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Gabe Vincent finding his rhythm as Lakers enter playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS — As Gabe Vincent checked in at the start of the second quarter for his first playing stint of the Lakers’ 110-106 play-in game victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, he was about to provide a glimpse of what they’ve missed from him this season.

Less than one minute into the second, Vincent provided what Austin Reaves called “one of the best plays of the game.”

Vincent dove on the court to steal a bad pass by the Pelicans’ Larry Nance Jr. before kicking the ball out to Taurean Prince to ignite the Lakers’ attack in transition.

“Every possession he’s out there competing on defense,” Reaves said. “Just that heart that he plays with.”

But what surrounded that play provided encouragement that Vincent is starting to find his offensive rhythm after missing most of the season because of left knee ailments.

Less than 40 seconds into the third, Vincent made a corner 3-pointer off an assist from LeBron James to cut the Pelicans’ lead to 36-29.

Three minutes later, Vincent made his second 3-pointer of the game, which gave the Lakers a 41-38 lead during a quarter in which they outscored the Pelicans 34-16.

Vincent’s 9-minute stint in the second gave the Lakers the boost they needed, with the veteran guard being a plus-12 in the quarter.

“Just his toughness, his grit, his ability to make shots,” Coach Darvin Ham said. “And like I said, that will come. As his legs get stronger and stronger underneath him, his shot-making will increase as well.

“He has this quiet toughness about himself. Whatever you need him to do, he’s gonna do it. He’s gonna make sure he executes it and starts with defense with him. The defense, diving on the floor, everything, he’s a hell of a competitor.”

Vincent finished with nine points and four rebounds in 18 minutes. His 2-for-4 shooting from 3-point range was the first time he made multiple 3-pointers in a game this season.

He played just seven regular-season games before Tuesday’s play-in game after having left knee surgery on Dec. 27, missing time before that with swelling, before returning on March 31.

“Each game I feel better, naturally,” Vincent said. “There’s no replacing reps. And I think that’s something I miss most of this year, whether it’s reps in practice or just getting shots up or a rhythm-type thing. But each game I feel better naturally and always better when you get a win.”

Vincent was also disruptive defensively while taking on bigger defensive challenges, guarding Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram for stretches after mostly defending CJ McCollum.

“He’s a ballhawk,” All-Star big man Anthony Davis said. “And he’s a very high-IQ player. Just a great overall talent. High-IQ player. When he’s like that on the defensive end, we’re just a tougher team to beat.”

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