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). 

Los Angeles Lakers superstar Anthony Davis made his long-awaited return but the reigning NBA champions lost 115-110 to the Dallas Mavericks.

Davis had been sidelined since February 14 due to tendinosis and a calf strain in his right leg – the eight-time All-Star missed 30 games, the longest injury absence of his nine-year career.

But Davis stepped back onto the court on Thursday, finishing with four points on just two-for-10 shooting, four rebounds, one assist, one block and one steal in 17 minutes.

The Lakers – still without superstar LeBron James (ankle) – were led by Dennis Schroder (25 points and 13 assists), Andre Drummond (14 points and 19 rebounds) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (29 points) but fell short in Dallas.

Luka Doncic fuelled the Mavericks with 30 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.

 

Giannis tops Embiid and 76ers

Two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo put up 27 points on eight-for-15 shooting, 16 rebounds and six assists as the Milwaukee Bucks took down the slumping Philadelphia 76ers 124-117. It was his 41st 25/15/5 game, the most by a Bucks player since the three-point era (1980). No other Buck has more than four in that span. Milwaukee used a 40-26 opening quarter to hand the Eastern Conference-leading 76ers a third consecutive defeat. Joel Embiid had 24 points for the visiting 76ers.

The Boston Celtics upstaged the high-flying Phoenix Suns 99-86. Kemba Walker was inspirational, shooting 11-for-17 from the field for a game-high 32 points. Boston have won seven of their last eight games, beating Phoenix, the Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers, New York Knicks and Lakers.

Zion Williamson showcased his efficiency in the New Orleans Pelicans' 135-100 victory against the lowly Orlando Magic. The former number one pick had 23 points in 23 minutes on nine-for-12 shooting, while he made all five of his free-throw attempts.

 

Oh no, Okeke

It was a forgettable outing for Chuma Okeke and the Magic, who dropped their fourth straight game as they lost for the 23rd time in 28 appearances. In 29 minutes, Okeke made just one of his 12 field-goal attempts. He was 0-for-four from three-point range in a four-point performance.

Jalen McDaniels was just as bad for the Charlotte Hornets, tallying a mere three points on one-for-eight shooting as his team suffered a 106-91 defeat to the Chicago Bulls.

 

Satoransky slam!

There was no stopping Chicago's Tomas Satoransky as he powered his way to the rim emphatically in the fourth quarter.

 

Thursday's results:

Boston Celtics 99-86 Phoenix Suns
New Orleans Pelicans 135-110 Orlando Magic
Milwaukee Bucks 124-117 Philadelphia 76ers
San Antonio Spurs 106-91 Detroit Pistons
Chicago Bulls 106-91 Charlotte Hornets
Dallas Mavericks 115-110 Los Angeles Lakers

 

Celtics at Nets

The Celtics (32-27) will make the trip to face the Brooklyn Nets (39-20) on Friday. Brooklyn have the chance to reclaim the top seed in the Eastern Conference after Philadelphia's loss.

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.

Kevin Durant will sit out the Brooklyn Nets' clash with the New Orleans Pelicans due to a left thigh contusion.

Durant played just four minutes before exiting in Brooklyn's buzzer-beating 109-107 loss at the Miami Heat on Sunday.

Nets superstar Durant missed 23 games because of a hamstring injury before returning on April 7.

In total, former MVP Durant has missed 24 of Brooklyn's 57 games this season and will now watch from the sidelines for Tuesday's matchup with the Pelicans.

Durant has been averaging 27.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game this season.

The star-studded Nets will also be without James Harden against Zion Williamson and the Pelicans in New Orleans.

Harden – another former MVP in Brooklyn – has not played since April 5 due to a hamstring strain, missing six successive games.

The All-Star guard, who is one of the frontrunners for MVP honours this season, has been averaging 25.2 points, 10.9 assists and 8.0 rebounds per game in 2020-21 after arriving from the Houston Rockets via January's blockbuster trade.

The Nets (38-19) are second in the Eastern Conference, behind the Philadelphia 76ers.

