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.

The Los Angeles Clippers spoiled Doc Rivers' return as they topped the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers 122-112 in the NBA.

Rivers reunited with the Clippers for the first time since being fired and joining the 76ers in the offseason, having led the Los Angeles franchise to six playoff appearances.

But Rivers did not have much to celebrate after the 76ers had their four-game winning streak snapped on Saturday.

Kawhi Leonard posted 28 points – 19 in the first half – and Clippers team-mate Paul George added 24 of his own in Los Angeles.

Terance Mann had a season-high 23 points for the Clippers on 10-of-12 shooting from the field, while he made both of his three-point attempts.

The 76ers had a six-game road winning run ended, despite a game-high 29 points from Tobias Harris.

 

Mitchell sparks Jazz

Donovan Mitchell put up 35 points as the NBA-leading Utah Jazz defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 126-110. Mitchell was efficient in Utah, where he was 12-of-17 shooting from the field, to go with his five three-pointers from seven attempts in 28 minutes. All-Star team-mate Rudy Gobert (16 points and 14 rebounds) contributed a double-double.

Gregg Popovich became the third coach in NBA history to reach 1,300 regular-season wins following the San Antonio Spurs' 120-104 victory against the Chicago Bulls. Only Don Nelson (1,335) and Lenny Wilkens (1,332) have had 1,300 wins or more. All-Star Nikola Vucevic had 21 points and nine rebounds in his debut for the Bulls after being traded by the lowly Orlando Magic.

Zion Williamson's 38 points led the New Orleans Pelicans past the Dallas Mavericks 112-103. Tim Hardaway Jr. had 30 points off the bench for the beaten Mavericks.

Russell Westbrook's triple-double of 19 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists fuelled a 106-92 win for the Washington Wizards against the Detroit Pistons.

The Milwaukee Bucks were upstaged 102-96 by the New York Knicks despite double-doubles from two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (23 points and 10 rebounds), Jordan Nwora (21 points and 10 rebounds) and Brook Lopez (12 points and 10 rebounds).

 

Awful Richardson

The Mavericks went down to the Pelicans and Josh Richardson struggled. The shooting guard finished one-of-11 from the field. Richardson missed all four of his attempts from beyond the arc for a measly four points in 34 minutes.

Mike Scott – in the starting five for the 76ers – finished with just three points in Los Angeles. He was one-of-six from the field, making just one three-pointer in 29 minutes.

 

Barnes calls game!

With the Sacramento Kings trailing 98-97, Harrison Barnes nailed a buzzer-beating three after catching a full-court pass to sink the Cleveland Cavaliers. De'Aaron Fox's 36 points set the tone for the Kings, who edged the Cavaliers 100-98.

 

Saturday's results

Washington Wizards 106-92 Detroit Pistons
New York Knicks 102-96 Milwaukee Bucks
Houston Rockets 129-107 Minnesota Timberwolves
San Antonio Spurs 120-104 Chicago Bulls
New Orleans Pelicans 112-103 Dallas Mavericks
Boston Celtics 111-94 Oklahoma City Thunder
Utah Jazz 126-110 Memphis Grizzlies
Los Angeles Clippers 122-112 Philadelphia 76ers
Sacramento Kings 100-98 Cleveland Cavaliers

 

Suns at Hornets

The high-flying Phoenix Suns (30-14) – second in the west – will visit the in-form Charlotte Hornets (23-21) on Sunday. Charlotte have won three straight games to sit fourth in the Eastern Conference.

The Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers continue to go toe-to-toe in the Eastern Conference after both championship hopefuls won in the NBA on Tuesday.

James Harden led the way with a double-double as the star-studded Nets topped the Portland Trail Blazers 116-112.

In the absence of fellow superstars Kyrie Irving (personal matter) and Kevin Durant (hamstring), Harden posted 25 points and a career high-tying 17 assists to fuel the short-handed Nets in Portland.

Jeff Green finished with 20 points – 15 in the first half – Nicolas Claxton put up 16 of his own, while Blake Griffin had eight points, five rebounds and two steals in his second Nets appearance.

