Lakers ready for Nuggets rematch as Ham rejects talk of alternative path

Lakers clinch playoff spot, 7th seed in win over Pelicans (3:20)

Check out some of the top moments from the Lakers' play-in victory over the Pelicans to clinch the 7th seed in the West. (3:20)

NEW ORLEANS -- The Los Angeles Lakers' prize for beating the New Orleans Pelicans 110-106 in the play-in tournament to secure the No. 7 seed is a first-round playoff matchup with the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets.

L.A. won 12 out of its last 15 games to make it happen, sealing its fate in a rematch against last year's Western Conference finals opponent that swept the Lakers out of the playoffs. And Denver has won eight straight overall against the purple and gold.

A loss Tuesday in New Orleans would have set up a do-or-die game on Friday for the Lakers, hosting the Sacramento Kings, with the winner earning the No. 8 seed and a first-round playoff series against the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder. And the loser's season would be over.

Despite the inherent risk in the second scenario, there was talk on various sports media programming in the days leading up to the Pelicans game that playing the second-seeded Nuggets would mean certain elimination, so the Lakers would be better off throwing Tuesday's game in New Orleans. It was a notion that left Lakers coach Darvin Ham apoplectic after his team staved off a late push by the Pelicans to advance.

"There was a report of what?" Ham said to a reporter who referenced the chatter. "Insane asylum sources say?"

While Ham was adamant in his rejection of a planned loss, Lakers star LeBron James was just as effusive in the respect he showed for the Nuggets.

"It's the defending champion," James said. "They know what it takes. They know how to win. They've been extremely dominant on their home floor over the last few years. They've got an MVP on their team. They've got a closer on their team. They've got high-level players, high-IQ players. And they've got a hell of a coach.

"So, we have to play mistake-free basketball. Make it tough on them. They're going to try to make it tough on us, obviously. But if we can play as great of a game as we can play, and they're going to play as great of a game as they play, it's going come down to one or two possessions. And we'll see who executes then."

Lakers big man Anthony Davis said that the four days leading up to Saturday's Game 1 (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC) in Denver will allow him to rehabilitate his lower back after he battled through back spasms during Tuesday's contest. It represents rest that wouldn't have been possible if L.A. had a Kings game to plan for.

"I think the way it affected me the most is just as far as moving, going to get offensive rebounds and things like that," Davis said of his 6 for 16 showing against the Pelicans. "Just my presence at the rim, it was just tough. But we got it done. We got it done. And I have a couple days now to kind of get it back to normal and get ready for Saturday.

"I feel like I'll be 100 percent as far as the back come Saturday."

Davis said that he never considered anything other than trying to beat New Orleans, with the alternative reminding him of a lesson his former coach Monty Williams taught him a long time ago.

"Mess with the game and it will mess with you," Davis said, paraphrasing Williams.

L.A. will fly to Denver on Thursday, sources told ESPN, copying the same routine as last postseason when the team arrived in Memphis two days before Game 1 of its first-round series against the Grizzlies. The Lakers won Game 1, won the series and catapulted all the way to the conference finals.

This time around, they meet Denver much sooner.

"I think we're clicking at the right time," Davis said. "Guys are playing well. Guys are very confident. Guys are feeling good. And we're going to need it -- especially against Denver."