Zion scores 25 points in return, the Pelicans beat the Nets 130-108

NEW YORK (AP) – Zion Williamson returned from a yearlong layoff with 25 points and nine rebounds to lead the New Orleans Pelicans to a 130-108 season-opening win over the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night.

The No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft looked fully recovered and explosive after sitting out a broken right leg, and his addition to a roster that made the playoffs without him could make the Pelicans a team on the rise in the Western Conference.

Ben Simmons also returned to action after a missed season, but had the misfortune of having to cover Williamson for much of the short time he was in the game. He fouled out at the beginning of the fourth quarter with four points, five rebounds and assists, along with three shots.

Brandon Ingram scored 28 points and CJ McCollum scored 21 for the Pelicans, who finished last season strong and opened this season impressively. Jonas Valanciunas had 15 points and 13 rebounds.

Kevin Durant scored 32 points, but was mostly on his own, with no Nets player in double figures until the final two minutes of the third quarter. Patty Mills had 16 points and Kyrie Irving had 15 on 6-for-19 shooting, 0-for-6 from 3-point range.

The 6-foot-6, 285-pound Williamson was quick to rebound and strong in his moves to the paint, displaying a level of athleticism that is rare even in the NBA. His dunk that shook the basket with about 8 1/2 minutes left drew some of the few such cheers from a dejected crowd that watched the home team never lead and never trail by as many as 26.

It was already 7-0 before Simmons scored Brooklyn’s first basket of the season. The Pelicans took a 20-4 lead, and Williamson’s layup made it 32-14 after one.

New Orleans led comfortably for most of the first half, but the Nets finally got it back to double digits when Nic Claxton blocked Williamson’s dunk attempt and Durant knocked down a 3-pointer to make it 54-45.

It was 58-50 at halftime before Ingram scored 12 points and Williamson added 11 on 5-for-6 shooting in a 40-point third as the lead grew to 26 before the Pelicans went on a 98- 78 in the quarter.

It was a bad way to start the season for a Nets team desperate to forget last year. A first-round exit — when Simmons never played because of a back problem after being taken over by James Harden — gave way to a tumultuous offseason in which Durant demanded to be traded and the Nets declined to extend Irving’s contract, forcing him to pick up his option for this one and allowing it to be his last in Brooklyn.


Pelicans: Coach Willie Green said he could tell during the Pelicans’ playoff run last season that Williamson had moved on from disappointment over his injury rehab to excitement about playing again. “It’s very hard to go through injuries, especially when you’re really young and you’re working your tail off to try to be ready to come in and help your team and have a setback,” Green said. “So he had to go through all those things. Now he’s coming back this offseason, he’s been in the gym all season and that smile is real.” … C Jaxson Hayes (torn elbow ligament) is “very close” to returning, Green said.

Nets: Brooklyn was missing its top two outside shooters, with Joe Harris (sore left foot) and Seth Curry (left ankle) not ready to start the season. … Irving addressed the crowd before the game and asked for the return of WNBA star Brittney Griner from a Russian prison. “You’re all doing your job. Please bring our sister home,” Irving said.


Pelicans: At Charlotte on Friday night.

Nets: Host Toronto on Friday night.


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