LeBron James proved he is still the master after leading the Los Angeles Lakers to victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, but he tipped the apprentice Zion Williamson "to get better and better".

It was the first career meeting between superstar James and exciting rookie Williamson, with the former dropping a season-high 40 points and adding eight rebounds as the Lakers triumphed 118-109 to make it six straight wins in the NBA.

Anthony Davis contributed 21 points despite only going 6-for-21 from the field, adding 14 rebounds and six blocks, while Alex Caruso was also influential for the Lakers.

Speaking after the game, James predicted Williamson – who landed 29 points for the Pelicans, second only to former Laker Brandon Ingram's 34 – will be a star for years to come.

"He's playing exceptional basketball," James said in quotes reported by ESPN. 

"I think his game is going to get better and better, just having that experience. I think today's game is the perfect fit for his game. 

"The high pace, the way they play, it fits his game. It works perfectly, and our game is so many possessions now, so much space, it's perfect for his game, so he's doing exceptionally well with that."

Davis, who moved to LA from New Orleans in July, echoed a similar message in his assessment of Williamson, saying: "He's a great player.

"He's got a quick first step. Very explosive. He's going to continue to get better and better as he goes on."

Williamson was injured for the Pelicans' first two encounters with the Lakers this season but has now scored 20-plus points in nine consecutive games.

The 19-year-old paid tribute to James' performance.

"It was a great experience," Williamson said. "He's an incredible player. 

"His resume speaks for himself. He handled business. He came out here and did what he had to do to help his team get the win."

James also put up eight assists and provided several highlight-reel dunks. Asked to explain why he had so much success, the veteran said: "I was just reading the defense. 

"They went under a lot of my pick-and-rolls; pretty much every team has done that this year, so I just try to make them pay. 

"I was able to get a couple of threes going and then I was being aggressive the rest of the [third] quarter."

Zion Williamson believes LeBron James does not get the respect he deserves despite the incredible standard he has maintained throughout his NBA career.

Williamson will face LeBron for the first time in his career on Tuesday when the New Orleans Pelicans take on James and the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Pelicans are 10th in the Western Conference standings with a 25-32 record, but still harbour hopes of claiming the eighth seed in the playoffs.

Should they achieve that goal, the Pelicans could face the Lakers, who hold the top seed in the West as it stands, in the first round of the postseason.

Williamson, though, is not viewing this week's encounter as a possible playoff preview.

"I'm not necessarily looking at it from that perspective," he told reporters after scoring 28 points in the Pelicans' 115-101 road win over the Golden State Warriors on Sunday.  

"I'm looking at from the perspective as, you know we need every win, we're trying to fight for that eight seed in the playoffs."

On four-time MVP James, he added: "I used to watch him all the time, especially when he was in Cleveland the first time, he was just an incredible player to watch, he always held his own.

"Sometimes I feel he doesn't get the respect he deserves but it's not for me to decide."

Zion Williamson recognises he still has a lot to learn a month into his NBA career, although his New Orleans Pelicans team-mates claim the rookie is already getting "vet calls".

The number one overall draft pick made his long-awaited league debut in a defeat to the San Antonio Spurs on January 22 after recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery.

Williamson played his 11th game on Friday, and a 128-115 win over the Portland Trail Blazers moved the Pelicans to within four games of the playoffs in the Western Conference.

The 19-year-old is averaging 22.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, and he was typically influential again in a 25-point display.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Williamson insisted he is far from the finished product and does not expect to fulfil his immense potential until "year four or five".

However, having visited the free-throw line 10 times against the Trail Blazers, shooting 50 per cent, Williamson's team-mates are mocking his early ability to draw fouls.

"I'm learning the pace, when to do things, when not to do things," he said. "I'm starting to get my legs back under me a little bit, I'm learning my team-mates, just the travel.

"Even though I'm a rookie and people think that I'm doing good, there's so much that I have to learn.

"I'm always learning something new from JJ [Redick], E'Twaun [Moore], Jrue [Holiday], Zo [Lonzo Ball], Derrick Favors, so much about the game. There are small things that I'm learning.

