Zion Williamson has been cleared to participate in full team activities, the New Orleans Pelicans announced on Friday.

Pelicans star Williamson is yet to feature in the NBA this season due to a right foot fracture, which required surgery in the offseason.

But the 2019 number one draft pick played four-on-four full court on Friday as the 2021 All-Star stepped up his comeback, though there is still no return timeline.

Williamson is entering his third year as a professional, however the 21-year-old has so far seen his hugely promising career hindered by injury.

The power forward did not make his NBA debut until January in the 2019-20 campaign after tearing his meniscus in his rookie preseason, while relatively minor issues limited Williamson to 61 games in 2020-21.

Despite concerns about the forward's durability, Williamson has excelled against NBA opposition.

After 22.5 points per game in his rookie year, he improved to 27.0 last season and will return on a streak of scoring 20 in 15 straight games.

Without Williamson this season, the struggling Pelicans have started the campaign 4-16 – the second worst record in the NBA behind the Houston Rockets (2-16).

Zion Williamson moved a step closer to returning to NBA action on Tuesday as he was cleared for contact by the New Orleans Pelicans.

Williamson is entering his third year as a professional but has so far seen his hugely promising career hindered by injury.

The former first overall draft pick did not make his NBA debut until January in the 2019-20 campaign after tearing his meniscus in his rookie preseason.

Relatively minor issues limited Williamson to 61 games last season, but he has not yet featured in 2021-22 due to a right foot fracture, for which he had surgery in the offseason.

Despite understandable concerns about the forward's durability, Williamson has excelled against NBA opposition.

After 22.5 points per game in his rookie year, he improved to 27.0 last season and will return on a streak of scoring 20 in 15 straight games. Before Tuesday's games, that was tied with Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant for the longest such active streak in the league.

When that return will be remains uncertain, but the Pelicans brought positive news in their latest release.

"The New Orleans Pelicans announced today that forward Zion Williamson has been cleared to participate in contact drills, beginning with one-on-one workouts and progressively working towards full team workouts," the team said.

"Williamson, who underwent imaging on his fractured right foot on Thursday [Nov. 11], was medically cleared by Dr. Richard Ferkel of Southern California Orthopedic Institute and Dr. Scott Montgomery of Ochsner Health.

"Williamson will undergo further medical imaging on November 24, which will determine his availability for full team workouts.

"Additional updates will be provided on his anticipated return to play timetable accordingly."

New Orleans are a miserable 2-13 in Williamson's absence this year. Only once (1-14 in 2004-05) in franchise history have they had a worse record through 15 games.

Since the 2019 NBA Draft, the Pelicans are now 40-45 (47.1) with Williamson and 23-51 (31.1) without him.

New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson will miss at least two to three more weeks as he continues to recover from a right foot injury. 

Williamson had surgery during the offseason to repair a broken foot and has missed the start of the regular season for the second time in his three NBA campaigns. 

The Pelicans are 1-6 so far without him but head coach Willie Green told reporters on Monday his star is making progress. 

"He's cutting. He's doing explosive work. He's running. He's getting closer and closer," Green said.

"It's just one of those injuries where we want to be really diligent, especially with the foot, of being careful when we put him back on the floor at full go."

Williamson has not yet been cleared for contact, so he has not been able to participate in five-on-five drills during practice. 

He will accompany the team on their four-game road trip that begins in Phoenix on Tuesday against the Suns, with his next set of scans scheduled for two to three weeks from now. 

"We’ll know more after that," Green said. "But he’s progressing. It’s a good sign for us. We want to continue to keep him going in that direction."

Williamson averaged 27.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game across 61 appearances last season for the Pelicans.

 

New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson will miss the start of the NBA regular season due to a right foot injury.

Pelicans vice-president of basketball operations David Griffin confirmed Williamson's absence after the former number one draft pick underwent scans earlier this week following offseason foot surgery.

Griffin was unable to provide a "fixed timeline" on Williamson's return to play, although he said the 2021 All-Star would undergo further scans in roughly a fortnight's time.

"It's everyone's goal that Zion return to play as soon as safely possible," Griffin said on Thursday.

"Obviously, two to two-and-a-half weeks from now means he will not be on the floor for the first week of games. When he is able to return safely, we will do that."

The Pelicans are due to start their NBA season against championship-hopefuls the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday.

Williamson, who had said last month he hoped to play in the Pelicans' opening game, has been cleared to start running and do individual on-court work.

