CHICAGO (AP) — Zion Williamson saw the championship banners and could only imagine what the atmosphere was like when Michael Jordan was leading the Bulls to a pair of championship three-peats in the 1990s.
Fair to say, it was a little louder.
Williamson scored 21, JJ Redick added 18 points and the New Orleans Pelicans hung on to beat Chicago 125-119 yesterday.
“When I was here for shootaround … I wondered what it was like when Jordan was playing here,” Williamson said. “Six finals, 6-0, that had to be something special.”
Williamson had nine points as New Orleans outscored Chicago 31-19 in the third quarter to break open the game. The Pelicans led by as many as 27 points and withstood a big run down the stretch by the Bulls’ backups to come away with the win after back-to-back losses.
Williamson didn’t seem to be too bothered by a sprained right toe. The number one overall draft pick made 9 of 11 shots, including a thunderous alley-oop early in the fourth quarter, after going five of 19 two nights earlier against the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks.
Redick hit three three-pointers, and All-Star Brandon Ingram added 15 points and five assists before leaving with a sprained right ankle in the third.
Zach LaVine led Chicago with 22 points. Chandler Hutchison scored 16 points to go with eight rebounds, and Adam Mokoka added 15 in the fourth quarter — the first points of his career. In his sixth NBA game, the rookie from Paris was even serenaded with “MVP! MVP!” chants in the closing minute as the Bulls whittled away the lead.
They cut it to 123-119 with six seconds left on Ryan Arcidiacono’s three. But Jahlil Okafor tipped in a missed free throw by Jaxson Hayes to make it a six-point game.
“You know, the game was over in my book,” LaVine said. “I don’t know what we were cheering for. I’m happy for Adam, but that game was over. We lost.”
The trade deadline passed with the Bulls standing pat and insisting they remain committed to their young core despite a 19-33 record.
Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson said the team “absolutely” believes long term in LaVine and Lauri Markkanen. While LaVine came into the game averaging a career-high 24.9 points, Markkanen has taken a step back in his third season.
Paxson insisted the Bulls still view the seven-footer from Finland as a “cornerstone player” and it’s the organisation’s “responsibility to help him become the player he wants to be.” He said he talked to Markkanen’s agent on Thursday and was given no indication he wants out of Chicago, though Paxson did acknowledge the Bulls need to give him a bigger role on offence.
For now, Markkanen needs to heal after missing his seventh game in a row with a right hip injury. Paxson expects him, as well as Otto Porter Jr (broken left foot) and Wendell Carter Jr (sprained right ankle), to return at the end of the month or in early March.