple guy, so I just stick to one word: extraordinary,” coach Darvin Ham said. “Otherworldly. That’s two, I know. One-of-one. That’s a phrase.

“But no, he is the ultimate tone-setter. His energy, him sacrificing his body, three charges. He set the tone for us on both ends of the basketball court. It’s a huge, huge blessing to have that working in your favor and to be on the same side as that.”

There was little resistance from the Pelicans, who won West Group B before beating the Sacramento Kings in a Monday quarterfinal to advance to the semifinals.

The Lakers, who have won three consecutive games and four of their past five, were in rhythm from behind the arc for the entire game (17 of 35 – 48.6%), and James continued to dominate. They outscored the Pelicans 43-17 in the third quarter – the most points they scored in a quarter this season – and ultimately outscored the Pelicans 81-41 in the middle two quarters to take a 110-71 lead going into the fourth.

“We have a lot of bodies,” Ham said. “A lot of long, athletic wings and players where we can switch randomly. We can switch deliberately. [Anthony Davis] is a huge, huge factor. Backing up and anchoring the back line of our defense. The biggest thing we talk about is playing with multiple efforts, trying to have multiple efforts.

“Strategies defensively, they are not always going to be perfect. So you can’t get discouraged. You just have to play with energy. Everybody understands what we’re playing for and what a great opportunity to be here in this city and in this tournament for us to reveal our competitive spirit [from] top to bottom. That’s what you saw.”

With the game well in hand, James and the rest of the Lakers’ core players were able to keep their minutes low and stay on the bench for the entire fourth quarter, with the team remaining undefeated in tournament play (6-0).

In addition to his 30 points, James also recorded eight assists (zero turnovers) and five rebounds in 23 minutes, shooting 9 for 12 from the field (4 for 4 from 3-point range) and making all eight of his free throws. He became the 41st player – and the oldest – to score at least 30 points in 23 or fewer minutes in a regular-season game, according to Stathead. His game-high individual plus/minutes of plus-36 is the highest among players who have accomplished the feat.

James also became the first player in NBA history to record at least 30 points, five rebounds and five assists in 23 or fewer minutes.

“Trying to lead by example,” James said of his mentality entering Thursday. “Make plays on the floor, be unselfish, try to make the right plays offensively, defensively, cover for my teammates and live with the results.”




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