Griffin clarified Williamson had not suffered a setback and no timeline had been set on the 21-year-old joining in more training activities.

"It just takes a certain amount of time for guys to lay the bone that the doctors want to see," Griffin said. "This is where our timeline is.

"Throughout the process, we'll be heading toward that [joining team training]. It may be well before the two-and-a-half weeks that he does that. It's really just a function of how things progress."

Williamson averaged 27.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game across 61 appearances in the 2020-21 NBA season for the Pelicans.

The top pick in the 2019 draft, Williamson had only managed 24 games in his debut season, averaging 22.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 2019-20.

Zion Williamson required surgery to repair a fractured right foot in the offseason, though the New Orleans Pelicans are still hopeful he will be fit for the start of the new campaign.

Williamson was hurt while working out ahead of his third year in the league, having made a huge impact for the Pelicans since he was selected with the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

The power forward averaged 27.0 points per game, up from 22.5 points in his rookie year, as well as 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists in the 2020-21 regular season.

Executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin announced Williamson's situation on Monday, making it clear New Orleans are "very optimistic" over the 21-year-old's recovery.

"Zion is returning from a foot surgery suffered at the beginning of the summer, earlier in the offseason prior to NBA Summer League," Griffin said.

"He had a fractured right foot, which was repaired surgically. His timeline should get him back on court in time for the regular season, that would be our hope and view. 

"We're very optimistic about what that looks like. Unfortunately, that's going to be taken as a big negative by all of you (the media), but it isn't for us, because we were dealing with it for the whole offseason. 

"We feel very confident about where things are and very happy with the improvements there."

Williamson's rookie season was a shortened one due to a torn meniscus, delaying his debut. He played in only 24 games, yet quickly demonstrated just why he was so highly rated coming out of Duke.

He became an All-Star for the first time in his second year but a finger injury cut short his involvement with the Pelicans, who missed out on the playoffs once more.

New Orleans open the new season with a home game against the Philadelphia 76ers on October 20 - and their superstar expects to be on the court for that contest.

"It's part of the game," Williamson said of his injury when he spoke at the team's official media day.

"I think I was overdoing it when I was training because I felt like I had this huge chip on my shoulder, this huge boulder, so I was getting after it every day and it just happened. 

"The process through healing has been great, working with the trainer every day. I expect to be back for the first official game."

Zion Williamson has been ruled out indefinitely with a fractured finger, further denting the New Orleans Pelicans' slim playoff hopes.

The 2019 first overall draft pick was limited to just 24 games in his debut season with a meniscus tear but has been outstanding this year.

Williamson's 27.0 points per game on 61.1 per cent shooting from the field – the best mark of any player averaging 15 points or more – have kept the Pelicans in the postseason mix.

New Orleans are 11th in the Western Conference but sit just 1.5 games behind the slumping San Antonio Spurs, who occupy the final play-in place in 10th.

However, they now look set to be without their talisman for the final six games of the season.

A Pelicans statement on Friday read: "The New Orleans Pelicans announced today that forward Zion Williamson underwent a series of diagnostic testing at Ochsner Health yesterday prior to the team's departure to Philadelphia.

"A CT scan revealed a fractured left ring finger. He will be sidelined indefinitely.

"A treatment plan and timetable for his return to play will be determined upon further evaluation."

Brandon Ingram, the team's second star scoring 23.8 points, had already been ruled out of Friday's game against the Philadelphia 76ers with a low ankle sprain.

The forward was injured in New Orleans' win over the Golden State Warriors in which Lonzo Ball led the team with 33 points.

However, that was a career high and Ball is averaging a more modest 14.6 for the year.

DeMar DeRozan out-dueled Zion Williamson down the stretch to give the San Antonio Spurs a 110-108 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. 

DeRozan scored nine of his 32 points in the final three minutes, bringing the visitors back from a late five-point deficit on Saturday. 

The Spurs star made all 12 of his free-throw attempts as San Antonio collectively went 27 of 32 (84.4 per cent) from the line. New Orleans, meanwhile, made only 17 of 32 (53.1 per cent). 

Williamson's ninth point of the 33 he would score gave him 2,000 for his career in just 79 games, which is 10th-fastest in NBA history. That marks the fewest games a player has needed to reach 2,000 points since Michael Jordan did it in his 73rd NBA game in 1985.

Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram added 24 points each for the Pelicans, but they could not overcome all of the missed free throws. 

