Both head coaches made sure to point out the superb play of C.J. McCollum after the New Orleans Pelicans' 126-117 win against the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday.

McCollum scored a season-high 40 points on 14-of-27 shooting, adding nine assists, eight rebounds and two blocks in the absence of his max-contract teammates Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram.

It's the latest strong outing in McCollum's recent hot-streak, now averaging 31.5 points, 7.5 assists and six rebounds in his past four games.

It is in stark contrast to McCollum's early-season production, with the 31-year-old initially showing the warning signs of a decline. He is averaging 19.4 points – his lowest figure since the 2014-15 season – while his 42.0 field goal percentage is the lowest since his rookie year.

His renaissance has come at the perfect time, according to head coach Willie Green, who called his guard's performance "beautiful".

"It was great to see C.J. have a night like he did tonight," he said. "40 points, the nine assists were impressive, he rebounded the ball.

"We needed that type of production from him with the guys being out. It’s beautiful to watch when he’s on the floor and he’s scoring like he does.

"When guys are out, I think the beauty in what we're able to see is that all of our guys step up, and enjoy these moments, these opportunities. I've said it before, some people look at it as obstacles, but our guys relish these moments."

Pelicans backup center Willy Hernangomez said it is fun to see his teammate begin to find his groove.

"McCollum dominated the game from the very beginning," he said. "I'm happy for C.J. – he’s been really getting his rhythm back. 

"Today was a big game for him. I'm happy to see him making shots and making the right decision over and over."

Future Hall of Fame Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was also complimentary of McCollum, saying his team does not have the luxury of a player who can take over a game in that fashion.

"We’ll get down, figure it out, and then start playing," he said. "We don’t have somebody like a McCollum that’s going to come in and do what he did to us. 

"We made it a decent game at that point, and then he took over. He was great."

Having snapped a four-game losing streak, the Pelicans are now 19-12 and only a half-game behind the Phoenix Suns (19-11) and the Memphis Grizzlies (19-11) in the race for the top seed in the Western Conference.

The New Orleans Pelicans snapped a four-game losing streak on Thursday by defeating the visiting San Antonio Spurs 126-117.

Playing without top offensive options Zion Williamson (health and safety protocols) and Brandon Ingram (toe injury), it was C.J. McCollum's time to shine. Averaging 18.7 points per game entering the contest – McCollum's lowest figure since his second season back in 2014-15 – the 31-year-old showed he still has plenty in the tank. 

He scored a season-high 40 points on 14-of-27 shooting, adding nine assists, eight rebounds and two blocks in a spectacular showing.

It continues a strong run of scoring form for McCollum, who totalled 28 points, 27 points and 31 points in the three preceding games, while also averaging a career-high 5.9 assists for the season.

No other Pelican had more than Jonas Valanciunas' 16 points, while the Spurs received a standout performance from their lottery pick.

Selected ninth overall in this year's draft, Jeremy Sochan enjoyed his best game as a professional with 23 points (seven-of-14), nine rebounds and six assists.

With the win, the Pelicans are back on track at 19-12 – only a half-game behind the Western Conference leaders – while the Spurs are only one game away from the bottom of the conference at 10-21.

Beal brilliance not enough for Wizards

A well-rounded performance from the Utah Jazz saw them defeat the Washington Wizards 120-112 to improve their record to 19-16.

Nothing is going right at the moment for the Wizards, who have now lost 11 of their past 12, but it was no fault of Bradley Beal as he top-scored with 30 points on an efficient 13-of-20 shooting performance.

Meanwhile, the Jazz had four players score at least 18 points each, led by Malik Beasley off the bench with 25 on nine-of-17 shooting. 

It was an impressive start at center for Jazz rookie Walker Kessler, scoring 12 points while controlling the paint for 14 rebounds and two blocks.

Zion Williamson was in no mood to downplay the New Orleans Pelicans' top ranking in the West after inspiring the team to another victory over the Phoenix Suns on Sunday.

