LOS ANGELES (AP) — LeBron James sees a long, prosperous future ahead of Zion Williamson and the up-tempo New Orleans Pelicans.
In the immediate present, James and Anthony Davis are a whole lot closer to basketball’s ultimate goal, as they proved in their first meeting with their fellow number one overall draft pick.
James had 40 points and eight rebounds in his first career meeting with Williamson while leading the Los Angeles Lakers to their sixth straight victory, 118-109 over New Orleans on Tuesday night.
Williamson had 29 points and six rebounds in his first showdown with James and Davis, his predecessor as the Pelicans’ centrepiece.
James and Williamson still haven’t talked, but the 35-year-old James sees greatness in the teenager.
“He’s playing exceptional basketball,” James said. “I think his game is going to get better and better, just having that experience. I think today’s game is the perfect fit for his game. The high pace, the way they play, it fits his game. … It works perfectly, and our game is so many possessions now, so much space, it’s perfect for his game, so he’s doing exceptionally well with that.”
Williamson was still injured for the Pelicans’ first two meetings of the season with the Lakers, but his delayed debut in Hollywood was as entertaining as everyone hoped. In his 13th NBA game, Williamson scored at least 20 points for the ninth consecutive time, but managed only one field goal in the fourth quarter.
“It was a great experience,” Williamson said. “He’s an incredible player. His resume speaks for himself. … He handled business. He came out here and did what he had to do to help his team get the win.”
The Lakers still haven’t lost to the team with which they made the blockbuster summer trade that has appeared to benefit both teams. Davis has been just as good as the Lakers hoped in propelling them back to NBA championship contention, while the Pelicans are getting an All-Star season from Brandon Ingram alongside Williamson in an increasingly potent core.
Davis had 21 points, 14 rebounds and six blocked shots while improving to 3-0 against New Orleans. Davis and Williamson briefly were theoretical teammates during the time between the draft and Davis’ departure for the Lakers, and Williamson admitted he entertained the idea they might play together, even though Davis had requested a trade.
“He’s a great player,” Davis said of Williamson. “He’s got a quick first step. Very explosive. He’s going to continue to get better and better as he goes on.”
Although Davis missed 15 of his 21 shots and failed to score 40 points against New Orleans for the first time, James picked him up with a masterfully efficient, 17-for-27 performance that included five three-pointers.
In the Lakers’ first game after an emotional memorial service for Kobe Bryant at Staples Center on Monday, James opened up a close contest with back-to-back buckets at the rim with about three minutes left. Danny Green sealed it for Los Angeles with his fifth three-pointer with 51 seconds to play.
Ingram had 34 points against his former team, but just six in the final period as New Orleans lost for only the second time in seven games.
Williamson had several impressive dunks in his usual fearsome floor game, and only six missed free throws kept him from surpassing his career high of 32 points.