"By year four or five, I feel like I'm going to have all of them down.

"I think I am starting to get a little bit comfortable - I'm not saying a lot [more comfortable] because it's only 11 games. I've got a lot to learn, but I'm ready for the journey."

On the foul calls, Williamson added: "I think I just draw a lot of fouls. My team-mates joke with me and say I get 'vet calls'. I don't know about that yet.

"But when we get to the free-throw line, it's one thing to get there but we just have to knock them down."

Portland are one of the teams standing between 11th-placed New Orleans and a playoff berth in the top eight, and Williamson acknowledges there is little room for error for his team.

"Honestly, for us, at this point, I think every game is important," he said. "It's really like a college season at this point now - every game matters. If we take a loss, it's a big loss, a tough loss for us.

"So we need to come into every game ready to play, ready to lock in, we can't have any slow starts. And if we do, we can't dig ourselves into a big hole."

Zion Williamson insisted he is not worried about pipping Ja Morant to the Rookie of the Year award as his chief concern is helping the New Orleans Pelicans reach the playoffs.

A knee injury delayed Williamson's much-anticipated debut in the NBA regular season by three months, during which time Morant assumed the role of the league's outstanding rookie.

Morant, picked second, directly behind Williamson in the 2019 NBA Draft, has led the Memphis Grizzlies to a 28-26 record and the eighth seed in the Western Conference at the All-Star break.

And it is a top-eight finish with the 11th-placed Pels that is motivating Williamson, who delivered back-to-back 30-point games prior to the interval to enhance his own Rookie of the Year case.

"Honestly, it's not even up to me," Williamson told ESPN of the Rookie of the Year race.

"I'm just playing and trying to get a playoff spot for my team.

"If I win it, it's nice, but if not, it's fine. It just comes with the game.

"I do want it but if I don't get it I'm not worried because I did miss half the season.

"Ja's been playing incredible so he has earned it."

Williamson's outstanding performances in high school and college meant he was the most hyped prospect to enter the league since LeBron James in 2003.

Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin tried to temper expectations back in June when he said New Orleans were "Jrue Holiday's team" and Williamson must not be considered "the saviour of this franchise".

Yet Williamson has quickly established himself as the centrepiece of New Orleans' team, a fact that has taken him aback too.

"I think the thing that has surprised me the most is how much my team-mates look to me to try and make an impact," the 19-year-old added.

"I'm a rookie and I thought they would let me feel the game out before they started giving me the ball but, no, they trust in me."

Zion Williamson dunked so hard during the NBA Rising Stars Challenge that he broke the backboard but jokingly suggested it may not have been his fault.

The rim was left askew after the New Orleans Pelicans rookie threw down a pass from Trae Young late in the second quarter of Team USA's 151-127 defeat of Team World at the United Center on Friday.

Arena staff at the venue for this year's All-Star festivities had to re-align everything during half-time, when Williamson discovered what had happened from team-mates.

Asked if he realised what he had done, Williamson said: "Not at all. I went into half-time and my team-mates started telling me about it.

"I don't know which dunk it was on, but I don't think it was me!"

The first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and Ja Morant, who played together for AAU team the South Carolina Hornets in 2014, caught the eye with some sensational plays.

Morant produced a through-the-legs alley-oop pass for a Williamson slam, but it was a different sequence that caused the Pelicans star to reflect on how far he and his former team-mate have come.

Asked for his favourite moment from the game, Williamson responded: "When Ja threw me the lob from half court. Reminisced on that, back to ninth grade.

"It was crazy honestly because after I caught it and we got a timeout or subbed out, I was thinking about our Hornets days and never in a million years would I have thought would we have been in this game or be in the situations we're in, so it would've been that moment."

Prior to taking to the floor, Williamson met Barack Obama at an NBA Cares event in Chicago and explained why he developed a newfound appreciation for the former United States president.

"First off he's a cool dude man, it's Obama, c'mon," said Williamson. "I gained so much more respect for him just by him saying that [he kept up with my games].