  

Randle, Knicks win ninth in a row

Julius Randle had 31 points as the New York Knicks rolled past the Toronto Raptors 120-103 for their ninth consecutive win -- the longest streak for New York since they won 13 in a row in 2013. 

Bam Adebayo scored 20 points and added 10 assists as the Miami Heat defeated the Chicago Bulls to move within a half game of the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference. 

Rookie Anthony Edwards' 23 points and nine rebounds helped the Minnesota Timberwolves hand the Utah Jazz a rare loss in Salt Lake City, 101-96. Utah are now 26-4 at home this season. 

 

Sixers struggle to score

Playing without Joel Embiid, who missed the game with right shoulder soreness, the Philadelphia 76ers had only one starter score in double figures in a 132-94 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Philadelphia made just 31 of 82 from the field (37.8 per cent) as Shake Milton and Tyrese Maxey led the scoring off the bench with 15 points each. Seth Curry paced the starters with 13 points. 

 

Luka gets the roll

The Dallas Mavericks trailed the Los Angeles Lakers by as many as 17 points on Saturday but stormed back in the fourth quarter thanks in part to Luka Doncic doing what Luka Doncic does.

 

Saturday's results

Milwaukee Bucks 132-94 Philadelphia 76ers
New York Knicks 120-103 Toronto Raptors
Indiana Pacers 115-109 Detroit Pistons
Miami Heat 106-101 Chicago Bulls
San Antonio Spurs 110-108 New Orleans Pelicans
Dallas Mavericks 108-93 Los Angeles Lakers
Minnesota Timberwolves 101-96 Utah Jazz
Denver Nuggets 129-116 Houston Rockets

 

Suns at Nets

An appealing match-up of guards is on tap Sunday as Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns (42-17) visit Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets (40-20). 

After a trying though ultimately successful rookie season, Zion Williamson has ascended into the upper echelon of NBA players in 2021 and there's every reason to believe he could top that list relatively soon.

Stardom was predicted for Williamson long before the Pelicans made him the number one selection in the 2019 draft, but he dealt with injury problems and conditioning issues as a rookie before the pandemic put the season on hold for a few months.

He still managed to average 22.5 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 58.3 per cent from the field in 24 games. Williamson finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting behind winner Ja Morant and Kendrick Nunn, but there's little doubt that he would've taken home the award had he been healthy for a full season.

Now slightly leaner and more in attack mode, Williamson has taken his game to another level in his second season, doing things rarely seen in league history. He ranks eighth in the league in points per game (26.9) and that has come on 61.7 per cent shooting, a level of scoring volume and efficiency few players have ever approached.

Only two other players have previously shot 60 per cent while averaging 25.0 points per game and both trail Williamson. Kevin McHale scored 26.1 points on 60.4 per cent shooting in 1986-87 and Charles Barkley had 25.2 with 60.4 per cent shooting in 1989-90. Shaquille O'Neal in 1993-94 (29.3 points, 59.9 per cent) and Amar'e Stoudemire in 2007-08 (25.2, 59.0) are next on the list.

Of those, Williamson's body most resembles Barkley. Both measure 6ft 6in, though Zion is far more muscular, while McHale (6ft 10in), O'Neal (7ft 1in) and Stoudemire (6ft 11in) all had the advantage of playing much closer to the rim. Williamson's field-goal percentage this season is on pace to be the highest ever by a player of his height or shorter.

After Barkley's 1989-90 season, a second campaign from the former Philadelphia 76ers superstar ranks third for the highest field-goal percentage at this height, shooting 59.4 per cent in 1986-87. That mark was matched by 6ft 5in Mike McGee three years earlier.

Williamson won't turn 21 until July and is just the 10th player in NBA history to achieve All-Star status at 20 years old. The others on that list are Luka Doncic, Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, O'Neal, Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson. Only Bryant, James and Johnson were younger when making their first All-Star Game appearance.

Perhaps Williamson's consistency has been the most surprising aspect of his stellar season. Players of his age, regardless of talent, often have bad stretches where shots don't fall or the energy is lacking, but he seems almost immune to it.

Williamson scored at least 20 points and made at least 50 per cent of his field goals in 25 consecutive games from February 6 to April 6 before that run ended with 16 points on 4-of-12 shooting in a loss at Brooklyn on April 7. His streak equalled O'Neal's record mark of 25 straight games (2001).

In a five-game stretch over February 10-17, Williamson averaged 31.6 points with a 70.1 field-goal percentage. He was the first player to average 30 points on 70 per cent shooting over a five-game span since James during his last MVP season in 2012-13. The only other players to achieve this since 1991-92 are O'Neal (January 1994, December-January 1995-96) and Dwight Howard (February 2011).

