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Ingram back in form as Pels secure eighth seed, Thunder up next

Brandon Ingram was back to something approaching his best on Friday as his team-high 24 points guided the New Orleans Pelicans past the Sacramento Kings and into the first round of the NBA Playoffs.

Having missed three weeks after bruising a bone in his left knee, Ingram produced two underwhelming performances as the Pelicans lost their regular-season finale and their first Play-In game – both against the Los Angeles Lakers.

However, things clicked for the former Laker on Friday, with a disciplined defensive performance helping New Orleans secure a 105-98 win in a do-or-die contest at Smoothie King Center.

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Having taken two games to feel his way back from injury, Ingram was delighted to rediscover his sharpness when it mattered most.

“This was the goal at the beginning of the year,” Ingram said. “We had some injuries. We had different things happen, but we had another opportunity and everybody contributed.

“It’s been one my healthiest seasons and I was out for three weeks just watching, just trying to stay disciplined.

“It’s hard just trying to stay disciplined, trying to stay locked in knowing I wanted to be out on the floor. I was losing some of my conditioning a little bit and just trying to stay ready.

“Three weeks passed, and I was just coming in and trying to play 30 minutes and be locked in. I was, of course, hard on myself because I didn’t think it mattered that I just came off the knee injury.

“Those first two games didn’t go how I wanted them to go, but I just wanted to give it all tonight and trust my team-mates, trust my stuff and we ended up winning.”

The Pelicans will now face the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, with Game 1 taking place at Paycom Center on Sunday.

The Kings, meanwhile, have lost all six of their meetings with the Pelicans this campaign, and head coach Mike Brown said carelessness with the ball cost them as their season shuddered to a halt.

“They’re good, long and athletic,” Brown said of New Orleans. “We’ve been hurt by the 3 by these guys, and we turn the ball over.

“We have to be the aggressor on offense and take care of the ball. We try to thread the needle with our passes, turn it over, then our floor balance is poor. Then they get out and create separation.”

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