"I was like you probably have one of the most busy schedules and you're able to keep up with a rookie, superstars, college people, even high school people, and tell them their stats, what they've been doing good, what they can work on.

"When he told me that I just gained so much more respect for him."

Williamson was not born until after Michael Jordan had led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships, but he still has a great respect for the 14-time All-Star's exploits.

"It was my mom that led me to watching Michael Jordan and the Bulls. I asked her when I first started playing who should I go watch and she told me Jordan, [Larry] Bird and Magic [Johnson]," he said.

"I think I started with Magic, I was like man he can pass the ball. Bird, he can shoot and is an all-around player but when I got to Jordan she told me to watch full games, not highlights.

"I watched full games and as a kid the stuff he was doing was incredible to watch. Getting a steal, saving it and then doing a backwards layup or floating through the lane through three people, dunking it.

"So as a kid that really caught my attention and from then I just watched every full game Michael Jordan clip I could find."

Luka Doncic has described Zion Williamson as "a different beast", the like of which the NBA has never seen before.

Williamson, the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, had back-to-back 30-point games for the New Orleans Pelicans prior to the All-Star Game in Chicago this weekend.

The teenager has scored at least 20 points in eight of his first 10 NBA appearances - with five-time MVP Michael Jordan the last rookie to achieve such a feat - and is averaging 22.1 points after returning from a knee injury that delayed the start of his much-anticipated debut season.

Doncic will face Williamson in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday when Team World face Team USA and the Slovenian has been highly impressed by the Pels forward's adaptation to the NBA.

"You can see he's a beast," Doncic told reporters.

"What's he played - 10 games? He's averaging like 25 [points].

"He's a different beast. I don't think we've seen a player like him. He's going to be an amazing player."

Should Williamson continue to put up huge numbers, he could succeed Doncic in winning the Rookie of the Year award.

The Dallas Mavericks star has enjoyed a fine sophomore season too, averaging 28.9 points, 9.5 rebounds and 8.7 assists.

Along with reigning MVP and Greece international Giannis Antetokounmpo and Serbian center Nikola Jokic, Doncic is one of several international players currently starring in the NBA.

"There's a lot of international players that are really good," Doncic added.

"That's what it shows in this All-Star [Weekend] - there's a lot of international players.

"The world can see that we can play basketball too."

Zion Williamson has expressed an interest in representing the United States at an Olympics, having been left off the country's preliminary roster for the Tokyo Games.

The USA, who have won gold at the last three Olympics, announced their 44-man list for the 2020 Games earlier this week, with LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard among the star names included.

However, there is no place for 19-year-old rookie sensation Williamson, while other impressive youngsters like Trae Young and Ja Morant have also been overlooked.

New Orleans Pelicans forward Williamson has poured in at least 20 points in eight of his first 10 NBA games - a feat last achieved by the great Michael Jordan when he was a rookie - and the teenager revealed he is keen to play for USA down the line.

"That is something I would definitely want to do in the future," he told reporters.

"I think there's nothing better than representing your country."

Williamson was speaking ahead of the NBA's All-Star weekend, when he will represent Team USA in the Rising Stars Challenge.

Memphis Grizzlies point guard Morant, the current Rookie of the Year forerunner, and the Atlanta Hawks' sophomore Young are also on a team that will face a world side that has Luka Doncic and RJ Barrett on its roster.

"It's an honour to be here in my first year, despite being 10 games in," added Williamson, who missed the first three months of the season due to a knee injury.

The first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft was also asked which of the game's greats he tries to emulate when he was on the court.

"I don't try to emulate any of them. I just try to bring my own style to the game," he replied.

"I watched a lot of [Michael] Jordan, [Larry] Bird and Magic [Johnson] clips."

Zion Williamson conceded he had surprised himself with a magnificent 31-point performance in the New Orleans Pelicans' win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Pelicans made it three straight wins as they claimed a 138-117 victory that saw the rookie sensation add nine rebounds and five assists in just 28 minutes on the court.

Williamson missed Saturday's win over the Indiana Pacers with a sprained ankle but marked his return in style on Tuesday.

