New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) smiles after making...

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) smiles after making a basket against the Portland Trail Blazers at the end of the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Saturday, March 16, 2024. Credit: AP/Matthew Hinton

NEW ORLEANS — CJ McCollum scored 30 points, Zion Williamson had 26 points and 10 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 126-107 on Saturday night for their sixth victory in seven games.

“It was great to see CJ be aggressive, make some shots,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “That was the difference in the game for sure.”

Brandon Ingram scored 22 points and blocked four shots, and Trey Murphy III added 20 points for the Pelicans, who shot 53.6% (52 of 97) and broke open a competitive game in the fourth quarter.

McCollum made six of the Pelicans' 13 3-pointers to reach 30 points for the fourth time this season. His production marked a sharp uptick from his six previous games, when he scored 14 or fewer points five times and did not score more than 20.

“I had a lackluster couple weeks,” McCollum conceded. “Tonight, I got back to the basics.”

Williamson continued to produce in meaningful games, with his double-double coming after two straight 30-plus-point performances.

“Whatever he decides to do on the floor, when he’s right, he can do it — and rebounding is another component to that,” Green said. “He’s playing really good basketball right now.”

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) shoots against Portland...

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) shoots against Portland Trail Blazers center Deandre Ayton (2) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Saturday, March 16, 2024. Credit: AP/Matthew Hinton

The victory pulled the Pelicans (41-26) within 1 1/2 games of the idle Los Angeles Clippers (42-24) for fourth place in the Western Conference.

Portland guard Dalano Banton scored 28 points, his third time scoring 25 or more points in his last six games, including a career-high 30 points on March 8 against Houston.

“Just trying to envision (the ball) going in and just being confident,” Banton said. “Confidence from your teammates goes a long way. If they tell me to shoot it, they want me to shoot it. So, once you have that, you’ve got to put it up and do it.”

Anfernee Simmons scored 25 and Deandre Ayton had 20 points for the Blazers, who shot 50% (42 of 84).

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) celebrates with forward...

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) celebrates with forward Herbert Jones after making a shot against the Portland Trail Blazers during the final seconds of the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Saturday, March 16, 2024. Credit: AP/Matthew Hinton

But Portland committed 20 turnovers, which led to 31 Pelicans points.

“You can't afford that against a really good team,” Portland coach Chauncey Billups said. “It's tough to absorb that. But I thought we did a pretty good job other than that.”

New Orleans was without defensive leader Herb Jones, who had bruised his elbow and hip on a hard fall during Friday night's victory over the Clippers. The Pelicans also were without reserve forward Larry Nance Jr., who had a non-COVID illness.

Jones' absence appeared to affect the tenor of the game.

“He covers up a lot of our mistakes with his presence and ability to cover space, his closeouts, communication,” McCollum said of Jones. “We picked it up in the second half. We communicated a lot better.”

Both teams shot better than 63% in what had the look of a defense-optional first half, during which Williamson and Banton each scored 20 points.

Williamson was 9-of-11 shooting in the half, scoring mostly on explosive drives. He also converted a couple of alley-oop lobs.

In the final seconds of the half, Williamson rose to grab a contested lob from Ingram on the left side of the hoop and executed an off-balance layup before crashing to the court. That gave New Orleans a 73-68 lead at the break.

Green said his halftime message was: “The first team that decides to play some defense will have an opportunity to win this game.”

New Orleans outscored Portland 42-24 during the final 19 minutes.

UP NEXT

Trail Blazers: Visit Chicago on Monday night.

Pelicans: Visit Brooklyn on Tuesday night.

More NBA news

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