Enes Kanter scored 19 points and collected 19 rebounds for the Trail Blazers, who also had 22 points from All-Star Damian Lillard.

The Nets (30-14) remain within a game of the Eastern Conference-leading 76ers (31-13) after they held on to beat the Golden State Warriors 108-98.

Behind Tobias Harris' 25 points and 13 rebounds and Ben Simmons' 22 points, the 76ers earned their fifth consecutive road victory – the team's longest winning streak away from home since winning seven straight in 2018.

The Warriors – without star Stephen Curry (back) – threatened to complete a stunning comeback, having been outscored 35-17 at the end of the opening quarter, while they trailed by more than 20 points before half-time.

 

Zion makes history

Zion Williamson helped the New Orleans Pelicans top the slumping Los Angeles Lakers 128-111. The 20-year-old's 27 points and nine rebounds saw him become the first NBA player younger than 21 to score at least 20 points in 21 consecutive games. Pelicans team-mate Brandon Ingram posted a season-high 36 points.

MVP candidate Nikola Jokic had his 12th triple-double of the season as the Denver Nuggets beat the Orlando Magic 110-99. Jokic posted 28 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists for a franchise-best 53rd career triple-double. Only Washington's Russell Westbrook (14) has more triple-doubles this season.

It is almost impossible to replace Joel Embiid, but Tony Bradley stepped up in a big way for the 76ers. The 23-year-old was flawless against the Warriors, going eight-of-eight for 18 points and 11 rebounds. Bradley became the first 76ers player not to miss a shot in a game on a minimum eight attempts since Dikembe Mutombo in 2002.

All-Star Julius Randle finished with 37 points to lead the New York Knicks past the lowly Washington Wizards 131-113.

 

Lakers feeling absence of star duo

The Lakers – who came out of the All-Star break on a 4-0 run – are now 0-3 since LeBron James suffered an ankle injury, with fellow star Anthony Davis (calf) also sidelined.

Tyler Herro headlined the Miami Heat's woes after last season's NBA Finals participants lost 110-100 at home to the Phoenix Suns. Herro was three-of-11 from the field, while he was just one-of-six from three-point range for seven points in 26 minutes.

 

Robinson throws it down!

New York's Mitchell Robinson got up high for a powerful dunk in the second quarter against the Wizards.

 

Tuesday's results

Denver Nuggets 110-99 Orlando Magic
New York Knicks 131-113 Washington Wizards
New Orleans Pelicans 128-111 Los Angeles Lakers
Phoenix Suns 110-100 Miami Heat
Brooklyn Nets 116-112 Portland Trail Blazers
Philadelphia 76ers 108-98 Golden State Warriors

 

Nets at Jazz

It is back-to-back outings for the high-flying Nets (30-14), who travel to the NBA-leading Utah Jazz (31-11) on Wednesday.

James Harden and Kyrie Irving combined to lead the star-studded Brooklyn Nets to a 113-106 victory over the Washington Wizards as Blake Griffin made his bow.

Harden posted 26 points and eight assists, while Irving had 28 points and seven rebounds to fuel the Nets in the NBA on Sunday.

The Wizards, who trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half and 12 in the second, closed to 103-102 three minutes from the end in Brooklyn, where former All-Star Griffin debuted after his arrival from the Detroit Pistons earlier this month.

But Nicolas Claxton (16 points) stepped up with two dunks and some big plays down the stretch to lift the Nets past the Wizards.

Russell Westbrook finished with 29 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists but the Wizards still lost on the road, where team-mate Rui Hachimura added 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Elsewhere, Zion Williamson joined Shaquille O'Neal (2000-01) as the only players in the shot-clock era to score 20-plus points on 50 per cent shooting or better in 20 consecutive games in a single season.

Williamson posted 30 points on nine-of-13 shooting from the field as the New Orleans Pelicans upstaged the Denver Nuggets 113-108.

Brandon Ingram also had 30 points for the Pelicans, while MVP candidate and Nuggets star Nikola Jokic (29 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists) registered his 52nd career triple-double and 11th of the season.

