NEW ORLEANS (AP) Zion Williamson took advantage of Joel Embiid's absence and punished the Philadelphia 76ers in the paint.

Williamson scored 33 points, making all but one of his 12 shots, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Sixers 124-114 on Wednesday night.

“He was great. He attacked the basket,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. "Getting to the paint was something we were big on."

The 7-foot Embiid was ruled out shortly before tip-off because of an illness, forcing Philadelphia to manage without its leading scorer, who is averaging 32 points this season and also gives the Sixers a formidable defensive presence in the paint.

“We cannot use that as an excuse, and we won’t," Sixers coach Nick Nurse said. "What put us in a big hole is we didn’t go out and execute our defensive schemes the way we wanted to from the start of the game.”

When Williamson wasn't scoring in the paint, he was getting to the free throw line, where he also went 11 of 12.

He grabbed eight rebounds and added six assists, giving him at least 26 points and five assists in each of his past six games.

“He’s been knocking off some rust," Green said. "You can see he’s getting better and better as we progress. He’s starting to find his rhythm.

“We're putting him in different situations and he's thriving,” Green added. "So, it's fun to see."

New Orleans, meanwhile, got a key player back. Veteran guard CJ McCollum returned from a partially collapsed lung that had sidelined him for 12 games. He scored 20 points in 28 minutes, including a basket in the final minutes to help put away the game.

“I felt like a kid again," McCollum said. "After being injured, and the type of injury that it was, I’m just thankful I can play at a high level.”

Jonas Valanciunas scored 19, Jordan Hawkins added 16 and Brandon Ingram 15 for the Pelicans, who snapped a two-game skid.

Tyrese Maxey scored 33 points and De'Anthony Melton added 17 for the 76ers, who never led and trailed by as many as 16 points in the first quarter. New Orleans took its largest lead at 29 points when Herb Jones' layup made it 94-65 with 4:18 remaining in the third quarter.

The Sixers made a run with mostly reserves on the floor, cutting it to 16 before Nurse choose to put several starters back in for the final minutes, compelling Green to do the same.

“We need to become elite with the small nuances of the game, like tonight, late-game situations,” Williamson said. “We can't just give away 20-point leads like that.”

The game got as tight as 118-110 when Maxey set up Paul Reed for a short hook with 1:47 left.

“We’ve got some fighters on this team, so we were never going to give up,” Maxey said. “We were never going to concede defeat. That’s not in our blood.”

But McCollum responded by hitting a running floater, Valanciunas added a dunk and Williamson hit a layup as New Orleans pulled away for good.

The final box score initially had Williamson as a perfect 11 of 11 from field, which would have made him the first player in franchise history to do that. But it was changed after the game by the NBA, which deemed that Williamson was in the act of shooting when he lost a ball out of bounds while being guarded by Mo Bamba early in the fourth quarter.

“I was just shocked because I thought it was a foul,” Williamson said.

But he didn't seem too upset when he found out it officially went down as his lone missed shot.

“Got to take that one to chin,” Williamson said, laughing. “That's tough.”


76ers: Visit Boston on Friday night.

Pelicans: Host San Antonio on Friday night.



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