Zion's minutes kept in check, sits late in Pels' loss

by 24USATVJuly 31, 2020, 8 a.m. 29
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Zion Williamson gets loose prior to Jazz vs. Pelicans and is active for the NBA bubble restart. (1:00)

For the second time this season, New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson's "debut" was marred by a minutes restriction that kept him off the floor of a close game in the final minutes.

Williamson debuted Jan. 22, and after his 17-point outburst nearly blew the roof off the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, the rookie headed to the bench for the final 5:23 and the Pelicans ended up losing to the San Antonio Spurs.

On Thursday night as the NBA restarted its season with Williamson and the Pelicans in the first game, he was again absent in the final minutes in what turned into a 106-104 New Orleans loss to the Utah Jazz in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Williamson was set to play a predetermined number of minutes and had reached his quota when he exited in the fourth quarter with 7:19 remaining as New Orleans clung to a four-point lead. He did not return even as the Jazz took the lead, or with 6.9 seconds remaining as the Pelicans had a chance to tie or win, down two.

"Of course we wish we could've played him down the stretch, but we used the minutes that were given to us and that's the way it is," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said.

"We weren't going to stick him back out there. The medical people said we played them in the minutes that were allowed for us to play him, and just move on. I thought he looked good, I thought he had some good moments, and obviously we're a much better and different team when he's out on the floor."

Asked whether it was purely a conditioning issue with Williamson -- who missed the first 43 games of the season because of knee surgery -- Gentry said, "I was told the minutes that he could play, and that's what I did."

In total, Williamson played 15 minutes against the Jazz and scored 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting. He did not pull down a rebound for the first time in his young NBA career. He also committed three fouls, had two turnovers and was a career-worst minus-16.

Williamson said it's "not even just conditioning" but getting back his flow and feel for the game.

"This is the NBA, this is the best players in the world, and you want to feel comfortable," Williamson said. "I don't want to hurt my team more than I helped them in a sense, if you understand me."

Williamson left the Orlando bubble on July 16 to tend to a family medical emergency and returned on July 24. Once he was back on the NBA campus, he had to quarantine in his hotel room for four days.

He left quarantine Tuesday and joined the Pelicans for practice but did not do any 5-on-5 or 3-on-3 work. He practiced again with the team Wednesday -- although Gentry called that a light practice -- and went through shootaround Thursday morning. He was a game-time decision for the opener against the Jazz.

Williamson said the team wasn't holding him back and although he did want to be on the floor late in the fourth quarter, the team could easily have held him out completely.

So how long will it take to get his flow back?

"Honestly, I don't know how long it'll take," Williamson said. "I guess maybe a couple games."

Williamson maintained that he hadn't had any setbacks while conditioning but mentioned it felt like January again when it came to sitting out down the stretch.

The loss dropped New Orleans to 4.5 games back of the eighth seed in the Western Conference with seven games to play. New Orleans returns to action Saturday against the LA Clippers before taking on the eighth-place Memphis Grizzlies on Monday.

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