Stephen Curry has been lighting it up in the NBA of late.

The two-time NBA MVP is seemingly trying to make up for lost time after injury wiped out the vast majority of his 2019-20 season. 

However, Curry is not the only player in prime form. As the regular season hurtles towards a conclusion, Stats Perform data highlights who is on fire and who needs to find a spark around the league.

Time to dip into the numbers with the latest edition of Heat Check...

RUNNING HOT...

Stephen Curry

To say Curry is on a hot streak is an understatement. In four games between April 12-17, the guard scored 175 points for the Golden State Warriors. That astonishing scoring run saw him hit 10 or more three-point attempts in three of those outings; no other player in NBA history has had three or more such games in an entire season, let alone a week.

Luguentz Dort

Dort was averaging 12.62 points heading into the week. The second-year guard then upped that number with 42 against the Utah Jazz and while he sat out a game against the Warriors, he followed up with a combined tally of 55 when facing the Detroit Pistons and Toronto Raptors. Despite his scoring heroics, the Oklahoma City Thunder lost all three.

Landry Shamet

The Brooklyn Nets have been hampered by injuries this season, with James Harden sidelined in recent times. However, Shamet has stepped up to help fill the void, managing a career-high 30 points on Sunday against the Miami Heat, including tying a franchise record with seven successful three-point attempts having come off the bench. 

GOING COLD...

Lonzo Ball

Ball's decreased production should come as no surprise, considering he is easing his way back into action following a hip injury. He played just under 20 minutes against the Washington Wizards and while his involvement was greater against the New York Knicks, 2017's second overall pick managed nine points from 19 shot attempts across both games.

Tyler Herro

A low-key week for Herro, who failed to reach double digits for points in outings against the Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves and Nets. The shooting guard - such a key figure in the Heat's run to the NBA Finals in the 2019-20 season - landed two of his 11 attempts from beyond the arc in those games. Surprisingly for someone based in Miami, Herro has gone cold.

Chris Paul

The veteran point guard has been outstanding for the Phoenix Suns, who remain in the running to finish the regular season as the top seeds in the West. However, the bigger picture means minutes must be managed, with Paul seeing a drop in his workload. While buckets have been in short supply - he averaged 8.25 points per game across last week - there were still 26 assists.

Julius Randle produced another inspiring performance as the streaking New York Knicks topped the New Orleans Pelicans 122-112 in overtime.

Knicks All-Star Randle posted 33 points and 10 assists to lead the New York franchise to their sixth successive NBA win on Sunday.

Randle recorded his fourth consecutive game with at least 30 points, becoming the first Knicks player since Carmelo Anthony in 2014 to accomplish the feat.

Reggie Bullock nailed a three-pointer for the Knicks with 2.3 seconds remaining in regulation before the home team outscored Zion Williamson's Pelicans 19-9 in OT at Madison Square Garden.

Derrick Rose scored a season-high 23 points for the Knicks, who are in the midst of their longest winning streak since 2013-14 as they eye their first playoff appearance since 2013.

Williamson's 34 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals were not enough for the visiting Pelicans.

Meanwhile, Kevin Durant suffered a left thigh contusion in the Brooklyn Nets' 109-107 loss away to the Miami Heat.

Durant – who only returned from a 23-game injury absence this month – left the game in the opening quarter, having gone three-for-three shooting to finish with eight points in four minutes.

Bam Adebayo (21 points and 15 rebounds) lifted the Heat with his buzzer-beating jump shot.

 

Hawks soar past Pacers

Clint Capela (25 points and 24 rebounds) and Trae Young (34 points and 11 assists) helped the Atlanta Hawks power to a 129-117 victory against the Indiana Pacers. Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter contributed 23 points each for the Hawks, who have won eight of 10 games and are 17-6 under interim head coach Nate McMillan.

