April 22, 2021

Zion starts but doesn’t finish in loss to Jazz

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Zion Williamson was limited to 15 minutes of playing time in the New Orleans Pelicans’ loss to the Utah Jazz as the NBA season resumed on Thursday night.

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Williamson completed the Pelicans’ opening possession by slicing through two converging Jazz defenders and laying the ball in off the glass with his left hand as he was fouled.

It was an auspicious beginning to a performance that was efficient and produced some dazzling moments – while it lasted.

Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz handles the ball against the New Orleans Pelicans on July 30, 2020 at HP Field House at ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Florida. 2:46
Highlights of the Utah Jazz’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans at the HP Field House in Orlando

The Pelicans stuck to a cautious plan to ease Williamson back into action after he missed nearly two weeks of practice this month while attending to a private family medical matter. Perhaps just a few more minutes on the court for the NBA’s top overall draft choice would have made a difference in a 106-104 loss to the Utah Jazz on Thursday night.

“It is frustrating, but it’s not so frustrating,” Williamson said, noting the Pelicans “could probably not even let me play. But I am able to play, so I am going to do as much as I can while I am out there.”

Zion Williamson heads to the bench during the Pelicans' loss to the Jazz
Image: Zion Williamson heads to the bench during the Pelicans’ loss to the Jazz

Williamson scored 13 points in about 15 minutes, using spin moves and explosive drives to hit contested, leaning lay-ups. He also used a sudden spin to leave defender Georges Niang flat-footed in the high post and then raced to the hoop to throw down Lonzo Ball’s alley-oop lob from near half court. He later added another dunk on an alley-oop feed from Jrue Holiday.

“He looked good,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “He had some good moments and obviously we are a much better and a much different basketball team when he is out on the floor.”

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But with 7:19 left in the fourth quarter, Williamson checked out for good and watched the tense final minutes from the sideline.

“Of course we wish we could have played him down the stretch, but he had used the minutes that was given to us so that’s the way it is,” Gentry said. “We weren’t going to stick him back out there.”

 Lonzo Ball #2 of the New Orleans Pelicans grabs the rebound during the game against the Utah Jazz during a game on July 30, 2020 at The HP Field House at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida. 0:31
Lonzo Ball scores thanks to this great assist by Zion Williamson in the third quarter of the game between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Utah Jazz

Right knee surgery forced the 6ft 6in, 285lb Williamson to miss the first 44 games of his rookie season and the team also limited his minutes when he first came back, putting his career longevity first. But in 19 previous games since being activated in January, he averaged 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds.

Williamson was able to practice only twice from the time he rejoined the Pelicans this week before the NBA restarted its pandemic-altered season on Thursday night at Disney’s Wide World of Sports.

The Pelicans now have seven games left to make a playoff push, starting on Saturday against the LA Clippers.

“As a competitor, I do want to be out there doing whatever I can to help my team win,” Williamson said.

His obstacle to more playing time, he said, is “not even just conditioning. It is just getting my flow to the game back. This is the NBA. It is the best players in the world and you want to feel comfortable. I don’t want to hurt my team more than I help them.”

Based on Williamson’s production whenever he has played, that would seem unlikely.

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