Having defeated the same opponents two days earlier, the Pels cemented their position as Williamson once again put up 35 points in a 129-124 overtime triumph.

It represented a seventh straight win for the high-flying Pels, who are top of the Western Conference with an 18-8 record.

While there is still plenty of basketball left to be played this season, Williamson said the team's aim is to build on their status as pacesetters.

"We're number one in the West right now," Williamson said. 

"I know to a lot of people that's not a big deal because it's still early in the season, but for us to have that ranking right now, that's big.

"We want to not only hold on to it but build on it.

"The Suns, they've earned their resume; they're a great team. So, for us to get two back-to-back wins against them, that's big for our confidence."

Head coach Willie Green said of Williamson: "Zion is – he's a matchup problem. 

"He just attacks. And when he attacks like he does, he's just tough to cover. It's incredible what he can do."

The Suns, who were without Devin Booker, were once atop the West but now sit fourth and are on a four-match losing streak.

Star man Chris Paul believes now is not the time to panic, however.

"Let it slide off. Realise it's a long season," Paul said. "We know we definitely have to get better and right some things here. But it's not do or die yet."

The New Orleans Pelicans were missing offensive force Zion Williamson, but head coach Willie Green was ecstatic with the contributions he got from up-and-down his roster in their 113-102 home win against the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday.

C.J. McCollum assumed primary scorer responsibilities, dropping a team-high 30 points on 11-of-23 shooting while adding nine assists, and he was not alone in having a strong game.

Brandon Ingram was his usual efficient self with 19 points on seven-of-14 shooting, while second-year wing Trey Murphy III made the most of his starting opportunity by showcasing his deep range, hitting three-of-six three-pointers and finishing a big contested dunk.

NBA All-Defensive team shoo-in Herbert Jones scored more than half of his shots and defended all five positions, and their bench was also excellent.

Larry Nance Jr showcased his skills with 19 points (eight-of-10), seven rebounds, two assists and two blocks, backup point guard Jose Alvarado had 12 points (five-of-11) and six assists, and rookie Dyson Daniels continued to impress.

The 19-year-old, who was selected eighth overall, grabbed a team-high nine rebounds with a steal and a block in 17 minutes, earning praise from his head coach.

"[Daniels] and Herb [Jones] give you a comfort level when they're out on the floor," Green said. "He's only 19, but he doesn't play like it.

"He's been working. He stays in the gym working on his shot, he understands the game at a high level.

"We all feel comfortable putting him on the floor. I'm super excited about what he did tonight, and what he'll continue to do in the future."

Despite Williamson missing the game, Green opted to play starting centre Jonas Valanciunas only 13 minutes, telling reporters that he feels general manager David Griffin has assembled the weapons to give him the luxury to sit such an important piece based on matchups.

"It was a tough matchup game for 'JV'," he said. "Steven Adams played 13 minutes, JV played 13 minutes, so we had those guys matched up against each other.

"This was more of a smaller game, smaller fours and fives who are moving around, cutting, playing with force and pace. We tried to match their team in that way – it's something we've been working on.

"That's what the game is coming down to, guys who can play multiple positions, can handle the ball, can defend, can shoot the three-ball at a high clip,

"We put guys on the floor that can do all of those things – I'm thankful I get to coach this team. [Our front office] has done an amazing job of continuing to build our roster.

"Sky's the limit, we'll continue to build from here, but definitely grateful."

New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson was giddy at his postgame press conference after securing a dominant 130-108 road win against the Brooklyn Nets in his first competitive outing since May 2021.

Williamson missed all of this past season with recurring foot injuries, but used the offseason to get into the best shape of his professional career, and he picked up right where he left off.

Before his injury, Williamson averaged 27 points per game at 61 per cent shooting in his second season after being drafted first overall back in 2019, and he showed no signs of rust, dropping 25 points on 11-of-22 shooting with nine rebounds, four steals and three assists.

Speaking to the media immediately after the win, Williamson could not keep the smile off his face when talking about how excited he is to be back on the court with this Pelicans group.

"The Nets are a great team, a great organisation, but today we just wanted to show how special this group is," he said during his on-court interview.

"We got the win, most importantly that's what we want to do, but if you see the bonds we have on the court, and on the bench, we really have a special group and I'm excited to show the world what we can do."

Later in his sit-down press conference, he reflected on his feelings about returning after such a long layoff, and what it is like to play with this group, since he has not played since the Pelicans' acquisition of C.J. McCollum.

"Simply playing the game I love, which I didn't get to play for a long time, was a breath of fresh air," he said.

"There were times where there was a loose ball, and it ended up in C.J. or [Brandon Ingram's] hands, and I didn't even crash [for rebounds], I'm like 'oh that's good'. Man, it's special. If you know basketball, to get a chance to play with two players like that, it's special.

"All three of us are unselfish, we all have the same goal, and that's to win. When you want to win, you put aside the personal goals and everything else. Whatever I've got to do, whatever they've got to do to win, that's what we're all going to do.

"It's one thing when you're excited for yourself, but when you see people you work hard with, and go to battle with, and they're genuinely excited for you and wishing you the best – you can't ask for much more than that."

Despite top-scoring in the game with 28 points (10-of-17 shooting), Ingram made it clear who sits atop the Pelicans' pecking order, calling Williamson "one of the best players in the league".

Pelicans head coach Willie Green also enjoyed the show, saying: "It's like he didn't miss a beat – you just throw the ball to him and watch what he does. He's fun to watch."

"I got a new team since the last time I played," Zion Williamson said following his preseason debut at the start of the month.

This was scarcely an exaggeration; the New Orleans Pelicans only retain five players from when Williamson last played in the NBA in May 2021. Naji Marshall – a rookie in 2020-21 – was the sole other member of the starting five in the preseason win over the Chicago Bulls that Williamson would have been familiar with.

"I'm still learning some of the guys," he added.

Crucially, though, Williamson had left behind a losing team. Without him, the Pelicans learnt to win – and he must now fit into that.

Williamson was typically influential in his last regular season outing against the Golden State Warriors – his 23 points marking a 15th straight game in which he scored 20 or more.

Damian Lillard was the only other player to achieve two such streaks of 15 games or more in the 2020-21 season, with Williamson's 25-game sequence – which ended with 16 points against the Brooklyn Nets around a month earlier – the longest of the year.

Of Williamson's final 41 games of the campaign, he scored 20 or more points in 40 of them, averaging 28.7 per game over this stretch.

But the Pelicans lost marginally more of those games than they won (20-21) and were outside the 2020-21 Western Conference play-in places when he was ruled out with a fractured finger.

New Orleans still undoubtedly had a better team with Williamson in it, though, going 1-5 the rest of the way to remain in 11th in the West and miss the playoffs for a third straight season.

Over the two seasons that followed the Pelicans taking Williamson with the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, their winning percentage without the forward (35.6) was far lower than with him involved (47.1) – a sample size that was far bigger than they would have hoped, given Williamson missed 59 games.

Williamson's 2,187 points to date – equating to 25.7 points per game – rank second since the NBA-ABA merger for the most through 85 career games. The sole man ahead of him is Michael Jordan (2,387 – 28.1).

This is fine company to be keeping, but Jordan, despite a broken foot, played his 86th NBA game in his second season; Williamson's will come in his fourth.

 

With the Pelicans already struggling with such a talent in their ranks, the fractured foot Williamson himself sustained a year ago that ultimately kept him out for the entirety of the 2021-22 season was an obvious concern.

As it was, forced to accept Williamson's absence, New Orleans adapted. They were undoubtedly better for it, too, but have work to do to again incorporate one of the most talented players in the league.