Approaching a full 82-game season for his career, Williamson already ranks among some of basketball's legends for total points at this juncture.

With 1,968 points, he ranks sixth through 77 career games among all players to have debuted since 1963-64. Just four players - Elvin Hayes (2,216), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (2,197), Michael Jordan (2,161) and Billy Knight (2,049) - passed the 2,000 mark, while Williamson had only a point fewer than David Thompson (1,969).

Already an elite finisher, Williamson has even taken on the role of playmaker for the Pelicans with point guard Lonzo Ball sidelined with a hip injury. Coach Stan Van Gundy played Williamson at the point for a full game earlier this month, following his one-game slump against the Nets, and the result was perhaps the best game of his career.

Williamson had 37 points on 15-of-28 shooting with a personal-best 15 rebounds and career high-tying eight assists in that 101-94 victory over Philadelphia on April 9. He became the youngest player (20 years, 277 days) in NBA history to record at least 35 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists.

This is unlikely to be the season the Pelicans make noise in the playoffs, but the core of Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Ball is in place, so the franchise's future is extremely bright.

Ingram is enjoying another outstanding season and easily could've been an All-Star for the second consecutive season. He's averaging 24.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists.

Williamson and Ingram are on pace to be just the fourth pair of team-mates aged 23 or younger to average 23 or more points per game in the same season. The others are Walt Bellamy and Terry Dischinger (1962-63 Chicago Zephyrs), Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (2011-12 Oklahoma City Thunder) and Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins (2016-17 Minnesota Timberwolves).

One area where Williamson does need to improve is on the defensive end. His size prevents him from guarding most opposing power forwards or centers and his 285-pound frame gives him trouble staying with most wings. The Pelicans are a potent offensive group but rank as one of the league's poorest defensive teams and that will be a point of concern in the offseason for Van Gundy.

New Orleans has long been a football town, crazy about the Saints and star quarterback Drew Brees for two decades. But with Brees now retired and the Saints in transition, the time has arrived for Williamson to become the Big Easy's most beloved athlete.

With each team down a superstar, Paul George lifted the Los Angeles Clippers to a 113-112 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday after a last-minute rally. 

The Clippers trailed by five entering the final minute of the game, but George hit two field goals and followed with two free throws to give the visiting side the lead with 4.8 seconds left. 

George finished with 33 points and 11 rebounds as Kawhi Leonard missed the game after returning from a sore foot two days earlier. 

The Blazers played without Damian Lillard, who missed his third consecutive game with a hamstring problem.

His absence left CJ McCollum to carry the load with 28 points, but he made only 11 of 26 shots from the floor and missed what would have been the game-winning shot at the buzzer. 

 

Irving lifts Nets past Pelicans

The Nets also continue to miss key players, but they too have enough stars on hand to get by. Tuesday it was Kyrie Irving stepping up for injury-wracked Brooklyn in a 134-129 win over the Pelicans in New Orleans. 

Irving scored 32 points and had eight assists and Joe Harris contributed 24 points as seven Brooklyn players scored in double figures. 

The Nets needed plenty of scoring to overcome a big night by Zion Williamson, who made 14 of 19 from the field to finish with 33 points and added seven rebounds. 

 

Fox's shooting touch disappears

After averaging 30.5 points in Sacramento's previous eight games, De'Aaron Fox managed only 14 in 28 minutes in the Kings' 134-120 home loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The point guard made just five of 17 shots from the field, a 29.4 per cent shooting effort. It was his worst offensive showing since he scored 12 points on five of 20 shooting in a loss to the Lakers on April 2.  

 

The Ant Man soars

Fans of the Timberwolves (16-43) haven't had much to cheer about this season, but at least top draft pick and Rookie of the Year contender Anthony Edwards can fill up a highlight reel on his own. The 19-year-old had a game-high 28 points in the rare Minnesota win.

 

Tuesday's results

New York Knicks 109-97 Charlotte Hornets
Atlanta Hawks 112-96 Orlando Magic
Brooklyn Nets 134-129 New Orleans Pelicans
Los Angeles Clippers 113-112 Portland Trail Blazers
Minnesota Timberwolves 134-120 Sacramento Kings 

 

Suns at 76ers

The Phoenx Suns (41-16), second in the Western Conference, travel to face the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers (39-18) in a meeting of top NBA title contenders Wednesday.

