Zion returns, powers Pelicans past Nets

LOS ANGELES (AFP) — Zion Williamson is back with a bang, powering the New Orleans Pelicans to a 130-108 victory over the star-studded Brooklyn Nets in the National Basketball Association regular season on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) at the Barclays Center.

Brandon Ingram led the scoring parade with 28 points while Williamson was at his best, registering 25 markers to announce his return from a 17-month absence due to a right foot injury that sidelined him for more than a season.

Pelicans coach Willie Green said Williamson was very excited to return to action and help them make the Playoffs.

“He’s very excited,” Green said of Williamson, the 2019 top draft pick who at 22 has already battled a raft of injuries.

“The hard work he had to put in to get to this point, we’re all proud of him as a team and an organization.”

Williamson helped the Pelicans build an 18-4 lead midway through the fourth quarter, easily outpacing Brooklyn’s Ben Simmons — another former top draft pick who has also battled injuries.

Australian Simmons made his debut for the Nets, who acquired him from Philadelphia last season as he battled a back injury for which he had surgery in May.

Nets star Kevin Durant, who stayed put in Brooklyn after rocking the league with a trade demand in June, kept the hosts in touch, scoring 21 of his 32 points in the first half.

But the Pelicans outscored the Nets, 40-28, in the third quarter to take control for good. They never trailed and led by as many as 26 points, parlaying 21 offensive rebounds into 36 points.

Ingram was a model of efficiency, racking up his 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting.

In contrast, Kyrie Irving connected on just six of 19 shots for 15 points and Simmons scored just four points before fouling out.

In Memphis, Ja Morant scored 34 points and the Memphis Grizzlies edged the New York Knicks, 115-112, in an overtime thriller.

Despite Morant’s heroics, the Knicks nearly authored the come-from-behind stunner, erasing a 19-point lead and forcing overtime on Cam Reddish’s three-pointer.

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