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NBA: Zion Williamson powers red-hot Pelicans past slumping Suns

FILE – Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans brings the ball up court against the Charlotte Hornets during their game at Spectrum Center on October 21, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images/AFP

Zion Williamson scored 35 points, Jose Alvarado added 20 off the bench and the red-hot New Orleans Pelicans defeated the visiting Phoenix Suns 128-117 on Friday night.

CJ McCollum added 18 points, Larry Nance Jr. scored 17, Naji Marshall had 14 points and Jonas Valanciunas contributed 12 points and 10 rebounds as the Pelicans won their sixth straight and 11th in 13 games.

Deandre Ayton had 25 points and 14 rebounds, Chris Paul scored 24, Devin Booker and Torrey Craig scored 14 each, Damion Lee had 12 and Mikal Bridges 11 as the Suns lost for the fourth time in five games. Paul added eight rebounds and seven assists.

The teams meet again Sunday in New Orleans.

McCollum and Williamson evenly split the Pelicans’ first 10 points of the third quarter as the hosts took a 65-57 lead.

Paul answered with a 3-pointer, but McCollum scored six points and assisted on a Williamson three-point play as New Orleans opened an 80-64 lead midway through the quarter.

The Suns made four 3-pointers to get within 86-78, and they got within eight twice more before Devonte’ Graham scored the final five points of the period to give the Pelicans a 95-82 lead.

Lee started the fourth quarter by making consecutive 3-pointers and Paul added three 3-pointers to pull Phoenix within 100-99.

Craig made consecutive 3-pointers and Payne’s 3-pointer gave the Suns a one-point lead with 4:28 to go.

McCollum answered with a 3-pointer, Nance scored seven and Williamson threw down a pair of dunks as New Orleans pulled away.

After missing his first five shots, Booker made a 3-pointer and a dunk to give the Suns a 23-14 lead.

Alvarado came off the bench and immediately made a 3-pointer that started an 8-0 Pelicans run as they trimmed the lead to 27-26 at the end of the first quarter.

Williamson’s layup started the second-quarter scoring, giving the Pelicans the lead in a back-and-forth period.

The score was tied seven times and the lead changed hands seven times, the last being when Alvarado made three free throws to give New Orleans a 49-47 lead. Williamson added two baskets and the Pelicans held a 55-52 lead at halftime.

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