Pelicans Rumors

Zion Williamson To Sit Out Friday’s Game

Rookie forward Zion Williamson won’t play for the Pelicans on Friday night against Washington, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). The team has confirmed the news.

The Pelicans have been exercising caution this summer with Williamson, who left the Walt Disney World campus in July and has been seeing his minutes gradually increase over the last week. Friday’s game is the second half of a back-to-back set, after Zion logged 22 minutes on Thursday vs. Sacramento.

While it’s not a major surprise that New Orleans is playing it safe with its most valuable long-term building block, Friday’s game is essentially a must-win if the Pelicans want to keep pace in the race for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot. They’re currently two games behind Portland for the No. 9 seed and 2.5 games back of the eighth-seeded Grizzlies, with just four to play.

Of course, with or without Williamson in the lineup, the Pelicans will be favored over the Wizards, who are 0-4 during the restart and will be the first of the 22 teams in Orlando eliminated from postseason contention if they lose tonight. And while the sample size is small, it’s worth noting that the Pelicans have been a much better team through the four seeding games with Zion off the court (+5.2 net rating) than on it (-22.8).

After tonight, the Pelicans will have crucial matchups on tap with the Spurs (Sunday) and Kings (Tuesday) before finishing their summer slate next Thursday vs. Orlando. It may take a 4-0 record down the stretch for New Orleans to keep its season alive and qualify for a play-in tournament.

Southwest Notes: Zion, J. Jackson, Belinelli, Cash

After playing limited minutes and sitting in crunch time during the Pelicans‘ first two games – both losses – Zion Williamson logged 25 minutes and was a key contributor down the stretch as New Orleans closed out a Monday win over Memphis. After the game, Williamson told ESPN’s Malika Andrews that he “felt alive again,” per Andrew Lopez of ESPN.

“I ain’t gonna lie to you, it’s just different in a bad way when I’m on the bench in the fourth quarter, and there’s nothing I can do to help my team win,” Williamson said. “So I said I felt alive — it was just great to be out there doing whatever I can to help my team win.”

In addition to Williamson’s contributions, the Pelicans also got 24 points and some key late baskets from Brandon Ingram, while Josh Hart chipped in 15 points and Lonzo Ball was a game-best +15. The performances prompted head coach Alvin Gentry to praise his young core after the win.

“When you have two really young players (Williamson and Ingram) like that who stepped up for you, and Josh Hart, you know, Josh is a very young kid, too,” Gentry said. “I think if you look at it, we have a good, young nucleus of players along with some of the veteran guys we have.”

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer explores the impact that losing Jaren Jackson Jr. will have on the Grizzlies‘ push to secure a playoff spot. As O’Connor writes, Memphis is well ahead of schedule in its rebuild and should be pleased with the season as a whole, but there’s a chance it will end on a “decidedly sour note.”
  • Speaking of Jackson, he’s staying at the Walt Disney World campus for now, according to Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins (Twitter link via ESPN’s Malika Andrews). However, Jackson may need to leave at some point for treatment and/or rehab work related to his meniscus tear, Jenkins acknowledged.
  • Spurs guard Marco Belinelli, who sprained his left ankle during the team’s first game of the restart last week, is active today after missing a pair of games, tweets Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News.
  • David Aldridge of The Athletic takes an in-depth look at Pelicans VP of basketball operations and team development Swin Cash, who is the first Black woman to hold such a high-ranking basketball ops position for an NBA franchise.

Community Shootaround: Western Conference Playoff Race

When the NBA’s restart got underway last Thursday, the Grizzlies were in the driver’s seat for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, with at least a 3.5-game cushion on each of their five potential challengers. However, a slow start from the Grizzlies – who have lost three consecutive games to teams chasing them – has created a fascinating, wide-open race for that final playoff spot in the West.

After an 0-3 start, Memphis’ lead for that No. 8 spot is down to 1.5 games, and all five of their challengers are now within 3.5 games. To make matters worse, the Grizzlies will be without key big man Jaren Jackson Jr. for the rest of the season due to a meniscus tear, and the team’s schedule isn’t getting any easier. Contests against Utah, Oklahoma City, Toronto, Boston, and Milwaukee are on tap for the Grizzlies, who will have to hope that some of those Eastern teams are locked into their seeds by the last week of the season and decide to rest some starters.

