Duke in the NBA: Tatum and Banchero lead top Eastern Conference teams, Williamson productive in return

Paolo Banchero has led the Orlando Magic to second place in the Eastern Conference.
Paolo Banchero has led the Orlando Magic to second place in the Eastern Conference.

With a quarter of the NBA season in the books, former Duke standouts are excelling throughout the pros. The Blue Zone is here to recap a few of their recent performances:

Jayson Tatum keeps the Celtics atop the Eastern Conference

Despite the Celtics' early quarterfinal exit from the first NBA In-Season Tournament, Tatum has continued his case for the 2024 NBA MVP. However, the St. Louis native did not have his best shooting night against the Cavaliers Tuesday night. He shot 36.8% from the field and 22.2% from 3-point distance. Still, despite his off-shooting night, Tatum collected 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, and his subpar shooting percentage did not stop his team from overcoming its slow start and squeezing past Cleveland for the 120-113 win. As Tatum and the Celtics will face off against fellow Duke basketball alum Paolo Banchero and the Magic Friday, Tatum will look to relight his offensive fire and keep his team’s place atop the Eastern Conference.

Paolo Banchero blossoming with a young Orlando team

In his sophomore season with the Magic, Banchero has continually extended his basketball prowess, leading his team to one of the biggest turnarounds this season. The Magic have not won more than 34 games for the past four seasons, but this season, they have already collected nearly half of that and are on pace for a 50-plus win season. The 2023 NBA Rookie of the Year has taken charge in Orlando and leads his team in points and assists. The 6-foot-10 forward briefly went down in the third quarter of Orlando’s home win against Cleveland with an ankle injury, but he was quickly cleared for play and returned in the fourth quarter, pulling off a double-double in the process. As Banchero and the Magic look towards their matchup against Tatum and the Celtics, Banchero’s health and success on both sides of the ball will be pivotal for an Orlando win. 

Zion Williamson excelling in his return

Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans have had an up-and-down season. In his last two games, a win at Sacramento and a loss against the Lakers, the Spartanburg, S.C., native only scored 10 and 13 points, respectively. However, in New Orleans’ Monday night game against the Timberwolves, Williamson flipped an offensive switch at exactly the right time. The 6-foot-6 forward recorded a season-high 36 points as he led his team to an upset win against the team currently sitting atop the Western Conference. Even though the NBA playoffs are months away, the Pelicans currently sit right on the cusp of earning a spot in the play-in tournament, and Williamson’s burst of energy has come at exactly the right time. But, his sizable contribution to New Orleans may be missing as it suits up against the Washington Wizards due to a reported ankle sprain. It does not appear to be a major injury, but if Williamson misses an extended period of time once again, it could be detrimental for his team. 

R.J. Barrett a steady presence for New York Knicks 

With the addition of Jalen Brunson to the New York Knicks, Barrett has seen his offensive production slightly decrease for the Knicks as the duo of Brunson and Julius Randle has taken on the brunt of the offensive output for the team. Still, Barrett proved that he is an integral piece of the puzzle for New York as it pulled out a big win against the Toronto Raptors in Madison Square Garden. The Mississauga, Ontario, native put up a season-high 27 points and shot an impressive 52.4% from the field. Barrett, Brunson and Randle's combined efforts have proven to be a lethal combination for the Knicks, especially if Barrett continues to put up impressive shooting numbers. As the season continues, look for Barrett to continue improving and contribute more to the Knicks' offensive scheme.

Lebron James sports Duke on his shoes

James debuted the new Duke Nike Lebron 21 player exclusive's in the Lakers' game against the Mavericks. Although Dallas came out on top, James scored 33 points in the contest, along with nine assists and eight rebounds. Duke men's basketball also got pairs of the kicks earlier this week, showing them off on the team's social media. 


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