 

Paul reaches milestone

Chris Paul became the sixth player in NBA history to reach 10,000 career assists, joining John Stockton, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Mark Jackson and Magic Johnson. Paul finished with 11 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds in the Phoenix Suns' 111-94 victory against the Los Angeles Lakers, who were without injured stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Montrezl Harrell had 23 points and 10 rebounds for defending champions the Lakers.

The Dallas Mavericks routed the Portland Trail Blazers 132-92 behind Luka Doncic's 37 points. His 117 points across a three-game span are the second most in franchise history, only behind his 118 in a three-game period last month.

Collin Sexton scored 23 of his 36 points in the second half and Jarrett Allen (17 points and 15 rebounds) contributed a double-double as the Cleveland Cavaliers topped the slumping Toronto Raptors 116-105, condemning their opponents to an eighth consecutive loss.

The Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers earned their 15th straight win over the New York Knicks – a narrow 101-100 overtime success, dating back to December 2017. It is the longest active winning streak in the NBA by one team over another and the fourth longest run over a single opponent in franchise history.

 

Rockets can't stop the rot

The Houston Rockets suffered a franchise-record 20th consecutive defeat after going down 114-112 at home to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Rockets' skid is tied for the ninth-worst in NBA history and the worst since the 76ers and their record-setting 28-game losing streak across the 2014-15 and 2015-16 campaigns.

The Pistons and Miami Heat both struggled from three-point range. Detroit were just 16 per cent (four of 25) in their 100-86 loss to the Chicago Bulls, while Miami were 24.3 per cent (nine of 37) in a 109-106 overtime defeat against the Indiana Pacers.

It was a forgettable night for Damian Lillard and the Blazers. All-Star Lillard (19 points) was just seven of 16 from the field, while he missed all seven of his three-point attempts. Portland team-mate C.J. McCollum (13 points) was not much better after going six-of-15 shooting and 0-of-five from beyond the arc in 24 minutes.

 

Griffin can still dunk

Much has been made about Griffin and his lack of dunks. Not since December 2019 had Griffin dunked in the NBA amid question marks over his troublesome knee and fitness. But that changed in his debut on Sunday. Griffin, who finished with two points in 15 minutes, dunked in the final quarter.

 

Sunday's results

Indiana Pacers 109-106 Miami Heat (OT)
Oklahoma City Thunder 114-112 Houston Rockets
New Orleans Pelicans 113-108 Denver Nuggets
Boston Celtics 112-96 Orlando Magic
Brooklyn Nets 113-106 Washington Wizards
Cleveland Cavaliers 116-105 Toronto Raptors
Chicago Bulls 100-86 Detroit Pistons
Philadelphia 76ers 101-1000 New York Knicks (OT)
Phoenix Suns 111-94 Los Angeles Lakers
Dallas Mavericks 132-92 Portland Trail Blazers

 

Pacers at Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo's Milwaukee Bucks (27-14) will look to extend their winning streak to seven games when they host the Pacers (19-22) on Monday. Indiana have won back-to-back games.

Drew Brees is a "legend" who will be sorely missed after announcing his retirement, fellow New Orleans favourite Zion Williamson said. 

Brees called time on his glittering 20-year NFL career on Sunday, with glowing tributes pouring in for the quarterback. 

And Pelicans star Williamson, fresh from a 135-115 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, praised someone whose welcoming words have stuck with him. 

Williamson was the top pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and received a special message from Brees, who has had a lasting impact on the 20-year-old.

"He's a legend in the game, I think everybody knows that he's a legend," said Williamson, who is 22 years Brees' junior. 

"He gave his heart and soul to the game. I know a lot of people are sad to see him go. 

"Drew told me I think the truest thing anybody has ever told me, my first game in New Orleans – you love your city, they'll love you right back. 

"Whenever new people come and visit, that's the same thing I tell them. That's the kind of influence he's had on me." 

Brees is a 13-time Pro Bowler and was MVP in the Saints' Super Bowl win over the Indianapolis Colts in February 2010. 

