Zion Williamson’s stellar play has helped the New Orleans Pelicans take over first place in the Southwest Division.
Williamson and his teammates will try to continue their recent surge Sunday afternoon when they host the Northwest Division-leading Denver Nuggets.
The Pelicans have won eight of their last 10 games with Williamson leading the way. On Friday, he scored 30 points and tied career-highs with 15 rebounds and eight assists in a 117-99 victory at San Antonio.
“He’s just scratching the surface,” Pelicans head coach Willie Green said of the fourth-year forward, who missed all of last season because of foot surgery. “It’s good to see, when you look at the timeline of coming back from an injury, knocking some rust off early in the season, and now he’s starting to find a rhythm.
“He’s going to continue to get better. He’s seeing different coverages on the floor when he has the ball in his hands. He’s just making plays for us over and over again. He’s making the right play.”
Williamson made 9 of 14 shots against the Spurs, two nights after he made 12 of 15 while scoring a season-high 33 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in a win over Toronto.
Jonas Valanciunas, who finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds, also stepped up big as the Pelicans turned the game around with a 32-19 scoring advantage in the third quarter.
“I didn’t think we did a great job in the first half of attacking the paint,” Green said. “Credit to all of our guys. They responded in the second half.”
New Orleans has won its past three despite the absence of second-leading scorer Brandon Ingram, who is day-to-day with a toe injury.
Denver had won four games in a row before losing to the short-handed Hawks 117-109 in Atlanta on Friday. The Hawks played without Trae Young, John Collins and De’Andre Hunter.
Denver played without Michael Porter Jr., who has missed the last five games because of a heel injury, and Jeff Green (knee), who might return Sunday.
“Our guys were surprised, a little bit, by how hard they played,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.
“I give them 100 percent credit,” Nuggets guard Ish Smith. “There’s 450 guys in this league. You’ve got to respect everybody. I think they’ve got talented guys. They got a chance to play and they played well.”
Nikola Jokic had just four points in the first half as Atlanta took a 60-46 halftime lead. The Nuggets were better in the second half, but not good enough, as Jokic finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.
The Hawks outscored Denver 26-11 in points off turnovers. The Nuggets shot 52.9 percent (45 of 85) from the floor, but couldn’t keep up with Atlanta, which shot 55.7 percent (49 of 88).
“I think one of our team’s greatest challenges right now is just being consistent on both ends of the floor, especially the defense,” Malone said.
–Field Level Media