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PREVIEW: Surging Zion Williamson, Pelicans face Blazers

Mar 12, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) shoots the ball against Cleveland Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen (31) in the third quarter at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Zion Williamson’s NBA career is just 61 games old, but he already is a superstar in the making.

The 20-year-old Williamson will look to score at least 20 points in his 18th consecutive game when the suddenly explosive New Orleans Pelicans visit the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.

Williamson scored 27 points in a 135-115 trouncing of the visiting Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday night, a result that followed Friday’s 116-82 home rout of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Williamson, an All-Star this season, was 13-of-16 from the field against the Clippers to help the Pelicans shoot an NBA season-high 65.4 percent from the field. Williamson is 31 of 45 (68.9 percent) in three games since the All-Star break.

“We were on the attack,” New Orleans coach Stan Van Gundy said after the win. “And then because we had made some shots, I think, Zion got room to go to the basket, and we know if he gets room to go to the basket, I mean, you’re not going to stop it.”

Williamson also had five assists Sunday, marking the sixth time in his past eight outings that he has recorded at least five.

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“Whatever the team needs me to do, that’s what I’m ready to do, whether it’s score, play defense, facilitate,” Williamson said. “Coach has really put me in a position to facilitate the game and really open up the game for myself.”

On Sunday, the Pelicans had 38 assists, just two shy of tying the franchise record.

Williamson received plenty of help from his teammates during a game in which New Orleans never trailed and led by as many as 33 points.

Five other players scored in double digits for the Pelicans, including Brandon Ingram with 23 points and Lonzo Ball with 20.

Ball was 5-of-8 from 3-point range after being 8-of-31 from long distance over the previous four games.

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The Pelicans will try to continue the momentum in the first game of two matchups against the Trail Blazers. New Orleans also plays in Portland on Thursday before completing a three-game trip against Denver on Sunday.

The Trail Blazers have lost six of their past 10 games, including a 114-112 road loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday.

Making the setback sting more is that Minnesota has the worst record in the NBA at 9-30.

“We lost the game. There’s nothing else to say,” Portland All-Star guard Damian Lillard said. “It’s the NBA. You’re not going to go out there and just because a team has a bad record — they’re not going to lay down and let you beat them. You have to earn wins.”

Lillard had another solid game as he scored 38 points and was 6-for-13 on 3-point attempts. He is averaging 34.3 points over the past four games, beginning with a season-best 44 points against the Sacramento Kings on March 4.

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Gary Trent Jr. added 21 points against the Timberwolves for his first 20-point effort since he scored 23 in a 126-124 win over the Pelicans on Feb. 17.

Trent echoed Lillard’s sentiments in regard to the loss to the lowly Timberwolves on Sunday.

“In this league it doesn’t matter,” Trent said. “These are professional athletes. They work on their craft every day like we do.”

–Field Level Media