The weekend began with the basketball equivalent of a thunderclap. Zion Williamson, noted NBA behemoth, capped off his team’s then-sixth-straight win on Friday with a 360 slam dunk that ignited a firestorm. The Phoenix Suns, who had just suffered their then-third-straight loss thanks to Zion’s New Orleans Pelicans, 128-117, weren’t too fond of Williamson’s dunk. It was seen as disrespectful by some — Chris Paul, for one, who took out his frustration by elbowing Jose Alvarado. The game was over; the dunk was unnecessary.
The people who are right, however, view it differently. They see it as electric, exhilarating, badass. These are two teams with history: they met in the first round of the 2022 postseason, and though Phoenix won the series in six games, New Orleans left a significant mark, both on the Suns, and on the Western Conference. They were without Williamson for that series, and the team’s undying effort — from Alvarado’s national emergence to Herb Jones’s coming out party as one of the league’s premier defenders, despite being just a rookie — seemed to put them on the map.
That series itself was electric; Zion’s dunk on Friday felt like something of an extension of that impressive six-game effort. It was a statement, a loud and proud “f*** you” to not just the Suns, but the Western Conference. As of today, after yet another win over Phoenix on Sunday, the Pelicans sit atop the West at 18-8, and have won a league-best seven straight games. It’s an incredible ascent from possible threat to outright contender. For the benefit of the sport, I hope it continues.
Let’s dive into Sunday’s NBA action.
Pelicans win seventh straight, get by Suns in OT, 129-124
His dunk on Friday felt too important to not talk about in today’s open, but what Zion Williamson has done this season as a whole has been nothing short of special. After missing all of last season with a foot injury, he’s returned with a vengeance, and spends his nights regularly putting the league on notice. He’s averaging 24.5 points on 61 percent shooting, and just happens to be adding 7.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Over his last six, though, he’s scoring 31.2 points per game; he’s gone for 70 combined in his last two, both against Phoenix.
Also? He has a nickname I didn’t know about: Zanos, a play on Thanos, the notorious Marvel villain. I mean, it totally fits, but has he ever actually been called that? Zion has a great ring to it already. Honestly, Basketball-Reference should be investigated for some of these nicknames. (Has a soul on planet Earth ever referred to Malcolm Brogdon as “Mookie Dew”?)
Hawks stun Bulls behind AJ Griffin’s last-second layup, 123-122
You simply must see how this game ended in order to believe it. I’ve watched it three or four times now and I still do not know how AJ Griffin got this shot off in time.
Joel Embiid goes for 50 (again), Sixers drub Hornets, 131-113
He makes it look casual sometimes. Embiid’s second 50 spot of the season (he actually had 53 on Sunday) comes against the lowly Hornets, sure, but it’s impressive nonetheless. On top of the win and the epic personal outing, Embiid made history: He became the third player in 76ers history to have multiple 50-point games in the same season (Allen Iverson in 2000-01 and 2004-05; Wilt Chamberlain in 1965-66 and 1967-68). It was also the 30th game in Embiid’s career with 40 points and 10 rebounds. Wilt is the only other Sixer to ever pull that off. Just saying.
Lakers end three-game skid against Pistons, win 124-117
It’s never pretty for these guys, is it? Even against the Detroit Pistons — who have lost three in a row and sit at the bottom of the East at 7-22 — the Lakers can’t muster a much-needed blowout win. The bench is a collection of players that might genuinely struggle to find minutes on 75 percent of NBA rosters, but hey, at least LeBron James and Anthony Davis are still kicking. L.A.’s All-Star duo combined for 69 points; Davis was particularly special, as he added 15 rebounds and seven assists to his 34 points in the too-tight win.
Knicks win fourth-straight in quasi-blowout of Kings, 112-99
The Knicks offense really seems to be coming alive. Julius Randle and RJ Barrett each scored 27 points in New York’s fourth-straight win. Better yet, Randle scored all 27 in the first half, and was ejected in the third quarter after picking up a second tech. And the Knicks still held off an always-feisty Sacramento squad. It might be their signature win of the season.
Rockets upset Bucks, 97-92
A game where both teams finish with fewer than 100 points should feel like finding a unicorn on the side of the road, or a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I just feel like I watched a really ugly game that the Rockets — thanks in large part to Jalen Green’s 30 points — somehow won. Oh, well.
These jerseys, though? Heat.
Magic win third straight game, second straight over Raptors, 111-99
Apparently, the Magic didn’t win three in a row at any point last season. The team’s last three-game winning streak was in February 2021. I imagine they’re celebrating this streak properly. As a matter of fact, let’s check in from our satellite feed in Orlando: