Southwest Notes: Murphy, Williamson, Brooks, Tillman

Pelicans wing Trey Murphy tore the meniscus in his left knee in September, missing the first 19 games of New Orleans’ season. The injury was a major setback for a player who had increased his scoring average from 5.4 points per game in 2021/22 to 14.5 last season, establishing himself as one of the Pelicans’ key rotation pieces.

Murphy made his 2023 season debut on Friday, immediately picking back up where he left off. He scored 18 points in his return and helped the Pels to a 15-point victory over the Spurs.

He’s been a big part of our success the last two seasons,” coach Willie Green said, per Christian Clark of “We all were rallying for him to get on the floor and get back. It was like he didn’t miss a beat. Now it’s about building that chemistry with everyone on the team.

The Pelicans, who have dealt with a litany of injuries over the past few seasons, are getting healthier and healthier. The only rotation player currently dealing with a long-term injury is Larry Nance Jr., who is out four-to-six weeks, a far cry from what the injury report has looked like in season’s past.

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • Pelicans star forward Zion Williamson is expected to play in the team’s Saturday matchup against the Bulls, according to Green (Twitter link via ESPN’s Andrew Lopez). Lopez notes that this would be the first back-to-back Williamson has played this season. The two-time All-Star is averaging 23.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists this season.
  • The Rockets entered Friday tied for the fourth-best defense in the league, in large part to wing Dillon Brooks‘ contributions on the floor, according to The Athletic’s Kelly Iko. Iko breaks down Brooks’ unique approach to defense, including the fact that he guards players in an unconventional way — by clapping in their face. “I feel like everyone in the league knows I slap people’s hands on jump shots after the ball’s released,” Brooks told The Athletic.So it puts a thought in their mind that when I close out, you’re not getting a free shot. When they work out, they’re so used to following through. But when I close out, I like to mix in different things like that.
  • Grizzlies center Xavier Tillman played in Memphis’ Friday matchup with the Mavericks (Twitter link via team), playing 21 minutes and helping the Grizzlies to a 14-point win. Tillman had appeared in just one game since Nov. 3, so his return to the lineup is welcome for a Memphis team that won back-to-back games for the first time this season.
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