Perhaps no team in the NBA is on as interesting and open-ended of a course as the New Orleans Pelicans.

In a league where most teams fear the purgatory of mediocrity, New Orleans have seemingly set up a permanent home there.

The Pelicans are 279-340 since establishing their new nickname in 2013-14, including a 25-30 mark this season that would leave them out of the playoff picture if they remained the Western Conference's number 11 team.

Less than two years ago, the Crescent City had a franchise cornerstone and consensus top-10 player in Anthony Davis, who would soon force the Pelicans into trading him to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Last offseason, New Orleans shipped two-way guard Jrue Holiday to the Milwaukee Bucks in a four-team deal.

Along the way, New Orleans also let Christian Wood and Julius Randle slip through their fingers.

Despite the exodus of top-level talent in exchange for draft selections and pick swaps, the Pelicans' situation is far from a full rebuild. The Davis trade netted them Brandon Ingram, who made his first All-Star team last season and continues to improve.

Winning the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery despite having just a six per cent chance has been a franchise-altering moment that resulted in the addition of Zion Williamson.

While most teams in their position would prioritise the future over all else, building around Williamson, Ingram and whatever young talent comes from a sizeable pile of future draft picks, the Pelicans have given significant playing time to veterans Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe and JJ Redick, before the latter was traded at last month's deadline.

But can the Pelicans defy the odds by attempting to win both now and in the future? Perhaps more importantly, are Williamson and Ingram the right cornerstones around which to build a team?

Williamson appears to be the unquestioned future of the Pelicans, utilising a unique combination of physique, athleticism and skillset to dominate inside despite being only as tall as many guards in the league.

The former one-and-done star at Duke is shooting 61.8 per cent from the floor this season, on pace to set an NBA record for a player listed at six-foot-six or shorter. Charles Barkley currently holds the record, shooting 60.0 per cent in the 1989-90 season for the Philadelphia 76ers.

While Williamson's shooting has improved from last season to this term, he has shown even greater growth in other areas. His free-throw shooting has jumped from 64.0 per cent to 70.1 per cent, and his assist-to-turnover ratio has improved from 0.85 to 1.45 season.

Williamson's performance has proven that his abbreviated, 24-game rookie season was no fluke and has only missed five games in his sophomore campaign to relieve concerns that he is an injury-prone player.

But as good as he has been, Williamson's size allows him to only match up against opposing power forwards, standing too short to defend most centers and unable to move his 285-pound frame quickly enough to stay with most wings. This would be a limitation that is easily managed if Ingram were not also best suited to play power forward, placing the pair's long-term compatibility into question.

The Pelicans have typically started Adams at center, with Williamson and Ingram starting at the forward spots, and Adams and Williamson have a tough time switching onto other players while playing defense. While talent has led to New Orleans having the league's ninth most efficient offense this season at 112.1 points per 100 possessions, this rigid alignment has resulted in the NBA's third worst defense, allowing 113.0 points per 100 possessions.

Williamson appears to be more valuable than Ingram, although the Pelicans are far from being forced to choose between their 20- and 23-year-old stars. New Orlean's net rating is plus-0.5 this season with Williamson on the court and minus-3.2 with him on the bench. The team have a minus-0.8 net rating with Ingram playing and a minus-1.1 net rating with Ingram sitting.

Perhaps more concerning is that fact that the Pelicans apparently have yet to realise that Williamson has surpassed Ingram as the team's best player. Ingram shoots 18.1 times per game, compared to Williamson's 16.6. Ingram also has 65 field-goal attempts in the last three minutes of fourth quarters, compared to Williamson's 50.

With that being said, the Pelicans are 21-13 when Ingram scores 22 points or more and are 4-17 when he scores fewer than 22 points or does not play.

Offense appears to come easily to both Williamson and Ingram, but can the pair evolve enough to ever play even league-average defense?

The problem is the reverse of another pair publicly deemed incompatible – the 76ers' Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons – two elite defensive players who do not mesh perfectly on offense.

Despite their warts, Embiid and Simmons are in their fourth season together and have Philadelphia sitting atop the Eastern Conference at 38-17, with the former averaging nearly 30 points per game and the latter making a bid for Defensive Player of the Year.

Perhaps in two or three years – and with a better supporting cast – Ingram and Williamson can help the Pelicans grow into contenders in the west.