The Trail Blazers, who currently hold the No. 9 spot, have looked like the biggest threat to Memphis so far in Orlando. With Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins healthy again, Portland is nearly at full strength and has recorded impressive wins over the Grizzlies and Rockets, sandwiching a tough loss to Boston. The Blazers are only a year removed from appearing in the Western Conference Finals. After struggling for much of the season, they’ve recently played more like the 2018/19 squad than the team that went 29-37 before the hiatus.

The Spurs and Suns have also looked rejuvenated since the season resumed. They own a combined 5-1 record so far, with the only blemish coming on Monday, when San Antonio lost a 132-130 heart-breaker to Philadelphia. The Spurs were four games out of the playoffs when the restart began, and the Suns were six games back, but they’re now within just two games and three games, respectively.

The Pelicans got off to a slow start last week, but their schedule is so forgiving that they’re still in a pretty good position to push for the No. 8 or 9 seed. After beating the Grizzlies on Monday, the Pelicans will play their final five seeding games against teams with losing records — Washington, San Antonio, Orlando, and Sacramento (twice). With Zion Williamson rounding into form, New Orleans has the most favorable schedule of any Western playoff contender.

Of course, those two games against the Kings loom large. Sacramento has been one of the summer’s most disappointing teams so far, having lost winnable games to San Antonio, Orlando, and Dallas. But the Kings are still just 3.5 games back of the Grizzlies and aren’t dead yet — those two games against the Pelicans will be massive, and Friday’s matchup against Brooklyn is certainly favorable.

No matter what happens over the next week-and-a-half, it looks like a near certainty at this point that we’ll get a play-in tournament for the No. 8 seed. The No. 8 team can only avoid a play-in tournament by finishing more than four games ahead of the No. 9 team, and right now even the 13th-seeded Kings are withing four games of Memphis.

Positioning will be crucial though. Only two teams can participate in that play-in tournament, so finishing 10th means little. Conversely, finishing in eighth place is massive, since it means only having to win once in the play-in tournament, rather than twice. At this point, there’s no guarantee the Grizzlies hang onto the No. 8 spot entering a play-in tournament — there’s even a chance they could slip to 10th or lower.

We want to know where you stand on the Western Conference playoff race. Has your opinion changed at all through the first six days of summer games? Which two teams do you think we’ll see in a play-in tournament? Which club do you expect to ultimately claim the No. 8 seed and face the Lakers in the first round of the postseason?

Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your thoughts!

Southwest Notes: Zion, Burke, Doncic, Harden

Zion Williamson played just 14 minutes in Saturday’s blowout loss to the Clippers, and his time is expected to remain limited in Monday’s showdown with the Grizzlies, according to Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Williamson was barely a factor yesterday, making 3-of-7 shots and committing three turnovers in the 23-point defeat. The Pelicans came to Orlando with hopes of reaching the playoffs, but have now dropped to 12th place with six games remaining.

The team was heavily criticized for not using Williamson down the stretch of its opening loss to the Jazz, but vice president David Griffin explained yesterday that the star rookie didn’t have much practice time to get back into game shape after the four-month hiatus. Williamson briefly left the Walt Disney World campus to tend to a family matter and was quarantined upon returning.

“It makes sense to me that there’s so much attention — obviously, he’s a phenom,” Griffin said. “The league office itself takes as much interest in this as the fans do, and I’m grateful, frankly, that the fans take as much interest as they do. What I’m frustrated by is that there has to be a conspiracy theory involved when literally there’s not one thing different that’s being done with him than was done for every player on this roster when we got here, and he missed 13 days of what those guys got. Now all of the sudden, because the stakes are raised and because, unfortunately, we were selected for seven national (television) games, we’re supposed to reinvent the wheel.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Trey Burke had a memorable debut with the Mavericks, scoring 31 points and hitting eight 3-pointers Friday night, but barely played in the fourth quarter as Dallas saw a big lead slip away, writes Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News. “I think some of the guys on the side were wondering the same thing,” Burke said, referring to his teammates. “I just got here. I know Coach has a lineup at the end of the game that he trusts at this point.” Coach Rick Carlisle explained that Burke, who was signed as a replacement player for Willie Cauley-Stein and has only been in Orlando for about a week, was tired late in the game.
  • The Mavericks feature an offense that statistically ranks as the NBA’s best ever, but they have trouble holding onto leads, notes Tim MacMahon of ESPN. Luka Doncic believes that will eventually change with experience. “We’re a young team. We’ve got a lot to learn,” he said. “We’ll get better for sure. I know we’re going to get together when it matters most in the playoffs, so I’m not worried about that.”
  • Ahead of their meeting tonight, McMahon examines the history of the feud between Rockets star James Harden and the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, which began with last year’s MVP race.

