PREVIEW: Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans ready for rematch vs. Denver Nuggets

By Field Level Media
Mar 21, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14) reacts with guard Josh Hart (3) and forward Zion Williamson (1) in the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson each scored 30 points to lead the visiting New Orleans Pelicans to a 113-108 victory over the Denver Nuggets last Sunday.

Two nights later Ingram scored a season-high 36 points and Williamson had his 21st consecutive game with at least 20 points, finishing with 27 in a victory over the visiting Los Angeles Lakers.

The Pelicans’ high-scoring forwards are creating serious headaches for opposing teams as New Orleans prepares to host the Nuggets in a rematch Friday night.

“Brandon is very capable of doing that pretty much anytime he wants,” Williamson said of his teammate’s season high. “We expect that out of him.”

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Williamson’s streak of 20-plus point games is the longest ever for an NBA player who has yet to turn 21 years old, which he will do in July.

“I guess for somebody in my position, since I have the ball in my hands a lot because my coach and teammates trust me, I could just shoot a lot and get 20 points,” Williamson said, “but my teammates and coaches know that’s not the game I want to play.

“I want to get everybody involved and try to hunt for the best shot, so getting those 20 points, some nights it’s going to be tougher. But on nights when there’s a lot of ball movement, (Ingram) is doing his thing, it really opens up the game for me.”

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The lopsided score allowed coach Stan Van Gundy to substitute liberally, and the bench responded. Nickeil Alexander-Walker scored 18 points, Jaxson Hayes scored 15 and rookie Kira Lewis Jr. scored a season-high 16.

The Nuggets bounced back from the loss to New Orleans to win 110-99 at Orlando on Tuesday for their ninth win in 11 games. But they concluded a set of back-to-backs with a 135-111 loss to Toronto on Wednesday, their most lopsided loss of the season.

That outcome ended the Nuggets’ six-game road winning streak and the Raptors’ nine-game overall losing streak.

“The most frustrating aspect for me was the complete lack of effort, all around from top to bottom; that was an embarrassing performance,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “You almost got the sense that we felt we could show up.

“We played with zero energy and zero effort. That’s what happens. You do that in this league against any team and you’ll get your (butt) kicked.”

The Raptors made seven 3-pointers in the first quarter, and their 24 (in 48 attempts) for the game were the most ever allowed by Denver.

“It’s a lack of focus,” said Nikola Jokic, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds for the Nuggets. “Most of them, they were wide open. … The effort was really not there.”

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Malone dismissed the notion that the impending NBA trade deadline Thursday could have hindered the players’ focus on the game.

“If you want to be a good team, which we say we want to be, you can’t have performances like this,” Malone said. “I don’t buy into all that mumbo-jumbo trade deadline anxiety, this, that and the other thing. They got guys in their locker room that have trade-deadline anxiety as well. Guess what? They went out there and balled.”

–Field Level Media