In only his ninth career game, having missed more than 13 weeks after meniscus surgery earlier in the season, the 19-year-old went over 30 points for the first time.

He has now scored 20 or more points seven times, with Grant Hill and Shaquille O'Neal the only NBA players to have achieved that inside their first 10 games.

After his impressive outing, Williamson expressed surprise over his rapid progress.

"I expect to make an impact but I don't expect to do nothing like this," a thrilled Williamson said, per ESPN.

"I just kind of look to come in, just kind of fit in, just not try to mess up, but my team-mates and coaches are always pushing me.

"I do hold myself to high expectations, but I think it's just finding the line between reality and dreams. If my team-mates find me, they find me. If not, just got to make another play, get the rebound and just play defense."

Asked about the process of finding the right spots on the court and improving his decision making, Williamson added: "I think it is kind of happening.

"People are trying to find their own way. I feel like my game is so unique I'll be able to adjust to it on the fly. 

"At the end of the day, I'm 19. I have a lot of room for growing. I will mess up. I'm not perfect – I'm just going to learn from them."

Team-mate Lonzo Ball believes there is still so much more to come from Williamson.

"I mean, he's only going to get better," said the former Los Angeles Lakers point guard.

"He's 19 and came in midseason. I feel like he's still not in the shape he can be in. It's kind of scary thinking about what he can do in the future, but we'll take 31 points every night."

New Orleans improved to 23-31 and sit 11th in the Western Conference.

Much of the focus at the All-Star Game will be on the headline event and the Slam Dunk Contest, but the Rising Stars Challenge also offers great intrigue.

Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, Luka Doncic and Trae Young will all be involved as Team USA take on Team World.

With the early success that quartet have enjoyed in their fledgling careers, the Rising Stars Challenge should serve as further compelling evidence the future of the NBA is in good hands.

Here we guide you through what to watch for when the league's brightest talents do battle.

 

ZION & JA TEAM UP

Williamson and Morant appear poised to contest a fascinating rivalry over the course of their careers, but on Friday they will be on the same side.

Number one overall pick Williamson, sidelined for much of the year with a knee injury, and Rookie of the Year favourite Morant went head-to-head two weeks ago and offered a glimpse into the future as Zion's New Orleans Pelicans beat the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Rising Stars Challenge will provide a window into how the pair's talents complement each other, which could potentially be crucial for future USA Olympic coaches.

With Morant set for a prestigious honour and Williamson having recorded two double-doubles in eight games, Team World will have a hard time slowing them down.

 

DONCIC DOUBLES UP

Likely to finish high in the MVP voting, Doncic will - along with Young - double up at All-Star weekend.

The Dallas Mavericks guard will contest the All-Star Game as well as the Rising Stars Challenge, having been picked as a starter for Team LeBron.

With the odds in favour of Team USA winning the Rising Stars Challenge, Doncic's best chance of success in Chicago should be in the headline event.


UNDER-THE-RADAR STARS

While Williamson, Morant and Doncic will claim most of the attention among the rising stars, there are several less heralded players with the chance to snatch some of the limelight.

Jaren Jackson Jr. and Canadian Brandon Clarke will face off having played an instrumental role in the Grizzlies' rise to playoff contention.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander should be crucial to Team World's hopes, his development unhindered by a trade from the Los Angeles Clippers to the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder.

Eric Paschall's opportunities to shine on a national stage have been limited thanks to the demise of the Golden State Warriors this season, but the forward will have the chance to prove he is the Dubs' latest second-round gem.

 

YOUNG TRIBUTE TO KOBE

Proceedings at the United Center are set to be dominated by tributes to Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, who were killed in a helicopter crash last month.

In the wake of their tragic passing, an emotional Young - having been mentored by Bryant - scored 45 points in the Atlanta Hawks' win over the Washington Wizards.

With two games on his agenda, Young will have ample opportunity to honour his idol by delivering on the court in his first appearance at the weekend as an All-Star.

Zion Williamson says he is following advice from the New Orleans Pelicans and focusing on his "longevity" as injuries continue to impact his rookie season in the NBA.

