LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Rookie Zion Williamson, who missed the last game with a sore ankle, scored a career-high 31 points as the New Orleans Pelicans defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 138-117 on Tuesday.
The 19-year-old Williamson also had nine rebounds and five assists, while Josh Hart took advantage of a rare start by scoring 12 of his 17 points in the crucial third quarter.
“I hold myself to high expectations, but I think it’s just finding the line between reality and dreams,” Williamson said. “If my teammates find me, they find me. If not, I just got to make another play, get the rebound and just play defense.”
Williamson, the first pick in the 2019 NBA entry draft, missed the first three months of the season after suffering a knee injury in the offseason.
“I don’t really think he’s comparable to anyone that I have seen,” Portland forward Carmelo Anthony said of Williamson. “Someone who is as powerful as that, who jumps like that. You can tell he’s getting better.”
New Orleans trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half before pulling to within two at halftime. They outscored the Blazers 41-21 in the third quarter to improve to 23-31 on the season.
Hart started in place of all-star forward Brandon Ingram, who missed his second straight game because of a sprained ankle.
JJ Redick had 20 points off the bench, Jrue Holiday had 16 points and 10 assists, Frank Jackson scored 13 and Nicolo Melli had 10 in the win.
Damian Lillard has been the hottest player in the NBA but he was held to 20 points on Tuesday.
Heading into the game, Lillard was averaging 40 points over his last dozen contests. He missed all four of his three point attempts.
CJ McCollum also had 20 points and Anthony had 18 points in the loss.
Elsewhere, Australia’s Ben Simmons delivered his sixth triple double of the season as the Philadelphia 76ers won their 25th home game with a 110-103 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Simmons, of Melbourne, finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists and Cameroonian centre Joel Embiid had 26 points and nine rebounds for the Sixers, who extended their win streak to three straight.
Josh Richardson scored 21 points, and Tobias Harris added 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Sixers, who improved to a league-best 25-2 at home.
Kawhi Leonard tallied 30 points and nine assists while Landry Shamet added 19 points and Marcus Morris and Lou Williams had 13 apiece for the visiting Clippers, who fell to 1-2 on their four-game road trip.
Paul George finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
The contest was tied 54-54 at halftime and the Sixers led 81-77 heading into the fourth quarter. Leonard led all scorers in the first half with 17 points. Simmons powered the Sixers with 16.
With just over five minutes to go, Leonard scored a basket to cut the deficit to 99-94.
Philadelphia immediately answered with a three-pointer from Richardson to push the lead back to eight points.
Richardson then completed a three-point play, and the Philadelphia lead was 11 points with 3:37 remaining.
“I itch for moments like that. In close games, we all want to be part of that positive effort and I had a part of it,” Richardson said.
The Clippers got within 109-100 with 81 seconds left after a three-point play by Leonard.
“We didn’t make shots (in the fourth quarter),” Leonard said. (Richardson) got to the paint, made some big 3s for them. He made shots.”
Embiid and Morris received a double technical after a scuffle under the basket with 2:48 left.
Also, James Harden and Russell Westbrook combined for 78 points, and the Houston Rockets snapped the Boston Celtics’ seven-game win streak with a 116-105 victory.