Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans opened their NBA season with a punishing 130-108 victory over the star-studded Nets in Brooklyn on Wednesday.
Brandon Ingram scored 28 points and Williamson — playing his first regular-season game in more than 17 months — scored 25 as he returns from the foot injury that sidelined him for a season.
“It’s crazy,” said Williamson, the 2019 top draft pick who at 22 has already battled a raft of injuries. “Simply playing the game I love, that I didn’t get to play for a long time, it was a breath of fresh air.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement,” Williamson added. “I’m still learning my teammates… I’m just excited to go.”
Williamson helped the Pels build an 18-4 lead midway through the first quarter, easily outpacing Brooklyn’s Ben Simmons — another former top draft pick who has also battled injuries.
Australian Simmons made his debut for the Nets, who acquired him from Philadelphia last season as he battled a back injury for which he had surgery in May.
Nets star Kevin Durant, who stayed put in Brooklyn after rocking the league with a trade demand in June, kept the hosts in touch, scoring 21 of his 32 points in the first half.
But the Pelicans out-scored the Nets 40-28 in the third quarter to take control for good. They never trailed and led by as many as 26 points, parlaying 21 offensive rebounds into 36 points.
Ingram was a model of efficiency, racking up his 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting.
In contrast, Kyrie Irving connected on just six of 19 shots for 15 points and Simmons scored just four points before fouling out.
The second night of the season saw a couple of nail-biters, as the Suns erased a 22-point third-quarter deficit to edge the Dallas Mavericks 107-105 in Phoenix. In Memphis the Grizzlies thwarted the New York Knicks’ comeback bid for a 115-112 overtime victory.
The Mavs, led by 35 points from Luka Doncic, appeared to be on cruise control against a Suns team they eliminated in last season’s playoffs.
Despite the struggles of star point guard Chris Paul, the Suns found a way back, slicing the deficit to one point with 1:25 left in the third quarter.
The Suns took the lead on Cameron Payne’s basket late in the fourth, and after Doncic tied it up at 105-105 with 32.8sec remaining, got the win thanks to Damion Lee’s off-balance jumper in the waning seconds.
Devin Booker’s 28 points led five Suns players in double figures, that included reserve Lee, who scored all 11 of his in the final period.
Gobert shines for T’Wolves
Ja Morant scored 34 points and the Grizzlies held on against the determined Knicks, who erased a 19-point deficit and forced overtime on Cam Reddish’s three-pointer.
Memphis were up 115-112 late in the extra session when Tyus Jones missed two free throws and the Knicks got another chance, but Evan Fournier missed the three-point attempt.
“It was down to the team that was getting stops and coming down and executing,” Morant said. “I felt like we did that very well, even though the game was still close… we’re a resilient team and it showed.”
Familiar faces in new places included three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, who scored 23 points and pulled down 16 rebounds in his Minnesota debut to help the Timberwolves beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 115-108.
In Detroit, last season’s top draft pick Cade Cunningham scored 24 points to lead the Pistons to a 113-109 victory over Orlando, but the Magic could celebrate an impressive debut for this year’s No. 1 draft pick Paolo Banchero.
The 19-year-old scored 27 points with nine rebounds and five assists — the best debut numbers for a top draft pick since LeBron James in 2003.
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