The number one overall pick was missing when the Pelicans triumphed over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday after spraining his left ankle in the team's previous road win against the Chicago Bulls.

Williamson missed over 13 weeks earlier in the season after meniscus surgery, but is impressing when he is on the court, with averages of 19.8 points and 7.5 rebounds.

"They just told me longevity, the bigger picture, more long term," the 19-year-old said, per ESPN, of the late decision for him to miss the Pacers game, which was made after the shootaround.

"They've been doing this for a long time and I'm just learning. I'm just following their guidance."

Williamson has scored 20 or more points in four straight games, the only rookie to achieve that in the 2019-20 campaign.

After practising on Monday, he has declared himself "ready to go" for the Pelicans' Tuesday home game against the Portland Trail Blazers.

All-Star Brandon Ingram also sat out against the Pacers and is questionable to play the Blazers, but Williamson is impressed with the Pelicans' roster depth.

He added: "We're a great team even without me or Brandon.

"Did y'all see that shot Jrue Holiday hit [against the Pacers]? That step-back. Man, I know he was texting his brothers in the group messages after that one. 

"But we played great. They were real disciplined that game. They executed when we needed and hit big shots to give us the win."

It was Giannis Antetokounmpo who stole the show in New Orleans as he got the better of his much-hyped duel with Zion Williamson.

Antetokounmpo finished with 34 points, 17 rebounds and six assists in a dominant display to guide the Milwaukee Bucks to a 120-108 road win over the Pelicans.

Williamson had his moments - an aggressive grab to take a rebound away from Antetokounmpo in the fourth quarter arguably the highlight - but was very much second best to the Bucks superstar.

The 19-year-old, who managed 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists, said: "I mean, he's a former MVP.

"It's like going up against any great player. Do as much as you can to slow him down.

"He's his own player; he brings his own style to the game. That's why he's Giannis."

Statistically, it was the worst night of Williamson's fledgling NBA career - he shot just 5-of-19 from the floor - with Antetokounmpo admitting the Bucks' defense had paid him special attention.

He said: "I think we put a lot of guys, a lot of different looks to him.

"I was guarding him, Brook [Lopez] was guarding him, Robin [Lopez] was guarding him, Pat [Connaughton] was guarding him. Just tried to make him guess, just tried to make it as tough as possible.

"You know he's gonna try to go left, try to overpower whoever's guarding him, try to go and finish strong. And the guys behind gotta be active, gotta make it as tough as possible."

Despite his struggles, however, Antetokounmpo also saw enough to suggest Williamson was a star in the making, adding: "He'll be a really good player for a lot of years to come.

"He's out there helping the team; he's competing as hard as possible. He's just gotta stay healthy, and he's gonna have a bright future."

Zion Williamson must not go prolonged stretches in the fourth quarter without touching the ball, fumed New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry after their 117-109 loss to the Houston Rockets.

The Rockets triumphed at Toyota Center on Sunday, with James Harden pouring in 40 points as Houston came from behind in a fourth quarter that saw the Pelicans score just 16.

Williamson, the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, was making his sixth appearance in the league, having undergone right knee surgery in October.

The 19-year-old forward has quickly proven himself to be a force to be reckoned with, though, and logged 21 points and 10 rebounds against Houston.

However, Gentry was irate his team failed to find Williamson more regularly as they fell away in the final period and blamed himself.

"We didn't execute and we didn't do what we were supposed to do. That being said, Zion can't go four minutes without touching the basketball and that's on me," said Gentry.

"That's something that I've got to make sure that will never happen again. So I take responsibility for that. And if we're not gonna get it to him and not gonna execute, then we've got to have different people in the game. That's on me also."

Gentry denied the suggestion it was down to a lack of chemistry with Williamson still in the early stages of his rookie season, while also criticising the "absurd" and "ridiculous" total of 21 turnovers from his team.

"You've got to throw [Zion] the damn basketball, it has nothing to do with playing together or figuring it out," said Gentry.

"He has advantage and we've got to find a way to get him the basketball better, so I'm not buying the playing together or figuring out or anything like that. We have to have him have touches in the fourth quarter, if not there's no reason for us to have him in the game. And that's not going to happen either.