But when the Pelicans' stars are at their peaks, players like Adams, Bledsoe and James Johnson will have moved on. New Orleans better hope they have enough assets and supporting players in place after investing in a seemingly short-sighted run at the 2021 playoffs.

Zion Williamson hailed the influence of Pelicans assistant coach Teresa Weatherspoon after he had a standout night against the Philadelphia 76ers.

The 20-year-old had a career-best 15 rebounds plus 37 points and eight assists as New Orleans turned to him in Lonzo Ball's absence, Williamson driving the team to a 101-94 win.

The 2019 number one draft pick and former Duke Blue Devils star said the Pelicans showed impressive resolve to bounce back from a mauling by the Brooklyn Nets in their previous game.

Usually a power forward, Williamson was deployed as a point guard throughout on Friday night, saying that thanks to stepfather Lee Anderson's training the role felt "normal", adding: "It was just having the opportunity to go and show it."

He gave much of the credit for his surge in form to Weatherspoon as he remarked on what differences he noticed in his game over the past couple of months.

"I would definitely say my confidence and going deeper into my arsenal. That's really a shout-out to two people, my stepfather and coach Teresa Weatherspoon," Williamson said.

"It's just the small things and she's like, 'Z, you do this, take your time and be you'. It's those small things that give me all the confidence I need to go out there and be me."

Williamson produced a pull-up jumper in his repertoire, saying: "I have it in my bag. Coach K [Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski] said I want to be a perfectionist. All that means is I want to get the closest and easiest shot.

"T-Spoon [Weatherspoon] was the reason I shot that. She said, 'Z, just give me one, if you don't like it, you don't have to shoot it again'.

"When I shot it, it felt good. I liked the result to be honest. She tells me every game but tonight she was like, 'Z, just give me one'. I tried it and it worked."

Weatherspoon, 55, is a former WNBA star who has been a full-time assistant with the Pelicans since last November.

Although he missed out on a first career NBA triple-double, Williamson said what was most important was the team's reaction to their 139-111 thrashing by Brooklyn.

"I think when it comes to games like that, it's the character you show bouncing back in the next game that really defines you," Williamson said.

"As a team we bounced back great and got the win.

"I wasn't really watching [the triple-double possibility], but after every timeout everybody was like, 'Z, just get two more [assists]'.

"But in my mind I was like, 'Let's win the game'."

Zion Williamson underlined his status as the emerging star of the NBA with a dominant display in the New Orleans Pelicans' 101-94 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday.

The 2019 number one draft pick had a career-best 15 rebounds along with 37 points and eight assists as the Pels turned to him in Lonzo Ball's absence.

Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said: "We decided we'd play him at the point all night. He had the ball in his hands all the time and the ability to make plays.

"Had we shot decently he would have finished with double figure assists too. He played the game the way you're supposed to play the game. He was incredible tonight."

Joel Embiid was kept quiet by Steven Adams, managing only 14 points and nine rebounds for the 76ers who are behind the Brooklyn Nets in the East with a 35-17 record.

The Los Angeles Clippers blew the Houston Rockets away with a 41-10 second quarter in a 126-109 victory with Kawhi Leonard top scoring with 31 points, along with five rebounds and eight assists.

The win improves the in-form Clippers' record to 36-18 having now won four in a row and 10 of their past 12.

Joel Embiid accomplished a 30-year first for the Philadelphia 76ers, who made light work of Eastern Conference rivals the Boston Celtics 106-96.

Embiid – in his second game back after sitting out 10 matchups due to bone bruising to his knee – posted 35 points as the 76ers eased past the Celtics in Boston on Tuesday.

76ers All-Star and NBA MVP hopeful Embiid became the first Philadelphia player with at least three games of 35-plus points against the Celtics in a season since Hall of Famer Charles Barkley in 1990-91.

Embiid had his team-leading 16th 30-point game this season, tied with Nikola Jokic for the seventh-most 30-point games in the league.

Danny Green was six-of-seven from the field – making five of his six three-pointers – for 17 points as the 76ers returned to the top of the Eastern Conference alongside the Brooklyn Nets.

The 76ers, meanwhile, swept a season series from the Celtics (3-0) for the first time since 2000-01.

In San Francisco, the Golden State Warriors edged the Giannis Antetokounmpo-less Milwaukee Bucks 122-121 thanks to Stephen Curry.

Curry had a game-high 41 points, six rebounds and four assists to fuel the Warriors on home court in the absence of two-time reigning MVP Antetokounmpo, who was sidelined due to knee soreness.

