Zion Williamson, Pelicans look like true contender in West after beating Suns again for seventh straight win

The New Orleans Pelicans cannot be stopped. With Zion Williamson leading the way yet again, they took down the Phoenix Suns in overtime on Sunday, 129-124, for their second win in three days over last season’s opponent’s playoff, and their seventh consecutive win overall.

With Sunday’s victory, the Pelicans improved to 18-8 and now sit alone atop the Western Conference with a one-game lead over the Memphis Grizzlies. This is the Pelicans’ best start through 26 games in franchise history, and the latest in a season they’ve been in first place since April 11, 2008.

“I think we got a lot of experience from last year’s run,” CJ McCollum said. “A lot of guys who are younger are getting more opportunities to show what they worked on in the summertime. The summertime work is paying off. Understand that we let some games slip away last year against the Suns and we wanted to make sure we take care of homecourt and build winning habits going forward.”

Coincidentally, that 2008 squad was led by Chris Paul. The veteran was back in town this weekend and was one of many Suns players upset about how Friday night’s matchup between the two ended. With the seconds ticking away and the Pelicans up by nine, Williamson threw down a remarkable 360 ​​windmill that sent the Smoothie King Center into raptures and infuriated many members of the Suns.

Paul and Co. had their chance at revenge on Sunday, but couldn’t take it, in large part due to another contentious moment involving Paul and Williamson. Early in overtime, Paul got isolated on Williamson with the shot clock winding down. Unable to shake the big man, Paul went for a step-back 3-pointer and drew a foul. Or so it seemed. Upon review, it was clear that Paul extended his legs to the side in an unnatural motion, and the play was overturned to an offensive foul. Instead of Paul shooting three free throws with his team down by three, he crowded out of the game and the Suns never got any closer.

“That was a big call for us,” Williamson said. “My teammates was hyping me up for getting the stop and he fouled out with that. That was big for us.”

Williamson continued his impressive run of form, finishing with 35 points, eight rebounds and three assists on 14-of-21 from the field. This was his second consecutive 35-point game and his fourth 30-point outing during the Pelicans’ winning streak. With Brandon Ingram sidelined for this run, Williamson has become a true No. 1 option. Over the seven games, he’s putting up 30 points, 9.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists a night, while shooting 66.9 percent from the field.

This is the player we saw during the 2020-21 season when Williamson made his first All-Star appearance. His combination of strength and athleticism is just too much for opponents. Even when teams shift their entire defense to try and stop him, it doesn’t matter; he can jump over, dart around, or power through them.

With Williamson operating at an elite level, the third-best defense in the league (108.4 defensive rating) and Ingram expected back at some point during their upcoming road trip, the Pelicans are looking like a true contender in the West.

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