"I like our chances when he's got it down there because I think he's going to make the right play, and we didn't do that. You can't have 30 points off your turnovers and think you're going to beat a good basketball team.

"You can get away with it every now and then, but we're shooting 64 per cent for most of the first half and we're trailing in the game and so that just tells me that what we were doing as far as execution and turning the ball over is absurd, it is just ridiculous. It really was. It's as disappointed as I've been this year from the standpoint of doing what we're supposed to."

Harden was impressed by Williamson after his first game against the Duke product. Asked for his assessment of the Pelicans star, Harden told ESPN: "Beast.

"He's gonna be really good. This is only like his 10th game playing, he has a feel for the game, obviously he's strong, so he's gonna be great.

"He's really good. Very, very explosive. Athletic, as we all know. He has a good feel for the game."

Zion Williamson and Luka Doncic headline the rosters for the NBA Rising Stars Game at the All-Star weekend.

The New Orleans Pelicans selected Williamson with the first overall pick in the 2019 draft, but a knee injury meant he only made his debut last week.

He was selected by the NBA for the United States team to replace the injured Wendell Carter Jr, who is not expected to be back in action until after the All-Star break.

Williamson is joined by Trae Young and will go up against a World team that includes Doncic in Chicago on February 14.

Young and Doncic will be making their All-Star debuts at United Center, while Rookie of the Year frontrunner Ja Morant was also among the first and second-year players named.

 

USA: Trae Young, Zion Williamson, Miles Bridges, PJ Washington, Devonte' Graham, Wendell Carter Jr, Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, Eric Paschall, Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr.

World: Luka Doncic, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Deandre Ayton, RJ Barrett, Brandon Clarke, Shai Gilgeous-Alexaner, Rui Hachimura, Svi Mykhailiuk, Josh Okogie, Moritz Wagner.

The NBA came together to mourn and honour Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna on a solemn Sunday.

Though all eight games went ahead as scheduled, a dark shadow clouded the on-court action after Los Angeles Lakers legend Bryant, 13-year-old Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California around 10am local time.

Games across the league began with intentional 24-second violations as players recognised the number Bryant wore throughout the second half of his illustrious career, a number Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said his team would never use again.

Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young took to the floor in the number eight jersey the five-time NBA champion adopted following his arrival at the Lakers in 1996 and proceeded to do him proud, dropping 45 points and 14 assists in a 152-133 win over the Washington Wizards.

"One of the last conversations we had, he was just telling me how much he's seen my game progress, being happy for me, saying how proud he was of me and how he wants me to continue to be a role model for kids growing up," an emotional Young later told a news conference.

The San Antonio Spurs lost to the Toronto Raptors 110-106 but head coach Gregg Popovich summed up the mood, telling reporters: "Good game. Tough loss. Who cares? Everyone's pretty emotional with the tragedy about Kobe."

Zion reflects after major milestone

Amid the mourning emerged some uplifting performances befitting one of the league's greatest ever scorers.

Zion Williamson marked his third NBA appearance with a first double-double, the number one overall draft pick contributing 21 points and 11 rebounds in the New Orleans Pelicans' 123-108 victory against the Boston Celtics.

"Kobe meant a lot to me growing up. I had both jerseys, the eight and the 24," Williamson said. "It's tough. I was on the way to the arena when I got the news. I just send my prayers to his family."

Damian Lillard became the first player in Portland Trail Blazers history to score 40 or more points in three successive games, the point guard hitting 50 on 14-of-23 shooting in a 139-129 win over the Indiana Pacers.

Kawhi Leonard put up a game-high 31 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Los Angeles Clippers past the Orlando Magic 112-97.

"I know he would have wanted him me to come out here and try to ball and still just be great," he told ESPN. "That's what I tried to do. Everybody is sad."

Kyrie sits out

Madison Square Garden, where Bryant memorably scored 61 points in a single game in 2009, dimmed its lights and fell silent before the Brooklyn Nets' 110-97 loss to the New York Knicks.

