Lakers provide stiff test, length challenge for Zion

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By all accounts, Zion Williamson has been simply amazing.

While many knew he would be good, did anyone believe he would be this good, especially when you consider that he missed the first 44 games of the season with a knee injury?

Williamson is averaging 22.8 points per game with 7.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists. He is shooting 58.5 percent from the field and has even made 5-of-12 from 3-point range (42%).

The one negative for Zion has come at the free throw line, where he has converted just 57-of-94 attempts (60.6%).

Williamson is getting to the line an average of 7.2 times per game and that may increase as teams double-down on him more in the post and foul him more to prevent easy buckets until he proves that he can make 70 percent or better from the charity stripe.

Thus far, Williamson has looked great in 12 games.

The only exception is when the Pelicans faced the best team in the NBA.

The Bucks (48-8) are the best team in the league. They have no perceivable weakness. Milwaukee has a superstar in Giannis Antetokuonmpo, perhaps the best player in the game. They have great depth, shooters and defend well, largely due to tremendous length.

The latter was the problem for Zion Williamson in the 120-108 loss to the Bucks on Feb. 4 at Smoothie King Center.

Milwaukee used its length and physicality throughout the game against Zion, who did not get many, if any calls. Bluntly, they did a good job of bullying the bully.

You can rest assured that Williamson, a smart, amazingly competitive and obviously uniquely talented player, took notes and filed them away.

Antetokounmpo was a beast, scoring 34 points and pulling down 17 rebounds with six assists. Middleton had 20 points.

Williamson had a good stat line with 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists, but he was just 5-of-19 from the field as New Orleans shot just 38 percent. Brandon Ingram was outstanding with 32 points and seven rebounds but he did not get much support.

New Orleans settled way too much, attempting 49 shots from 3-point range and sinking just 14 (28.5%). As a result, Milwaukee dominated inside, outscoring New Orleans 60-40 in the paint.

The Bucks have Brook Lopez (7’0”), Robin Lopez (7’0”), Ersan Ilyasova (6’9”), D.J. Wilson (6’10”), and, of course, Giannis (6’11”).

The Lakers (43-12) have the second best record in the league. They have no perceivable weakness. Los Angeles has a superstar in LeBron James and a star in Anthony Davis. They have better depth than anyone imagined, shooters, and defend well, largely due to tremendous length.

The latter could be the problem for Zion again. It will certainly be a challenge.

Los Angeles has JaVale McGee (7’0”), Dwight Howard (6’10”), Anthony Davis (6’10”), Kyle Kuzma (6’8”) and, of course, LeBron James (6’9”), all of whom could match up with Williamson.

Without Williamson, the Lakers are 2-0 against the Pelicans. The primary reason is former Pelican Anthony Davis, who has punished his former team twice.

On Nov. 27, Los Angeles rallied for a 114-110 win at New Orleans in a game that the Pelicans outplayed the Lakers most of the way. The Lakers outscored New Orleans 35-21 in the fourth quarter to win as Davis returned to Smoothie King Center and scored 41 points with nine rebounds. James had 29 points and 11 rebounds. They are the best 1-2 combination in the NBA.

The Lakers shot 52 percent from the field while New Orleans shot just 40.5 percent. The Pelicans committed 19 turnovers. Jrue Holiday had 29 points and 12 assists while Brandon Ingram had 23 points and 10 rebounds.

On Jan. 3 at Staples Center, the Lakers prevailed 123-113 over the Pelicans.

The game was not as close as the final score indicated.

Los Angeles had a comfortable 105-83 lead after three quarters as New Orleans was virtually defenseless.

Davis was unstoppable with 46 points and 13 rebounds while James had 17 points and 15 assists. Green was a third cog with 25 points.

The Lakers shot 50 percent from the field while New Orleans shot 47 percent. Lonzo Ball led the Pelicans with 23 points and five assists while Ingram finished with 22 points.

What will the third matchup look like with Zion on the floor against the Lakers for the first time?

Clearly, New Orleans is a much better team with Williamson in so many ways.

With Williamson, the Pelicans have improved their inside scoring, gotten to the free throw line, rebounded better and defended better overall. New Orleans is 8-5 with Williamson on the floor, 17-27 without him playing.

In Los Angeles, it may well come down to the long and short of it. For the Pelicans to win, Williamson will have to play big against a big team, both in physical stature and in the standings.

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Ken Trahan

Ken Trahan

Owner/CEO

Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE Owner and CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association,…

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