Kawhi Leonard returned from a four-game absence, tallying 15 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in the Los Angeles Clippers' 124-105 success at home to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Chris Boucher put up 31 points and 11 rebounds for the Toronto Raptors, who downed the lowly Oklahoma City Thunder 112-106 for a third consecutive win. Oklahoma City's Aleksej Pokusevski (six) became the first Thunder rookie with five-plus blocks in a game since Serge Ibaka in 2010.

The Charlotte Hornets snapped a four-game skid behind Terry Rozier as his 34 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds saw off the Portland Trail Blazers 109-101.

De'Aaron Fox's 30 points and 12 assists guided the Sacramento Kings to a 121-107 win over the Dallas Mavericks. Dallas All-Star Luka Doncic finished with a game-high 37 points.

 

Thunder continue to be silenced

The Thunder are now in the midst of a season-worst losing streak of 10 games after losing to the Raptors.

Josh Richardson struggled again for the Mavericks. He was just three-for-nine shooting, while making only one of his five three-point attempts for seven pints. Mavericks team-mate Tim Hardaway Jr. (eight points) finishing two-for-10 shooting.

 

Bridges goes bang!

Miles Bridges is becoming known for his slam dunks. The Hornets star produced another memorable dunk in the second quarter.

 

Sunday's results

Atlanta Hawks 129-117 Indiana Pacers
New York Knicks 122-112 New Orleans Pelicans (OT)
Miami Heat 109-107 Brooklyn Nets
Charlotte Hornets 109-101 Portland Trail Blazers
Houston Rockets 114-110 Orlando Magic
Toronto Raptors 112-106 Oklahoma City Thunder
Los Angeles Clippers 124-105 Minnesota Timberwolves
Sacramento Kings 121-107 Dallas Mavericks

 

Warriors at 76ers

Red-hot Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors (28-29) visit the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers (39-17) on Monday. The 76ers have won four straight games.

Joel Embiid dominated as the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers held off the Los Angeles Clippers 106-03 in a blockbuster NBA showdown.

Embiid posted 36 points and 14 rebounds as the 76ers extended their winning streak to four games, while snapping the Clippers' seven-game run on Friday.

After being outscored 20-3 early in the opening quarter, the Kawhi Leonard-less Clippers rallied to take the lead during the closing stages of the final period in Philadelphia.

But the 76ers (39-17) scored seven straight points to move clear 99-94 and they never relinquished the lead, despite the Clippers' efforts.

MVP hopeful Embiid – averaging 34.5 points and 11.0 rebounds over his last four games – became the first 76ers player with at least 36 points and seven rebounds in three consecutive games since Charles Barkley in 1990, while he is the first Philadelphia player with at least 35 points in three straight games since Allen Iverson in 2006.

Having topped Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, it is just the third time in franchise history the 76ers have claimed back-to-back wins against teams 20-plus over .500 after 1966 and 1983.

Paul George put up 37 points and nine rebounds for the Clippers (39-19), who also had a season-high 18 points from Patrick Patterson.

George joined Bob McAdoo, World B. Free and Leonard as the only players in Clippers history to have five straight games with 30-plus points.

The NBA-leading Utah Jazz (42-14) rallied to beat the Indiana Pacers 119-111 after All-Star Donovan Mitchell exited due to an ankle injury.

Mitchell suffered a sprained ankle in the second half, having scored 22 points before leaving in the third quarter.

All-Star team-mates Rudy Gobert (13 points and 23 rebounds) and Mike Conley (10 points and 10 assists) both had double-doubles, while Bojan Bogdanovic put up 24 points.

 

Randle dazzles to fuel Knicks

Julius Randle's 44 points and 10 rebounds led the New York Knicks past former team the Dallas Mavericks 117-109. Randle became the first Knicks player since Bernard King in 1985 to record 40-plus points, 10-plus rebounds and five-plus assists in a regular-season game. He also became the first Knicks player since Carmelo Anthony in 2013-14 to register multiple 40-point games in a single season.

The San Antonio Spurs lost 107-106 to the Portland Trail Blazers but Dejounte Murray starred with 13 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists for his third triple-double of the season. The last Spurs player with that many triple-doubles in a season was David Robinson in 1993-94.

MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokic finished with 29 points and 16 rebounds as the Denver Nuggets crushed the lowly Houston Rockets 128-99.

Russell Westbrook inspired the Washington Wizards' 117-115 overtime victory against the New Orleans Pelicans after scoring 10 of their 12 points in the additional period. Former MVP Westbrook tallied 36 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists – finishing just short of a seventh consecutive triple-double. The league's leading scorer Bradley Beal added 30 points.

A Kevin Durant double-double of 25 points and 11 assists guided the Nets to a 130-115 win at home to the Charlotte Hornets. Miles Bridges put up a career-high 33 points for the Hornets.

Jimmy Butler's 30 points and 10 rebounds were not enough after the Miami Heat were upstaged 119-111 by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

 

Houston humbled

It was a tough outing for the Rockets in Houston. Kevin Porter Jr. headlined their woes after he finished one-for-nine shooting for four points in 32 minutes. He missed all three of his attempts from beyond the arc.

The Orlando Magic lost again, beaten 113-102 by the Toronto Raptors. Orlando's Gary Harris was scoreless from the field. He was 0-for-seven from the field, while failing to make both of his three-point shots.

 

No-el!

New York's Nerlens Noel made an emphatic block to deny Dorian Finney-Smith.

 

Friday's results

Utah Jazz 119-111 Indiana Pacers
Detroit Pistons 110-104 Oklahoma City Thunder
Philadelphia 76ers 106-103 Los Angeles Clippers
Washington Wizards 117-115 New Orleans Pelicans (OT)
Brooklyn Nets 130-115 Charlotte Hornets
Toronto Raptors 113-102 Orlando Magic
Memphis Grizzlies 126-115 Chicago Bulls
Denver Nuggets 128-99 Houston Rockets
Minnesota Timberwolves 119-111 Miami Heat
Portland Trail Blazers 107-106 San Antonio Spurs
New York Knicks 117-109 Dallas Mavericks

 

Jazz at Lakers

Defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers (34-22) will host the high-flying Jazz in a Western Conference showdown at Staples Center on Saturday.

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.

The Philadelphia 76ers held off a late charge from the short-handed Brooklyn Nets 123-117 to take over top spot in the Eastern Conference on Wednesday. 

Joel Embiid had 39 points and 13 rebounds to lead the 76ers (38-17) past the visiting Nets, while Tobias Harris added 26 points and Ben Simmons 17 on home court midweek.

In the second game of a back-to-back, Brooklyn (37-18) played without Kevin Durant, James Harden, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge, though Kyrie Irving returned and scored 37 points after missing Tuesday's game for personal reasons. 

Irving (23) and Embiid (21) both cleared 20 points in the first half, with the latter achieving the feat for the NBA-best 14th time this season.

Philadelphia led by 22 points in the fourth quarter before the Brooklyn reserves rallied to cut the deficit to three, but the 76ers held on to win after putting All-Star pair Embiid and Simmons back in the game. 

In Memphis, Luka Doncic helped the Dallas Mavericks expand their seeding advantage against the Grizzlies by hitting a buzzer-beating three-pointer for a dramatic 114-113 victory. 

Doncic posted 29 points and Kristaps Porzingis added 21 of his own for the Mavericks (30-24), who are seventh in the Western Conference with the Grizzlies (27-26) just behind. 

Grayson Allen scored 23 points for Memphis but missed two free throws with 2.2 seconds remaining to open the door for Doncic to win it. 

 

Curry maintains hot shooting hand

Stephen Curry scored 42 points, highlighted by a 25-point third quarter in which he did not miss a shot from the field, as the Golden State Warriors routed the Oklahoma City Thunder 147-109. Coming off a 53-point game on Monday, Curry made all eight of his shots from the floor, six of them three-pointers, as the Warriors blew open the game with a 50-point third quarter. In all, he made 11 three-pointers, the second time in his career with successive games of at least 10 three-pointers. The two-time MVP has hit 10-plus threes in back-to-back games for the second time in his career – he is the only player to do so multiple times.