Warriors star Curry had his fourth 40-point game of the season (42nd of his career), while the former MVP hit his 200th three-pointer of the campaign – giving him an NBA-record eighth season with at least 200 threes.

 

Zion matches Shaq as Hawks set NBA record

Zion Williamson's 25 consecutive games with 20-plus points on 50 per cent shooting or better equalled Shaquille O'Neal for the longest streak in the shot-clock era (since 1954-55). The former number one pick posted a game-high 34 points on 12-of-18 shooting in the New Orleans Pelicans' 123-107 defeat the Atlanta Hawks.

The Hawks set an NBA record for three made in a quarter without a miss, going 11 for 11 in the third period. Atlanta finished 20-of-31 from beyond the arc against the Pelicans, boasting a 64.5 percentage. Trae Young (30 points and 12 assists) made six of seven three-point attempts, while Bojan Bogdanovic (21 points) was five-of-eight from three-point range.

Paul George (season-high 36 points) and Kawhi Leonard (29 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists) combined as the Los Angeles Clippers routed the Portland Trail Blazers 133-116.

Chicago Bulls recruit and All-Star Nikola Vucevic had 32 points and 17 rebounds in the team's 113-97 victory at the Indiana Pacers.

Jonas Valanciunas posted 20 points and 10 rebounds to tie Zach Randolph's franchise record with his 18th consecutive double-double as the Memphis Grizzlies topped the Miami Heat 124-112. 

The Denver Nuggets saw off the Detroit Pistons 134-119 behind Jokic's 27 points and 11 assists in 27 minutes. It was his 83rd career double-double, two more than Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain. Denver won their sixth straight game.

 

Bucks pair struggle

Donte DiVincenzo was just two-for-eight shooting, making two of his six three-point attempts for six points in 30 minutes. Fellow Bucks starter Brook Lopez (nine points) was only three of nine from the field, missing all four shots from beyond the arc.

Injury-hit defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers trumped the Toronto Raptors 110-101, but it was a forgettable outing for Kyle Kuzma (eight points). In 35 minutes, Kuzma finished three-of-13 shooting from the field, making two of 11 three-point attempts.

 

The Jokic-Gordon combo

Denver left Detroit in a spin as Jokic and new team-mate Aaron Gordon combined for a dizzying bucket.

 

Tuesday's results

Los Angeles Clippers 133-116 Portland Trail Blazers
Chicago Bulls 113-97 Indiana Pacers
Atlanta Hawks 123-107 New Orleans Pelicans
Philadelphia 76ers 106-96 Boston Celtics
Los Angeles Lakers 110-101 Toronto Raptors
Memphis Grizzlies 124-112 Miami Heat
Golden State Warriors 122-121 Milwaukee Bucks

 

Pelicans at Nets

The high-flying Nets (35-16) are set to welcome back former MVP Kevin Durant for Wednesday's clash with the Pelicans (22-28). Durant has been sidelined since February 13.

The deadline is closed. Trade season is over in the NBA, with the buyout market now the focus for contending teams as they look to add to their rosters.

Meanwhile, amid the constant rumours and rumblings off the court, the 2020-21 season has continued at a pace, with the playoff battle heating up.

The Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings have all been helped over the past week by the form of key players, as they aim to make sure they squeeze into a postseason spot in the ever-competitive Western Conference.

But whose production has dipped during the games staged between March 22 and 28? Time to take a look at the numbers, provided by Stats Perform, to find out...


RUNNING HOT…

Kristaps Porzingis

Porzingis set season highs for minutes played (37) and shots attempted (28) against the Indiana Pacers, scoring 31 points, though the Dallas Mavericks still slipped to defeat at home. The Latvian had also recorded 29 points in his team's previous outing, while he averaged 13.50 rebounds (up from 8.58 entering the week) across the two games.

While he did not feature on Saturday - the Mavs opted to rest him against the New Orleans Pelicans, rather than put him out on the court in the second game of a back-to-back run – Porzingis has undoubtedly become a bigger factor at both ends of the court for Dallas since the resumption of the regular season after the All-Star break.

Zion Williamson

Like Shaquille O'Neal, but with skills comparable to a point guard. That was Mavs coach Rick Carlisle's assessment after he had watched Williamson dominate down the stretch against his Dallas team. The first overall pick in the 2019 draft either scored or assisted on the final 14 points for the Pelicans, who sensibly turned the offense over to their All-Star with the result on the line.

