New Orleans Pelicans forward Naji Marshall (8) reacts with forward...

New Orleans Pelicans forward Naji Marshall (8) reacts with forward Brandon Ingram after a turnover in the second half of an NBA basketball play-in tournament game against the Sacramento Kings in New Orleans, Friday, April 19, 2024. The Pelicans won 105-98. Credit: AP/Gerald Herbert

NEW ORLEANS — Hustle plays and production from up and down the lineup helped the New Orleans Pelicans overcome the absence of leading-scorer Zion Williamson, keep their season alive and avoid a historically significant loss.

Brandon Ingram scored 24 points, Jonas Valanciunas added 19 points and 12 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans booked a spot in the NBA playoffs with a 105-98 victory over the Sacramento Kings in a play-in tournament elimination game on Friday night.

“We stayed together. We we supported each other. We played for each other," Valanciunas said. “We all want to get to the playoffs. And we did it by playing good basketball, by supporting each other, helping each other on defense, on offense, sharing the ball, you know, making a right play. It's fun basketball to play that way.”

Williamson was sidelined by a left hamstring strain that occurred as he reached the 40-point mark in a play-in loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night.

Undaunted, New Orleans used a balanced approach to improve to 8-5 this season without Williamson. Six players scored 10 or more points, including reserves Larry Nance Jr. (13), Naji Marshall (11) and Jose Alvarado (10).

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

Trey Murphy III, starting because of Williamson's absence, added 16 points for New Orleans, which begins a first-round playoff series on Sunday at top-seeded Oklahoma City.

New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14) shoots against Sacramento...

New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14) shoots against Sacramento Kings forward Keegan Murray (13) in the first half of an NBA basketball play-in tournament game in New Orleans, Friday, April 19, 2024. Credit: AP/Gerald Herbert

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

De'Aaron Fox scored 35 points, and Domantas Sabonis had 23 points and 14 rebounds for the ninth-seeded Kings, who set up their matchup with New Orleans by defeating No. 10 seed Golden State in their play-in opener.

“We were a little passive offensively and not all of us were aggressive with our play tonight," Brown said, alluding to a combined 4-for-17 shooting from young starters Keegan Murray (4 for 12) and Keon Ellis (0 for 5).

“We have to be able to get the ball in the paint,” added Brown, whose team was outscored 58-44 inside and missed seven of 22 free throws. “You’ve got to be able to finish and you’ve got to get to the free throw line and convert.”

Sacramento Kings guard De'Aaron Fox (5) drives to the basket...

Sacramento Kings guard De'Aaron Fox (5) drives to the basket between New Orleans Pelicans forwards Brandon Ingram (14) and Herbert Jones in the first half of an NBA basketball play-in tournament game in New Orleans, Friday, April 19, 2024. Credit: AP/Gerald Herbert

The game was a test of the Pelicans' ability to handle the pressure of a do-or-die game after squandering two previous chances to lock up a playoff berth at home.

New Orleans lost to the Lakers in their regular-season finale on Sunday, missing a chance to clinch the sixth seed, before losing again to the Lakers on Tuesday. They entered their matchup with the Kings facing the possibility of becoming the first 49-win team in more than 50 years (Phoenix in 1972) to miss the NBA playoffs.

Instead, New Orleans improved to 6-0 against Sacramento this season, becoming the first team to go 6-0 in a season (without a playoff series) against an opponent since Denver against Minnesota in 1994-95.

“We deserved it. That’s how we felt coming into this game,” Nance said. “We deserve to be in the playoffs. You don't win 49 games by accident.”

The Pelicans also prolonged a streak of No. 7 seeds never missing the playoffs since the play-in tournament was adopted by the NBA in 2020. Because of their play-in loss to the Lakers, the Pelicans enter the playoffs as an eighth seed.

The Pelicans were sloppy early, committing six first-quarter turnovers that led to 11 Kings points. Sacramento, which was missing Malik Monk (right knee) and Kevin Huerter (left shoulder) from its lineup, led 24-17 after a turnover by Herb Jones led to a layup by Fox, who scored 18 points in the first half.

CJ McCollum's reverse layup and Murphy's 3 helped the Pelicans quickly closed the gap, and New Orleans built a 13-point lead in the second quarter.

Marshall gave the Pelicans a jolt with a 3 and a steal from Murray that he converted into a breakaway dunk. Murray hurt his hip when he fell while losing the ball. He went to the locker room shortly after, but returned for the second half.

Valanciunas' short hook shot and Ingram's layup put the Pelicans up 53-40 late in the half before Fox's 3 helped the Kings trim it to 54-45 at halftime.

But the Pelicans maintained a lead of 10 or more points for much of the second half, going up by as many as 20 in the fourth quarter.

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