MVP candidate Nikola Jokic's 15th triple-double of the season – 17 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds – guided the Denver Nuggets past the Miami Heat 123-106.

Despite the absence of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Serge Ibaka and Patrick Beverley, the Los Angeles Clippers recorded their seventh consecutive victory by topping the Detroit Pistons 100-98.

 

Jackson makes it hurt for Pistons

The Pistons fell to 16-39, the worst record in the Eastern Conference, when their former star Reggie Jackson hit a game-winning jumper with 2.3 seconds remaining. Detroit had led by five points inside the final minute before collapsing in the closing seconds. 

 

Westbrook does it all once again

Russell Westbrook continues to do it all for the Washington Wizards, posting his sixth triple double in succession with 25 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists in a 123-111 victory over the Sacramento Kings. It is the fourth six-game streak of his career. The rest of NBA history has three combined.

 

Wednesday's results

Brooklyn Nets 123-117 Philadelphia 76ers
Milwaukee Bucks 130-105 Minnesota Timberwolves
Cleveland Cavaliers 103-90 Charlotte Hornets
Toronto Raptors 117-112 San Antonio Spurs
Los Angeles Clippers 100-98 Detroit Pistons
Orlando Magic 115-106 Chicago Bulls
New York Knicks 116-106 New Orleans Pelicans
Indiana Pacers 132-124 Houston Rockets
Golden State Warriors 147-109 Oklahoma City Thunder
Dallas Mavericks 114-113 Memphis Grizzlies
Denver Nuggets 123-106 Miami Heat
Washington Wizards 123-111 Sacramento Kings

 

Celtics at Lakers

A classic NBA rivalry is renewed as the Boston Celtics (29-26) visit defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers (34-21) on Thursday. Jayson Tatum will be looking to lead the Celtics to a fifth successive win.

Steph Curry broke Wilt Chamberlain's franchise points record as he produced his ninth career 50-plus score in the Golden State Warriors' 116-107 win over the Denver Nuggets on Monday night.

Curry finished with 53 points for the Warriors, surpassing Chamberlain's franchise all-time scoring record with 19 points in the first quarter.

The 33-year-old may have played 745 games for the Warriors compared to Chamberlain's 429, but he was visibly overjoyed with the achievement.

Curry was also later drenched during a post-game interview by teammate Kent Bazemore with an ice cold water.

MVP candidate Nikola Jogic had 27 points and 12 assists for the Nuggets.

Joel Embiid won the battle against Luka Doncic as the Philadelphia 76ers stayed top in the East with a 113-95 triumph over the Dallas Mavericks.

Embiid only played 26 minutes but finished with 36 points, including 23 by half-time, and seven rebounds.

Doncic scored 32 points, reaching 30-plus for the 19th time this season for the Mavs, who were without Kristaps Porzingis due to a knee complaint.

 

Beal silences Jazz, Zion dominates again

Ladder leaders Utah Jazz were beaten by the Washington Wizards 125-121 with Bradley Beal returning from his latest niggle to score 34 points.

Beal was well supported by guard Russell Westbrook who had his ninth triple-double in 10 games with 25 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists.

The Jazz move to 40-14 despite Donovan Mitchell's 42 points and center Rudy Gobert's double-double.

Red hot Zion Williamson continued his form surge with 30 points in the New Orleans Pelicans' 117-110 victory over the Sacramento Kings.

Williamson had scored 37 and 38 points in his past two games and delivered again, while Brandon Ingram had 34. The improved De'Aaron Fox scored 43 points for the Kings.

The Los Angeles Lakers lost again without LeBron James as Julius Randle hit 34 points and had 10 rebounds to lead the New York Knicks to a 111-96 victory.

The Phoenix Suns edged past the fast-finishing Houston Rockets 126-120 after equaling the NBA record for 18 three-pointers in the first half, while the Memphis Grizzlies scored 31-16 in the fourth to win 101-90 over the Chicago Bulls.