Latest On Pelicans’ Plan For Zion Williamson

With just eight seeding games to put themselves in position to knock off the Grizzlies for West’s final playoff spot, the Pelicans let the first one get away on Thursday, falling to Utah in a 106-104 nail-biter. After the game, as Jeff Duncan of The Athletic writes, the team faced questions about its usage of Zion Williamson, who was limited to 15 minutes and didn’t play during crunch time.

“I was told the minutes he could play and that’s what I did,” said head coach Alvin Gentry, indicating that the Pelicans’ medical staff came up with the plan and minutes restriction for Williamson. “I don’t know what the numbers are or anything. That would be something that you would have to ask the medical team.”

Pelicans executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin spoke to reporters on Friday in an effort to provide additional clarity, pointing out that every Pelican player started out at around 15 minutes in the team’s first scrimmage before eventually ramping up (Twitter link via Andrew Lopez of ESPN).

According to Griffin, New Orleans’ practice schedule in Orlando has made it difficult to quickly get Williamson up to full speed and improve his conditioning, but the young forward has been putting in extra work on the side to accelerate that process (Twitter link via Will Guillory of The Athletic).

Griffin added that the former No. 1 overall pick isn’t expected to play “significant minutes” on Saturday against the Clippers and may not on Monday against the Grizzlies either (Twitter link via Lopez).

With every game on the schedule of the utmost importance, Griffin’s update may frustrate Pelicans fans. However, it’s worth noting that the team may have a point about Williamson’s conditioning — although he scored 13 minutes in his 15 minutes on Thursday, he didn’t grab a single rebound, and the team had an atrocious 164.3 defensive rating when he was on the court, having been outscored by 16 points.

Those numbers weren’t all Williamson’s fault, but they suggest he wasn’t having the sort of elite impact on the game he normally would. In his 19 games prior to the hiatus, the Pelicans had a +10.4 net rating in Zion’s minutes. That number was -60.8 on Thursday.

Williamson A Big Focus Of Restart

Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson is among the top stars to watch in the NBA’s Orlando season restart, according to Scott Kushner of Kushner notes that the league’s unique eight-game seeding play-in approach was clearly designed to imbue value to the Pelicans’ eight contests, and to allow a debut Williamson playoff appearance to be possible.

This play-in option, which equips the teams in the West seeded ninth to 13th with a theoretical chance of making the playoffs in a knockout two-game wildcard bout with that No. 8 seed, would benefit a team like the eleventh-seeded Pelicans, who fall to a 28-37 record after their loss to the Jazz tonight.

Zion Williamson To Play On Thursday

JULY 30: Williamson will be active on Thursday vs. the Jazz, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports (Twitter links). Although Zion won’t have a set minutes restriction, he’s expected to play in “short quick bursts,” Haynes adds.

JULY 29: The availability of Pelicans star rookie forward Zion Williamson for his team’s first seeding match on Thursday against the Jazz will be a game-time decision, according to head coach Alvin Gentry, writes Andrew Lopez of ESPN.

Williamson cleared his on-campus quarantine on Tuesday, having returned to the league’s Orlando restart campus last week after tending to a pressing family matter. He will have practiced twice with his team ahead of Gentry’s decision tomorrow.

Gentry did acknowledge during a press conference today that Williamson took part in five-on-five drills on Tuesday. Zion engaged in a light-contact practice with the Pelicans today, per Mark Medina of USA Today (Twitter link).

Williamson has no reservations about his preferences for tomorrow’s contest in Orlando. “If you know me, I want to hoop,” Williamson said. The No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA draft has been limited to just 19 contests out of a possible 64 this season, though his play has lifted New Orleans to the brink of playoff contention.

Williamson boasts a terrific slash line of 23.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, and 2.2 APG, while shooting 58.9% from the field and 46.2% from long range. For the 2019/20 season, the Pelicans are 11-8 with Williamson and 17-28 without him.