Kyrie Irving was a notable absentee, the Nets guard having shared a close relationship with his former mentor.

Another of the NBA's new generation of stars, Ben Simmons, said the world had "lost a legend".

"Kobe Bryant was someone who I looked up to, a fierce competitor, a champion, an icon," Simmons tweeted.

 

Respects paid in New Orleans

The Pelicans and the Celtics were among the teams who each took 24-second violations to honour Bryant.

Sunday's results

Denver Nuggets 117-110 Houston Rockets
Toronto Raptors 110-106 San Antonio Spurs
Atlanta Hawks 152-133 Washington Wizards
Memphis Grizzlies 114-109 Phoenix Suns
New Orleans Pelicans 123-108 Boston Celtics
New York Knicks 110-97 Brooklyn Nets
Los Angeles Clippers 112-97 Orlando Magic
Portland Trail Blazers 139-129 Indiana Pacers

 

Rockets at Jazz

Monday brings the chance to focus on a big game in the Western Conference, with the second-placed Utah Jazz (32-13) to host the sixth-placed Houston Rockets (28-17).

Zion Williamson certainly announced his arrival to the NBA on Wednesday night.

The first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft had 22 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 18 minutes of action for the New Orleans Pelicans in their 121-117 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

Williamson had been sidelined since preseason due to a knee injury but dazzled in his debut, scoring 17 straight points at one point and hitting all four of his three-point attempts.

But how did other NBA greats fare in their first games?

 

Bill Russell - 6 points, 16 rebounds, one assist (December 22, 1956)

Prior to Russell's NBA debut, the Boston Globe had asked whether it was possible to "be too good to be overrated". No pressure, kid. 

Russell did not make any of his four free throws and went 3-of-11 shooting in 16 minutes. However, a man who would go on to be an 11-time NBA champion shone in other facets, grabbing 16 boards and blocking three straight Bob Pettit shots.

Wilt Chamberlain - 43 points, 28 rebounds, one assist (October 24, 1959)

A star at high school and college, the 7ft 1in center's bow for the Philadelphia Warriors was eagerly anticipated and he did not disappoint, racking up the points and rebounds.

It was a sign of things to come and Chamberlain won both the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in his first season.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - 29 points, 12 rebounds, six assists (October 18, 1969)

The broadcast of this debut included the line "the whole country has waited for it", a reflection of the attention the 7ft 1in Milwaukee Bucks center commanded at the time.

Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor, scored 29 of his NBA record 38,387 points that night and he went on to be named to 19 All-Star Games.

Magic Johnson - 26 points, eight rebounds, four assists (October 12, 1979)

The first overall pick in the 1979 NBA Draft came to a Lakers team that featured Abdul-Jabbar, and it was the veteran's buzzer-beater that delivered the win against the San Diego Clippers.

A pumped-up Johnson certainly impressed, though, and his zeal for the game was evident when he jumped on Abdul-Jabbar amid wild celebrations at the end.

Larry Bird - 14 points, 10 rebounds, five assists (October 12, 1979)

Johnson was not the only future Hall of Famer debuting on that night in October 1979 as Celtics great Bird was also making his first appearance.

The Lakers man might have had more points, but Bird had the double-double and he, not Johnson, would go on to be named Rookie of the Year. Both men won three MVPs and were named to 12 All-Star Games.

Michael Jordan - 16 points, six rebounds, seven assists (October 26, 1984)

There was little indication of what was to come when Jordan put up solid but not spectacular numbers against the Washington Bullets.

He would soon find his groove, though, averaging 28.2 points in a campaign that ended with the Rookie of the Year award. Five MVPs and six championships would follow for perhaps the greatest of them all.

LeBron James - 25 points, six rebounds, nine assists (October 29, 2003)

A man well-versed in dealing with insane hype, James' NBA debut for his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers was delayed because another game went into overtime and ESPN did not want TV audiences to miss a second of the 18-year-old's bow.

Cleveland lost but 'The Chosen One' delivered exactly what the television executives were looking for, a steal and a dunk providing the first of many highlight-reel plays the four-time MVP would produce.

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