 

Jamal injury concerns

Emerging Nuggets guard Jamal Murray was left writhing in pain after going down with a left knee injury which had fellow players visibly concerned. Fingers crossed.

 

Morant's monster alley oop

Grizzlies guard Ja Morant's alley-oop finish was a sight to behold with teammate Grayson Allen's assist leaving him with plenty to do, but he did that emphatically.

 

Monday's results

New York Knicks 111-96 Los Angeles Lakers
Philadelphia 76ers 113-95 Dallas Mavericks
San Antonio Spurs 120-97 Orlando Magic
Washington Wizards 125-121 Utah Jazz
Memphis Grizzlies 101-90 Chicago Bulls
New Orleans Pelicans 117-110 Sacramento Kings
Golden State Warriors 116-107 Denver Nuggets 
Phoenix Suns 126-120 Houston Rockets

 

Lakers in Charlotte

The Los Angeles Lakers (33-21) have been sliding without LeBron James and Anthony Davis and they face a tough assignment at the Charlotte Hornets (27-25) on Tuesday.

Paul George and Marcus Morris Sr. combined to lead the Los Angeles Clippers past the Detroit Pistons 131-124 in NBA action on Sunday.

Clippers star George posted 32 points – his third consecutive game of 30-plus points – as the Los Angeles franchise rallied for their fifth successive victory.

Morris put up a season-high 33 points for the Clippers, who capped a nine-game homestand against the lowly Pistons.

Veteran Morris nailed six three-pointers and surpassed 1,000 for his career as star Kawhi Leonard was rested.

Meanwhile, the Denver Nuggets had their eight-game winning streak snapped by the Boston Celtics in a 105-87 defeat.

The Celtics used a remarkable 31-3 run to take down the Nuggets on the road in Denver, where Jayson Tatum (illness) and Jaylen Brown (knee) battled to inspire Boston.

Denver led 79-65 late in the third quarter before capitulating, outscored 31-8 in the final period.

Nikola Jokic's triple-double of 17 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds were not enough for the Nuggets.

 

Zion flexes muscles

Zion Williamson had 38 points as the New Orleans Pelicans rallied past the Cleveland Cavaliers 116-109. Williamson, who scored 25 points in the first half and fell one shy of his career best, made 16 of 22 shots, while collecting nine rebounds and tallying four assists.

Portland Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard (1,983) passed Dirk Nowitzki (1,982) for 11th on the NBA's all-time list for threes. The Trail Blazers lost 107-98 at home to the Miami Heat.

Jonas Valanciunas produced a big performance, but the Memphis Grizzlies went down 132-125 to the Indiana Pacers. He recorded a career-high tying 34 points and 22 rebounds. Valanciunas posted his second career game with 30-plus points and 20-plus rebounds and is the second player in Grizzlies history with multiple 30-20 regular-season games after Zach Randolph (three).

Bogdan Bogdanovic finished with 32 points on a career-high eight three-pointers as the high-flying Atlanta Hawks defeated the Charlotte Hornets 105-101. Clint Capela added 20 points and 15 rebounds for the Hawks, who are fourth in the Eastern Conference.

DeMar DeRozan registered 33 points, including the tie-breaking jump shot with 0.5 seconds remaining, to lift the San Antonio Spurs to a 119-117 win against the Dallas Mavericks.

 

Game to forget for Magic

The Orlando Magic have not had much to celebrate this season and they had a tough time against the Milwaukee Bucks, who won 124-87. All five of Orlando's starters did not reach double-digit points. James Innis III was two-for-seven shooting, while missing all three attempts from beyond the arc for six points in 25 minutes. In total, the Magic were just 22.2 per cent from three-point range.

 

Space Jam?

In a scene reminiscent of iconic 1990s movie Space Jam, Hornets star Miles Bridges channelled his inner Michael Jordan with a thunderous slam against the Hawks.