Williamson had posted a career-high 39 points while going 16-for-19 from the field in a defeat to the Denver Nuggets beforehand, too. It was his fifth game this season with at least 15 field goals attempted and an 80 per cent success rate, the most by any NBA player since Charles Barkley also had five in the 1988-89 campaign.

De'Aaron Fox

Fox is on an impressive scoring run, managing 147 points in his past four outings for the Sacramento Kings, an average of 36.75 per game. The guard had 44 – a new career best, no less – in a big win over the Golden State Warriors, helping streaking Sacramento close the gap to their opponents in the West standings.

There was also a demonstration of his passing skills – albeit perhaps more usually seen on a football field than the basketball court – when Fox aired the ball out to set up Harrison Barnes' dramatic game-winning shot against the Cleveland Cavaliers. "QB1," Fox tweeted about the assist... is it too late for him to enter the NFL Draft?


GOING COLD…

Lauri Markkanen

The Bulls did trade a big man before the deadline – but it was not Markkanen who they moved. Despite the rumours the Finn could be involved in a deal, instead it was Wendell Carter who was part of the package that led to center Nikola Vucevic arriving in Chicago.

So what next for Markkanen? He had averaged 18.19 points per game heading into the previous week, but his production dipped to 11.67. His issues with outside shooting did not help, making just two of his 13 three-point attempts as the Bulls suffered three straight defeats. Even with those recent struggles, though, he is making a career-high 38.2 per cent from deep in 2020-21.

Damian Lillard

Lillard scored 22 points in each of his three outings over the past week, while the six-time All-Star sat out Portland's road win over the Orlando Magic due to a knee issue. His dip in points is, in part, down to some struggles from long range. Lillard has averaged just 2.33 three-pointers made during the recent stretch, down from his 4.29 successful attempts from beyond the arc beforehand.

Still, there has been a slight rise in terms of his assists, including 11 against the Toronto Raptors upon his return to action on Sunday. The Trail Blazers won, too, improving to 7-3 through their past 10 outings.

Bradley Beal

Make no mistake, Beal is having an outstanding season for the Washington Wizards, averaging 31.3 points despite a downturn in his long-range production (33.8 per cent, compared to 37.7 per cent for his career).

Yet the 27-year-old has cooled off a touch. He managed a combined total of 48 points in successive games against the New York Knicks this past week, while his outing against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday was cut short at 17 points and six assists due to a hip injury. It meant his average for the week still sat at a respectable 21.67, though comfortably below his usual lofty standards.

Zion Williamson is a "Shaquille O'Neal-type force" with skills like a point guard, according to Rick Carlisle, who saw his Dallas Mavericks struggle to contain the New Orleans Pelicans forward.

Having finished with a career-high 39 points in a loss to the Denver Nuggets in his previous outing, Williamson had 38 to help the Pelicans get back to winning ways on Saturday.

The 20-year-old contributed 10 points in a pivotal 18-8 run in the closing stages as he took over proceedings, helping New Orleans eventually prevail 112-103 as they claimed a third win in four outings.

Mavs coach Carlisle admitted his team found Williamson – who landed 12 free throws from 18 attempts, both season-high numbers – too much to handle with the game on the line.

"He's an unusual force and obviously a great player," Carlisle said.

"We'll have to figure something a little better out next time, but he's doing this to everybody. We did have some very good possessions guarding him, but he was a beast.

"It presents huge challenges for the defense and for officials. He is just creating collisions out there. This is a Shaquille O'Neal-type force of nature with a point guard skill set."

Williamson is averaging 26.3 points per game in his second season in the league, shooting 62.8 per cent from the field.

The first overall pick in the 2019 draft has had five games in this campaign with at least 15 field goals attempts and an 80 per cent success rate, the most by any NBA player since Charles Barkley had five in 1988-89 when playing for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Only two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (412) and Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (389) have taken more free throws than Williamson (364) so far this term, while he is also averaging seven rebounds per game.

His improvement as a playmaker is also impressive. Having averaged 2.1 assists in a rookie season that was limited to just 24 games, he is up at 3.5 through 43 outings in 2020-21, including 16 across in the last three for a Pelicans team fighting hard to make the playoffs.

However, while flattered by links to the legendary O'Neal, as well as other NBA greats, Williamson wants to leave his own legacy.

"I am who I am. I'm Zion. I'm trying to be the first and only Zion, that's all there is to it," he said after dazzling against Dallas.

The Pelicans are now 20-25 for the season to sit 12th in the Western Conference, with 14 of their victories coming in home games.

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