Pelicans run past Pistons 104-98 to win five straight; take West’s top spot

Zion gets another double-double with 29 points and 10 rebounds
New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) celebrates with guard Trey Murphy III (25) in...
New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) celebrates with guard Trey Murphy III (25) in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons in New Orleans, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022. The Pelicans won 104-98. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)(Gerald Herbert | AP)
Published: Dec. 8, 2022 at 9:04 AM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - There’s a new sheriff in town.

Following a 104-98 win over Detroit Wednesday (Dec. 7) night, and with Phoenix losing to Boston, the New Orleans Pelicans move to No. 1 in the Western Conference standings.

The win is the Pelicans’ fifth straight and they have won 10 out of their last 12 games. Overall, New Orleans has the third-best record in the entire NBA.

New Orleans has been playing without key players for much of this stretch, C.J. McCollum missed significant time with COVID-19 symptoms and Brandon Ingram (toe contusion) and Herb Jones (ankle) have missed several recent games as they work through their injuries. One constant throughout the recent stretch of good games has been now-healthy franchise star Zion Williamson, who currently leads the team in scoring with 23.9 ppg while shooting a team-high 59.6 percent from the field.

Zion continued his current hot streak on Wednesday against the Pelicans with a stat line of 29 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 block, and 1 steal.

While a young and scrappy Pistons team played better than what their 7-20 record indicates, in the end, defensive they could never match the physicality of Zion. In one of his biggest plays of the night, Pistons guard Cory Joseph tried to stop Zion on a drive by practically tackling him in the lane. Zion went down to the floor, tossed the ball up, and scored the two points anyway before he went to the foul line.

Zion responded by crouching down and motioning to the floor saying “too small” to fire up his teammates on the bench and the crowd in the Smoothie King Center.

Defenses have been hacking Zion in the lane all season, but the star forward said in postgame that it’s something he’ll continue to play through.

“I grew up playing on a court called McLeod Park in Florence, South Carolina,” Zion said. “All the adults tell you there that it’s where boys are turned into men. You don’t call fouls. You just kind of play through it, and I think that’s what allows me to get a lot of and ones and finish through contact.”

In the absence of Ingram, Trey Murphy III has become Zion’s best compliment on the floor. He scored 20 points, including sinking 4 of his 9 shots beyond the arc. He also grabbed 5 boards and dished 5 assists.

Fan favorite Jose Alvarado missed much of the second half following a bruised rib injury. After his exit, forward Naji Marshall answered the call from the bench to be the game’s “X-factor”. With 29 seconds left in regulation, Marshall crashed the offensive glass to put a bucket back up to extend the Pelican lead to 100-94m helping seal the win. He finished his night with 17 points.

Detriot tried to get physical to slow down the Pelicans, who hold the NBA’s fifth-best scoring offense. When things got chippy, Marshall was ready for battle.

“Yeah, Naji was great,” said Pelicans coach Willie Green. “That’s part of what he does. If guys are out there trying to be physical, and I won’t say illegal but not the best play, he’s going to stick up for his teammates and that’s what we’re about. We cover for each other.”

Starting center Jonas Valanciunas was steady again with 14 points and 12 rebounds for New Orleans.

Saddiq Bey led the effort for the Pistons with 25 points.

Next up, the Pelicans will host Phoenix at home for two straight games on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and again on Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

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