 

Sunday's results

Atlanta Hawks 105-101 Charlotte Hornets
Boston Celtics 105-87 Denver Nuggets
New Orleans Pelicans 116-109 Cleveland Cavaliers
Milwaukee Bucks 124-87 Orlando Magic
New York Knicks 102-96 Toronto Raptors
San Antonio Spurs 119-117 Dallas Mavericks
Indiana Pacers 132-125 Memphis Grizzlies
Minnesota Timberwolves 121-117 Chicago Bulls
Los Angeles Clippers 131-124 Detroit Pistons
Miami Heat 107-98 Portland Trail Blazers

 

76ers at Mavericks

The Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers (36-17) will be eyeing back-to-back wins when they face Luka Doncic's Mavericks (29-23) on Monday.

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.

Devin Booker and Chris Paul helped the Phoenix Suns take down Donovan Mitchell and the NBA-leading Utah Jazz 117-113 after overtime.

Booker posted 35 points, while Paul finished with 29 points as the high-flying Suns moved to within a game of the best record in the league on Wednesday.

DeAndre Ayton finished with 18 points and 12 assists for the Suns (36-14), who won their seventh successive game after scoring the first five points in overtime and never trailed again.

Mitchell – who nailed a three-pointer with 10.4 seconds remaining to force OT – had a game-high 41 points, eight rebounds and three assists for the Jazz (38-13) in a thrilling encounter.

Jazz team-mate Rudy Gobert put up 16 points on seven-for-seven shooting and 18 rebounds in the losing effort on the road.

Kevin Durant made his long-awaited return in the Brooklyn Nets' 139-111 victory against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Durant had been sidelined since February 13 due to a hamstring strain, but the former NBA MVP returned as the star-studded Nets won midweek.

After a 23-game absence, Durant – initially named in the starting five – came off the bench and posted 17 points on five-for-five shooting in 19 minutes, making both of his three-point attempts.

Durant, who received an ovation from the home crowd at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, also collected seven rebounds and tallied five assists against the Pelicans midweek.

 

Westbrook fuels Wizards with triple

A Russell Westbrook triple-double of 23 points, 15 assists and 14 rebounds led the Washington Wizards past the Orlando Magic 131-116. It was Westbrook's 20th triple-double of the season as the Wizards snapped a four-game losing streak. Bradley Beal returned from a five-game absence and posted 26 points, while the Wizards made a season-best 19 three-pointers.

MVP candidate Nikola Jokic (25 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds) fell just short of his 13th triple-double of the season after the Denver Nuggets topped the San Antonio Spurs 106-96.

Grayson Allen's season-high 30 points helped the streaking Memphis Grizzlies beat the Atlanta Hawks 131-113. Jonas Valanciunas (19 points and 11 rebounds) set a franchise record with his 19th straight game with 10-plus rebounds.

 

Richardson struggles

It was a rough outing for Josh Richardson in the Dallas Mavericks' 102-93 loss to the lowly Houston Rockets. In 29 minutes, he was 0-for-nine shooting for one point. Richardson missed all six of his three-point attempts.

 

Grizzlies roar

The Grizzlies are hard to beat at the moment thanks to their collective effort. All five starters finished in double-digit points – Ja Morant tallying 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, including this combination with Kyle Anderson (16 points, nine rebounds, six assists and two steals).

 

Wednesday's results

Indiana Pacers 141-137 Minnesota Timberwolves
Washington Wizards 131-116 Orlando Magic
Boston Celtics 101-99 New York Knicks
Brooklyn Nets 139-111 New Orleans Pelicans
Memphis Grizzlies 131-113 Atlanta Hawks
Houston Rockets 102-93 Dallas Mavericks
Charlotte Hornets 113-102 Oklahoma City Thunder
Denver Nuggets 106-96 San Antonio Spurs
Phoenix Suns 117-113 Utah Jazz (OT)

 

Suns at Clippers

The Suns (36-14) will put their winning streak on the line when they visit Western Conference rivals the Los Angeles Clippers (34-18) on Thursday. The Clippers are third in the west, behind leaders the Jazz and second-placed Suns.

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