Williamson's role on the Pelicans had understandably dominated the narrative around the team for two years. It took time for the Pels to work out how best to use a forward with the physical attributes to play center and the playmaking ability to play 'Point Zion'.

So, it took time again to adjust to the considerable hole his injury left in the line-up, with Williamson having led New Orleans in usage rate in both 2019-20 (29.9 per cent) and 2020-21 (also 29.9).

After a big opening-day loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, rookie Herb Jones was inserted into the line-up as Pelicans coach Willie Green named an unchanged team in five straight games. The Pels lost four of them.

That line-up did not start another game all season, but Green's attempts to find a quick fix were similarly fruitless, with the team 1-12 almost a month into the season and the coach explaining: "Until we get it right, we have to continue to make adjustments and see what works."

Eventually, on November 24, those adjustments led to a line-up showing only one change from those imbalanced early attempts – Josh Hart in for Nickeil Alexander-Walker – and the Pelicans beat the Washington Wizards by 25 points.

Between that game and a win at the Houston Rockets in early February – the final time that line-up was used – those five had a 12-7 record as starters versus 6-9 for all other New Orleans line-ups combined.

Yet even with center Jonas Valanciunas contributing handily, the Pelicans were still relying too much on Brandon Ingram's scoring, having lost not just Williamson but also the only three guards to have 10 or more 20-point games for the team over the previous two seasons combined (Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball and JJ Redick).

Needing more from their back court, a trade with the Portland Trail Blazers, who New Orleans had just passed in the standings, saw both Hart and Alexander-Walker sacrificed for CJ McCollum.

It was a risk that was richly rewarded, as McCollum scored 20 or more points in 20 of his 26 games for the Pelicans, averaging a career-high 24.3. Meanwhile, Ingram sat for most of March through injury – a setback that would have been far more damaging without McCollum – but still averaged 22.0 following his new team-mate's debut.

The Pelicans had averaged 105.9 points per game before the trade; that shot up to 115.9 after McCollum's arrival, improving from 14th in the West in scoring to sixth. A 14-14 record was unspectacular but this time enough to make the play-in.

McCollum and Ingram combined for 59 points in a win over the San Antonio Spurs and then 49 to upset the Los Angeles Clippers, reaching a first-round series with the number one seed Phoenix Suns, who were taken to six games as Ingram averaged a series-high 27.0.

The Pelicans finished their season with a defeat but also with momentum. Williamson signed his five-year, $193million rookie max extension at the start of July.

If New Orleans were a .500 team without their best player, there is the potential for them to do something really special this year with him back on the court.

"I want to prove that I'm a winner, it's as simple as that," Williamson said as he signed his contract, outlining the "ultimate goal" to win a title.

More recently, Williamson has detailed a mentality shift during the offseason as he spent two months in Fort Lauderdale working with a strength and conditioning coach.

"The best way to describe it is I found true resolve within the game of basketball," he said. "Something mentally in me shifted, changed, and the game of basketball... that's it for me. That's my love, it's what I want to do.

"I'm just excited to get out there and show the world what I can do."

Ingram was injured again as preseason got under way, so Williamson will start the season still learning how best to share the ball with his fellow forward as well as new man McCollum, although few would doubt he has the talent and versatility to adjust with time.

Once that process is completed, finding a way to keep Williamson fit may be the Pelicans' biggest concern – just as it always has been.

The New Orleans Pelicans and star guard CJ McCollum have agreed to a two-year, $64million contract extension, according to reports.

The deal, as reported by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, keeps McCollum signed through the 2025-26 season, tying him to fellow stars Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, who are signed through at least the next three seasons.

McCollum – who was acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers in February – was a scoring machine down the stretch for the Pelicans and helped lift New Orleans into the play-in tournament and, eventually, a compelling six-game series against the top-seeded Phoenix Suns.

