The New Orleans Pelicans have been giving Zion Williamson more opportunities to bring the ball up the court in a bid to spark the team’s offense.
With starting point guard Lonzo Ball sidelined by a hip injury, the 6-foot-7, 284-pound Williamson was the primary ballhandler during the 35 minutes he played in a 101-94 home victory against the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday. Williamson scored 37 points, tied a career-high with eight assists and added a personal-best 15 rebounds.
With Ball still sidelined, Williamson figures to have the same role on Sunday when the Pelicans visit the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“We’ll see more of it,” New Orleans coach Stan Van Gundy said of Williamson’s new wrinkle. “He’s still 20 years old and hasn’t played a full season’s worth of games yet. Not every night is going to be like (Friday), but we want to get him more experience at that stuff moving forward.
“I think that’s where his future is in this game. He just needs reps more and more, and we’ve increased it throughout the year giving him more and more opportunities.”
The victory against the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference came on the heels of a 139-111 loss at East-leading Brooklyn.
“Bouncing back the next game, it really defines you,” Williamson said. “So, I think as a team we bounced back great, got the win.”
The Sixers tied a season low with just 94 points.
“It had nothing to do with game plan or scheme or any of that,” Van Gundy said. “It was just everybody played extremely hard, extremely focused, and really, really fought.”
While New Orleans enjoyed one of its best defensive games of the season, Cleveland had one of its worst in a 135-115 loss to the visiting Toronto Raptors on Saturday.
The Cavaliers, who returned home after winning two straight on the road, had the worst defensive first half in franchise history. They trailed 87-54 at halftime even though the Raptors played without their top three scorers.
“If you look at our history, we have to do a better job of handling what we might think of as success,” coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “We’ve had some games where we played well and won recently and to me what we took for granted was who we have to be in order to play to win and be competitive, and it was extremely disappointing to come out and play the way we played, to say the least. We didn’t give ourselves a chance.”
Toronto, which had lost 15 of its previous 18 games, made its first 12 shots and shot 85.0 percent while scoring 47 points in the first quarter.
“It was embarrassing what took place in the first half,” said Collin Sexton, who led Cleveland with 29 points. “We pretty much came out being soft and they pretty much got whatever they wanted. When it’s like that, we have to come out as starters with a lot more aggressiveness and be the ones that throw the first punch. And tonight, we weren’t.”
Brandon Ingram had 28 points and Williamson added 23 as the Pelicans cruised to a 116-82 win over the visiting Cavaliers on March 12. New Orleans has won five in a row in the series.
–Field Level Media