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Minnesota Timberwolves sunk by New Orleans Pelicans, Luka Doncic dazzles for Dallas Mavericks

LOS ANGELES – An “aggressive” Zion Williamson erupted for 36 points as the New Orleans Pelicans exploited the absence of Anthony Edwards to upset the Minnesota Timberwolves 121-107 on Dec 11 in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

He said: “I can’t just take a back seat or kind of be too laid-back. So, my thought process was to be aggressive. My teammates trust me.”

Williamson spearheaded a dominant offensive performance by New Orleans, who bounced back superbly after being bullied into defeat by 44 points against the Los Angeles Lakers in last week’s in-season tournament.

He said of that loss: “That was a bad performance. It doesn’t take rocket science to see that. We kind of went into the game too lackadaisical. There was no focus, there was no effort… That wasn’t a good moment for us.”

The 23-year-old, in particular, was panned for his performance then – he scored 13 points on eight shots and finished with just two rebounds.

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On Dec 11, C.J. McCollum added 23 points, while Brandon Ingram weighed in with 20 to fire the Pelicans to a deserved victory over the NBA Western Conference leaders. The defeat snapped Minnesota’s six-game winning streak, although they remain clear at the top of the table with a 17-5 record.

McCollum said: “Zion was sharp, aggressive, very assertive. He was locked in. He’s doing a great job responding well to a lot of criticism around him.”

With the victory at Smoothie King Centre, New Orleans improved to 13-11 and are 10th in the Western standings.

Elsewhere, Luka Doncic inspired the injury-hit Dallas Mavericks with 35 points, eight rebounds and six assists in a gutsy 120-113 road win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Mavs, missing Kyrie Irving, Grant Williams and Tim Hardaway Jr among others, took the lead eight minutes into the first quarter and kept their noses in front to claim victory. Mavs coach Jason Kidd saluted Doncic’s leadership in galvanising an understrength Dallas line-up at FedExForum.

“You’ve seen enough of him that he believes anytime he takes the floor he has a chance to win. His leadership of always getting that group together, making sure everybody’s on the same page, he’s done that all year for us,” he said.

“That just shows his leadership, his maturity. He’s growing. On the road, against a talented team, we found a way to win, but it starts with Luka and he set the tone.”

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It was another in a sequence of Most Valuable Player-calibre performances from Doncic, who has now scored 30 or more points in his last seven games. “Leadership is important. This year has been way better for me,” he said.

In other games, the San Antonio’s woes continued with a franchise-record 17th straight defeat in a 93-82 loss to the Houston Rockets. The Spurs (3-19) stay rock bottom of the Western Conference.

San Antonio’s No.1 draft pick Victor Wembanyama led his team’s scoring with 15 points but the Spurs were always struggling after converting only five successful three-pointers from 41 attempts from beyond the arc.

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“They played their ass off. They played a great game,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “But you’ve got to make a shot in the NBA – you can’t shoot five for 41 from three… it just makes it very, very difficult.”

Jamal Murray’s 29 points plus another 25 points from Nikola Jokic helped NBA champions the Denver Nuggets to a 129-122 road win over the Atlanta Hawks.

Bogdan Bogdanovic made 40 off the bench – including a remarkable 10-of-17 from three-point range – but it was not enough to get Atlanta over the line.

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In Philadelphia, Joel Embiid’s 34 points stole the show as the Sixers crushed the Washington Wizards 146-101 while in Milwaukee, the Bucks held off the Chicago Bulls 133-129 in overtime. Giannis Antetokounmpo topped the Milwaukee scoring with 32 points with 12 rebounds and six assists as Chicago’s challenge fell short despite 41 points from DeMar DeRozan and 33 from Coby White. AFP

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