The 31-year-old guard averaged 24.3 points in 26 games with the Pelicans last season, shooting 49.3 per cent from the field and 39.4 per cent from three-point range.

With one offseason priority completed, the Pelicans can now turn their focus towards getting Williamson back on the court after he missed the entire 2021-22 season with a broken right foot.

New Orleans fans spent much of last season waiting for Williamson's return, which never came.

Williamson averaged 27 points over 61 games in 2020-21.

With their stars now fully healthy, the Pelicans carry elevated expectations into this season, despite playing in a loaded Western Conference.

New Orleans' high-scoring trio of stars is accompanied by veterans like Jonas Valanciunas, Larry Nance Jr. and Devonte' Graham, while second-year defensive ace Herbert Jones is expected to take a step forward.

So much of the Pelicans' potential success, however, relies on health.

Williamson has played 85 career games since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2019. McCollum has missed a total of 45 games over the past two seasons, and Ingram has never played more than 62 games in a season as a starter.

Damian Lillard insisted that while he wants to compete for an NBA title, he wants to do it with the Portland Trail Blazers and will be able to "live" with it if he does not achieve that goal.

Lillard confirmed a two-year extension with the Blazers, seeing him through to the 2026-27 season with the team that took him with the sixth pick in 2012 NBA Draft.

The six-time All-Star played only 29 games for Portland this past season, undergoing abdominal surgery in January before being shut down for the rest of the campaign.

Speaking at a news conference to announce the signing at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, the 31-year-old made it clear he is will be loyal to Portland as long as he can compete there.

"I've always said that if I do something that goes against who I am, and say I do end up winning, I know me better than any of y'all know me," Lillard said.

"So I'd be happy with it, because I don't think anybody wouldn't be happy being a champion, but it wouldn't be as fulfilling to me as I would want that moment to be.

"It's going to get done or it's not going to get done. I don't want to go out there with this crazy uphill battle that I'm fighting and we need a miracle times 10 to get it done. I just want a shot at it, and if that happens and it doesn't work out, then I can live with that."

While Lillard was sidelined, the Blazers made pulled off a number of trades before the February deadline, which included sending back-court partner CJ McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans.

They have then made moves to build around Lillard this off-season, acquiring Jerami Grant from the Detroit Pistons as well as signing free agent Gary Payton II, who was a key defensive piece to the Golden State Warriors' title run.

With that in mind, Lillard takes a sense of pride in Portland opting to build around him while he recovered, especially in this era of player power in the NBA.

"I don’t think that you earn something like this just by going out there and scoring a bunch of points," he said.

"Something that’s missing in our league is character, and the fight and the passion and pride about, you know, not just the name on the back, but the name on the front, and how you impact the people that you come in contact with."

The Phoenix Suns booked their spot in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, securing the series with a 115-109 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Devin Booker's return from injury gave Chris Paul more room to attack, and Paul obliged with the best shooting night in NBA playoff history.

He went a perfect 14-of-14 from the floor on the way to a game-high 33 points, making the most field goals without a miss in a single playoff game.

The Suns did not have it easy though, with Booker's three-pointer putting the Suns ahead at 106-104 with 1:42 remaining. A CJ McCollum turnover on the next possession effectively secured the Suns the series.

The Pels were up 10 at the half, but foul trouble for McCollum, Herbert Jones and Jose Alvarado made lineups and finding consequent balance complicated for first-year head coach Willie Green.

Sixers snap up Raptors

The Philadelphia 76ers will face the Miami Heat in the second round after they defeated the Toronto Raptors 132-97 in Game 6 of their series.

Joel Embiid and James Harden ultimately stepped up when required, combining for 55 points off 19-of-30 shooting. Embiid added 10 rebounds, three blocks and two steals while Harden masterfully distributed the ball with 15 assists and committed just three turnovers.

The Raptors had a brutal third quarter with their season on the line, going five-of-19 from the floor for 17 points, before Pascal Siakam eventually fouled out with 24 points.