The 42-year-old retires as the all-time leader in passing completions (7,142) and passing yards (80,358).

Draymond Green posted his 26th career triple-double and Stephen Curry scored 32 points as the Golden State Warriors took down the NBA-leading Utah Jazz 131-119.

Green dominated in San Francisco, where the three-time NBA champion had 11 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists to help the Warriors snap their four-game losing streak on Sunday.

The Warriors are 25-1 when Green has a triple-double – the 96.2 win percentage is the highest by any player in NBA history with 10-plus triple-doubles.

Birthday boy Curry nailed six three-pointers to go with nine assists at home to the Jazz, while Andrew Wiggins added a season-high 28 points.

The Warriors triumphed despite Rudy Gobert's 24 points and career-high 28 rebounds (also a franchise high) as fellow All-Stars Donovan Mitchell (24 points) and Mike Conley (23 points) made solid contributions.

Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, meanwhile, combined to lead the New Orleans Pelicans past the Los Angeles Clippers 135-115.

The Pelicans stunned the Clippers behind Williamson (27 points) and Ingram (23 points) in New Orleans, where Kawhi Leonard had 23 points for the visitors.

 

Perfect Thybulle

No Joel Embiid? No worries for the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers, who crushed the San Antonio Spurs 134-99. While Ben Simmons returned from an enforced absence due to coronavirus tracing, Matisse Thybulle dazzled in Philadelphia. He was four-of-four shooting from the field, while he made both of his three-point attempts for 10 points in 17 minutes off the bench. Tobias Harris posted a team-high 23 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Seth Curry had 21 points, including three triples, while Danny Green made four of seven shots from beyond the arc. The 76ers won their fifth straight game as they welcomed a limited number of fans back to Wells Fargo Center.

It was a career-high night for Anthony Edwards, who registered 34 points to help the Minnesota Timberwolves top the Portland Trail Blazers 114-112. Portland lost despite a game-high 38 points from All-Star Damian Lillard.

Norman Powell had 32 points, but the Toronto Raptors still lost 118-95 away to the Chicago Bulls, who were fuelled by a career-best 23 points from rookie Patrick Williams.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (30 points) and Aleksej Pokusevski (23 points and 10 rebounds) inspired the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 128-122 win against the Memphis Grizzlies. The 19-year-old Pokusevski became the youngest player in Thunder history to score 20-plus points. He also became the second youngest player in league history to score five three-pointers, behind only LeBron James.

 

No magic for free-falling Orlando

All-Star center Nikola Vucevic put up 38 points, including 17 in the third quarter, and 10 rebounds for his 26th double-double but not even that was enough for the slumping Orlando Magic. They lost 102-97 – their eighth consecutive defeat.

Zach LaVine has been red-hot for the Bulls this season, but the All-Star was far from his best in the team's win. He was just four-of-10 shooting, while making just one of his five three-point attempts for 15 points in 34 minutes.

The less said about San Antonio's performance, the better. Gregg Popovich's Spurs were just four-of-21 from beyond the arc – shooting at 19 per cent against the 76ers, who were 51.7 per cent when it came to three-pointers.

 

Tomahawk slam!

Jaxson Hayes produced a memorable moment for the Pelicans. His season-high 17 points included a powerful dunk over Reggie Jackson in the third quarter.

 

Sunday's results

Oklahoma City Thunder 128-122 Memphis Grizzlies
Golden State Warriors 131-119 Utah Jazz
Philadelphia 76ers 134-99 San Antonio Spurs
Miami Heat 102-97 Orlando Magic
Atlanta Hawks 100-82 Cleveland Cavaliers
Boston Celtics 134-107 Houston Rockets
Minnesota Timberwolves 114-112 Portland Trail Blazers
New Orleans Pelicans XXX-XXX Los Angeles Clippers
Chicago Bulls XX-XX Toronto Raptors

 

Knicks at Nets

Bragging rights will be on the line when the star-studded Brooklyn Nets (26-13) host city rivals the New York Knicks (20-19) on Monday. James' Los Angeles Lakers (25-13) are also in action against the Warriors (20-19).

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