Gentry noted that the Pelicans’ medical staff would determine whether or not there would be a minutes restriction on Williamson, should he indeed suit up on Thursday, according to Andrew Lopez of ESPN (Twitter link). Williamson had no known medical issues prior to departing the Orlando campus earlier this month.

Zion Williamson Clears Quarantine, Set To Practice With Pelicans

JULY 28: Williamson has cleared quarantine and will practice with the Pelicans on Tuesday evening, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (via Twitter).

It remains to be seen whether Williamson will be available when New Orleans’ season resumes in just over 48 hours, but the fact that he’s set to return to practice on Tuesday is a positive sign. As Wojnarowski notes (via Twitter) that will give him two practices before the team has to decide his status for Thursday.

JULY 27: The Pelicans are hoping to get Zion Williamson back at practice by Wednesday after his four-day quarantine period ends, executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin tells Malika Andrews of ESPN.

“In theory, his quarantine would end Tuesday afternoon-ish,” Griffin said of the star rookie. “The problem is he has to test and get the results before they release him.”

After initially reporting to the NBA’s Walt Disney World campus with the rest of the Pelicans, Williamson left on July 16 due to an urgent family matter. He was away for a little over a week before returning to Orlando on Friday.

According to Griffin, Williamson was able to conduct some light workouts while he was away from the campus and has been given a yoga mat and a few other pieces of workout equipment while he quarantines in his hotel room. However, the Pelicans will have to see how the former No. 1 overall pick responds to Wednesday’s practice before determining whether he’ll be available for the club’s first seeding game on Thursday vs. Utah.

“Literally any player on our roster who went 13 days without doing any physical activity, it isn’t going to be a given that we would just cut them loose in that next game,” Griffin told Andrews. “Particularly a player that generates as much torque as he does. So we will see where he’s at.”

Zion Back On Campus, Could Play On Thursday

JULY 25, 10:06am: Williamson’s Orlando quarantine that began Friday night will last four days, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets. If he’s cleared, he will be eligible to play in the team’s seeding opener on Thursday.

JULY 24th, 7:25pm: Pelicans superstar rookie forward Zion Williamson returned to the Orlando campus on Friday, the team’s PR department tweets.

Williamson was tested daily for COVID-19 while away from the team and produced negative results each time. He is required to quarantine immediately, per NBA protocol.

The team is awaiting word on the number of days he’ll be required to quarantine, according to Andrew Lopez of ESPN. However, even if the league clears him, it’s not a slam dunk that New Orleans will play him in its first seeding game on Thursday. The team will be cautious with its prized rookie since he’s been away for more than a week and will have to sit idle for a few more days, Lopez adds (Twitter link).

Williamson left Orlando on July 16 for what was described as an “urgent family matter.” He expressed his gratitude to well-wishers in a statement issued on Friday, Lopez relays in another tweet.

“My family and I appreciate the love and respect that everyone showed us while we dealt with a private family matter,” Williamson said. “I’m excited to rejoin my team in Orlando and look forward to getting back on the court with my teammates after quarantine.”

No Timetable Yet For Zion Williamson’s Return

The Pelicans have issued an update on forward Zion Williamson, who left the NBA’s Disney World campus last week to attend to an urgent family matter. While the Pelicans say that Williamson “fully intends” to rejoin the team, there’s still no timetable for his return to the campus, per today’s announcement.

Williamson has been getting tested for the coronavirus on a daily basis while he has been away from the club and continues to return negative results, according to the club. That’s good news for the Pelicans. Based on the NBA’s protocols, that means the star rookie should be quarantined for as few as four days once he eventually reports back to Disney.

Given Williamson’s ongoing absence, it seems increasingly unlikely that he’ll participate in any of the Pelicans’ exhibition scrimmages within the next week. New Orleans’ regular season schedule will resume on July 30 when the team faces Utah in the first official game on the NBA’s summer calendar. It remains to be seen whether 2019’s first overall pick will be available for that contest.

Williamson has averaged 23.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, and 2.2 APG in 19 games (29.7 MPG) in his first NBA season, and figures to play a key part in the Pelicans’ quest to secure a playoff spot in the West. New Orleans is currently 3.5 games back of the Grizzlies and can force a play-in tournament by remaining within four games of Memphis while finishing ahead of Portland, Sacramento, San Antonio, and Phoenix.