Jazz miss chance to extend season

The Utah Jazz were eliminated from the playoffs, with the Dallas Mavericks winning Game 6 98-96 and progressing to the second round.

With 4.3 seconds remaining on the clock, Bojan Bogdanovic got the ideal look to win the game from a drawn-up play off an inbound. Spencer Dinwiddie scrambled and bought the initial pump-fake, but Bogdanovic could not convert the open look, ending the Jazz's season.

Luka Doncic was everywhere for the Mavs however, coming up with 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, as well as two steals and blocks.

The Phoenix Suns were left unimpressed by the physicality and officiating in their 118-103 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans that levelled the playoff series at 2-2 on Sunday.

The Pelicans repeatedly tested the Suns inside the paint in Game 4, with Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas combining to shoot half of New Orleans' 42 free throws.

By contrast, Monty Williams' Phoenix shot 15 from the line – in what was a 17-2 first-half difference between the sides – while being called for 12 more fouls than their opponents (28 versus 16).

The evergreen Chris Paul did not have one free-throw chance, after throwing 14 in the first three games, and went scoreless in the fourth quarter against defensive nuisance Jose Alvarado, who is a rookie guard.

The 36-year-old also managed just four points at the Smoothie King Center, a joint-low return in his playoff career alongside a four-point tally against the Denver Nuggets in April 2009.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Paul suggested the physicality was a throwback to yesteryear in basketball: "It's like the old NBA, isn't it?

"I asked one of the refs one time, 'Are we playing in the old NBA or the new NBA?'

"I was fortunate enough to play in both of them, we just have to figure out which one it's going to be. Regardless, whatever it is, you've to adjust early in the game and figure it out."

The Suns' coach Williams echoed Paul's frustrations as he bemoaned the officiating but acknowledged the eighth-seeded Pelicans were worthy winners in the Western Conference match-up.

"Forty-two to 15 in free throws – slice it any way you like to, in a playoff game that's physical, that's amazing," he said.

"Coaches shouldn't have to come up to the microphone and feel like they're going to get their head cut off for speaking the truth. It's not like we didn't attack the basket. That's really hard to do.

"They outplayed us and they deserved to win, but that's a free throw disparity."

The Pelicans attempted 46 shots in the paint to the Suns' 41, and New Orleans coach Willie Green was delighted with his team's aggressiveness.

"We were being aggressive. They dominated the paint last game," Green said. "Had 64 points in the paint. So we were well aware that we had to do better in that area."

Paul had 28 assists and zero turnovers in Games 2 and 3, but only produced 11 assists – four of those coming in the fourth quarter – and three turnovers in Game 4.

And Pelicans guard CJ McCollum was delighted with the defensive showing against the first-seeded Phoenix.

"I was tired of hearing about [Paul] breaking records during the fourth quarter," McCollum said of Paul.

"It's just a credit to our defense. Especially our intensity. But also, it's a make-or-miss league. He is not going to make every shot. But some nights, he is going to make a lot of tough ones.

"Tonight, he missed some shots he made the last three games. Credit our defense. But it's a make-or-miss league."

The Suns will also have to contain Ingram in Game 5 on Tuesday after he became the first Pelicans player in team history to score 30 or more in three consecutive playoff games.

New Orleans Pelicans guard C.J. McCollum called Wednesday's play-in tournament win against the San Antonio Spurs "the start of something special".

McCollum has been the star of the Pelicans since arriving in a mid-season trade, and it was no different against the Spurs, netting a game-high 32 points to go with seven assists and six rebounds.

The former Lehigh University standout has been averaging 23.3 points and 6.0 assists since the All-Star break and helped propel the Pelicans into the play-in tournament despite starting the season 1-12 from their first 13 games.

Speaking with post-game media, McCollum said it feels like something great is brewing in New Orleans.

"This is the start of something special, for sure," he said. 

