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Zion Williamson, Pelicans try to extend streak vs. 76ers

Dec 28, 2022; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) reacts to making a basket against Minnesota Timberwolves guard D'Angelo Russell (0) during the second half at Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans trailed the Minnesota Timberwolves by five points with less than three minutes remaining Wednesday night.

That’s when guard CJ McCollum gave a message to star forward Zion Williamson.

“CJ looked at me and said, ‘You want to be great? This is the moment to do it,'” Williamson recalled. “I took the challenge on.”

Williamson scored New Orleans’ last 14 points in the final 2:44, producing a 119-118 victory. The Pelicans will seek their fifth consecutive victory when they host the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night.

“I didn’t say anything to (Williamson),” coach Willie Green said. “I think that’s just who he is. … He understands the moment and he made big plays after big plays. That’s what great players do.

“It’s incredible. His touch when he gets down the lane, with two or three guys hanging on him, and he’s still able to find the glass. He does a great job of trying to find his teammates as well. It’s a luxury for us to have a player like Z.”

Williamson, who missed the last three games before Wednesday because of COVID-19 protocol, has helped the Pelicans forge a tie with Denver atop the Western Conference even though second-leading scorer Brandon Ingram has missed the last 15 games because of a toe injury.

Williamson, now a fourth-year pro after missing all of last season because of a foot injury, is averaging 25.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists as well as shooting 60.7 percent from the floor.

“It’s always great to get a win,” Williamson said. “I love winning. This team loves winning. This organization loves winning. On any given day, getting a win is great.”

The Sixers have been doing a lot of winning themselves, though their eight-game winning streak came to an end with a 116-111 loss at Washington on Tuesday.

Philadelphia lost despite Joel Embiid scoring 48 points and James Harden adding 26 points and 13 assists.

The Sixers trailed by 111-108 when Embiid lost a turnover with 1:29 left. The score was the same when Embiid drove to the basket and Deni Avdija blocked his layup attempt.

“I had a bad last two minutes,” said Embiid, who added 10 rebounds, three blocks and three steals. “That was on me.”

After the Wizards extended the lead to six, Embiid did make a 3-pointer to cut the deficit in half, but Philadelphia, which trailed by as many as 16 points, didn’t score again.

“It would have been great to steal the game tonight, but they deserved it so much more than us,” coach Doc Rivers said. “They played so much harder. Really, I’m just disappointed in how we approached the game.

“It’s almost like the basketball gods (said) down the stretch, ‘Yeah, you don’t deserve it.'”

It was the third consecutive game in which the Sixers fell behind by double digits in the first half, though they had rallied to defeat the Clippers and the Knicks.

“We put no defense into the game until the second half, and we had to go zone to do that,” Rivers said. “We put no pressure into the ball. They literally went wherever they wanted to go.”

–Field Level Media