"You see the energy. Feel the energy. My mother is in town – I have some family in town – when we go out to eat, you can feel the city is excited about basketball, as they should [be]. 

"There's a lot of talent here. We're playing the game the right way. It's going to be a lot of winning in our future."

McCollum went on to talk about how seriously the Pelicans were taking this game with their season on the line.

"I understood the magnitude of this game," he said. 

"The Spurs are always going to go on a run at some point. They are well-coached. They execute. They have a lot of great players who can shoot and score. 

"When you get a chance to get up double digits, you have to put the pedal to the metal and try to be aggressive… I try to be more aggressive in the playoffs, try to get downhill a little bit more."

Pelicans head coach Willie Green had nothing but praise for his star shooting guard.

"We just got the ball to him, and he made play after play, score after score," he said. 

"The rest of the guys started to feed off C.J. – he's been in these moments, he's played on the big stage. 

"It's no coincidence that he goes out and has the game that he has."

The Atlanta Hawks avoided elimination from the NBA Play-In Tournament on Wednesday, comfortably defeating the Charlotte Hornets 132-103, despite a poor shooting night from Trae Young.

The Hawks shot 52.1 per cent collectively even with Trae Young's eight-of-24 from the floor, with all five starters scoring in double-digits along with Bogdan Bogdanovic from the bench, who added 13 points.

Young started slow with three-of-13, matching LaMelo Ball for the first half, but was able to find his teammates early, particularly getting easy buckets for Clint Capela out of high pick-and-roll action.

Finishing with 31 assists for the night, the Hawks moved the ball fluidly in comparison to the Hornets, who could not generate clean looks on the way to 37.8 per cent shooting from the floor and 22 assists collectively.

Ball and Terry Rozier shot a combined 15-of-47, while the former went four-of-14 from three-point range despite eight assists and five rebounds.

Atlanta will now face the Cleveland Cavaliers, with the winner earning a Playoff matchup against the Eastern Conference's first seed, the Miami Heat.

McCollum leads Pelicans past Spurs

C.J. McCollum was the star of the show as the New Orleans Pelicans defeated the San Antonio Spurs 113-103 to earn a chance at the Western Conference eighth seed.

McCollum was on fire early, particularly in the second quarter, where he went a perfect six-for-six from the field to score 19 points in the period, on his way to final figures of 32 points (12-of-23 shooting), seven assists and six rebounds.

He was supported in style by Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas, who combined for 49 points, 19 rebounds and eight assists, while rookie defensive sensation Herb Jones had two steals and two blocks.

Jones also did a great job on Spurs All-Star Dejounte Murray, holding him to five-of-19 shooting for his 16 points.

With the win, the Pelicans will play the Los Angeles Clippers in a game where the victor will earn a seven-game series against the Phoenix Suns in round one of the Playoffs.

 

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel felt his team's struggles in their defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans reflected a "disjointed" season after they lost 114-111 in a "playoff game".

The Lakers were beaten despite strong performances from their two biggest stars, as LeBron James racked up 38 points and eight rebounds while Anthony Davis returned from injury with 23 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in 37 minutes.

C.J. McCollum and Brandon Ingram combined for 61 points for the Pelicans, who are now almost assured of their place in the play-in tournament.

The Lakers' play-in tournament chances took a massive hit with the loss – which moved their record to 4-16 in their past 20 games – sitting one game behind the San Antonio Spurs in the race for the 10 seed, with a difficult remaining schedule.

Speaking with post-game media, Vogel said he had no choice but to play James and Davis for extended minutes and cut down the rotation.

 "I think potentially [they were affected by fatigue down the stretch], but this was a playoff-mindset type of game, so those guys want to be in there," he said.

"We're communicating constantly throughout the game. I think both of them would say [they did not play too many minutes] – it's a playoff game, you got to be in there, you've got to compete. 

"This was a playoff game for us, so you use the roster however you see fit, given that matchup.

"C.J. McCollum and Brandon Ingram as a tandem, and with [Jonas] Valanciunas, those three guys are as good as just about any three you can put together in the league. That's why they're one of the hottest teams in the league.

"It's why we liked what Avery [Bradley] could bring to the table, and using Dwight [Howard] on Jonas as much as possible, but the guys who fell out of the rotation [including Talen Horton-Tucker and Austin Reaves] was just due to matchup."

Vogel felt the Lakers' issues scoring down the stretch were a microcosm of their campaign.

"I think it's the nature of the disjointed season that we've had – these guys haven't been on the floor in six weeks together," he said.

"We played last night – it was a tough travel situation getting in late and having to play an important game today, we just fell short. Those are the little things that are the difference between winning and losing.

"I won't look at [10th seed] San Antonio at all – obviously we'll find out what their scores look like, but our focus has to be on what we can control, and that's winning the next game."

Zion Williamson's failure to welcome CJ McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans added to a "pattern of behaviour" that shows the former first overall pick to be "a detached team-mate".

That is the view of JJ Redick, a former Pelicans team-mate.

Injuries have limited Williamson to just 85 games in the NBA since he was drafted in 2019, meaning the discussion around the forward has instead centred on his commitment to the Pelicans.

The team have made moves to try to build a competitive team in the absence of a potential superstar, who averages 25.7 points for his career.

But McCollum, the latest recruit from the Portland Trail Blazers, said at the weekend he was yet to speak with Williamson directly.

And Redick, speaking on Tuesday, was able to offer an insight into life alongside the 21-year-old, whose status remains unclear as he waits to play his first game this season following a foot injury.

"This just shows a complete lack of investment in your team, in the organisation, in the city," Redick told First Take.

"I get that he's hurt and away from the team, but you just traded for one of the 50 best players in the league – a guy that's supposed to be paired with you. Reach out and say, 'hello'.

"This is a pattern of behaviour with Zion that we are seeing again and again. I was his team-mate; I can describe him as a detached team-mate – that is an accurate statement."

Redick, who joined the Pelicans at the same time as Williamson and left in March 2021, said: "Yes, he's been amazing when he's been on the court – 100 per cent.

"He's amazing to watch. There's no one that can do what he does on a basketball court.

"But as a team-mate, there is a pattern of behaviour; as a fully invested individual in New Orleans, there's a pattern of behaviour. This is worrisome."

CJ McCollum sealed a move to the Pelicans ahead of the NBA trade deadline as New Orleans and the Portland Trail Blazers announced an initial seven-player deal.

The agreement ends McCollum's long and successful stay with Portland, who acquired him with the 10th overall pick in the 2013 draft.

The 30-year-old shooting guard is averaging 20.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists in an average 35.2 minutes per game this season. His field-goal record (.436) and three-point shot success rate (.384) are both slightly down on his career averages (.453 and .396).

The Pelicans announced his signing in a statement that read: "The New Orleans Pelicans announced today that the team has acquired CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr and Tony Snell in a trade with the Portland Trail Blazers.

"In exchange, New Orleans has conveyed Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Josh Hart, Didi Louzada, Tomas Satoransky, a protected 2022 first round draft pick, and two future second round draft picks."

Including the ongoing campaign, McCollum has averaged at least 20 points per season for each of the last seven years with Portland.

In early December, the Trail Blazers revealed McCollum had suffered a collapsed right lung. He missed 18 games, returning for a January 17 win over the Orlando Magic.

Portland interim general manager Joe Cronin said: "On behalf of the Trail Blazers organisation, I want to thank CJ McCollum for the integral role he has played in the success of the franchise over the last nine seasons and for his countless acts of service to the Portland community.

"CJ has cemented himself in Trail Blazers history with his elite skill level and memorable moments on the court as well as with the work ethic, professionalism and generosity he displays behind the scenes."

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