Zion Williamson

Pelicans Notes: Travel Issues, Williamson, Slump, Murphy

The inclement weather that grounded the Pistons in Dallas and forced a postponement of Wednesday’s Pistons/Wizards game is also wreaking havoc on the Pelicans, who are scheduled to play in Dallas on Thursday.

After facing the Nuggets in Denver on Tuesday, the Pelicans have been unable to fly into Dallas on Wednesday and now intend to stay another night in Denver, according to Christian Clark of NOLA.com (Twitter link). A source tells Clark that the Pels’ plan is to fly into Dallas on Thursday in advance of the evening game vs. the Mavericks.

According to Marc Stein (Twitter link), the Pelicans – who practiced in Denver on Wednesday – had been considering a handful of options to get to Dallas, including a “less-than-inviting” scenario that would have seen them fly into Oklahoma City today and then take a bus the rest of the way. Flying on Thursday is the best-case scenario of those options, Stein adds (via Twitter).

Here’s more on the Pelicans:

  • After being limited to stationary shooting and dribbling, Zion Williamson was cleared on Tuesday to begin running as part of his rehab from a right hamstring strain, Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report said on TNT’s Tuesday night broadcast (Twitter video link). The Pelicans plan to reevaluate Williamson next Tuesday, but don’t want to set a timeline yet for his return to action.
  • It was a brutal month for the Pelicans, who were a half-game behind Denver for the Western Conference’s top seed when January began and now find themselves holding the last play-in spot after losing 13 of 16 games, Clark writes for NOLA.com. The team has been without star forwards Williamson and Brandon Ingram for extended periods this winter, but doesn’t want to use that as an excuse. “No one feels sorry for us,” Larry Nance Jr. said. “That’s the reality of it. No Z, no B for an extended period of time. Threw off our rhythm a little bit. It’s hard to pick back up. After being first in the West, we have a target on our back. This schedule has been pretty unforgiving. We have to throw the first punch.”
  • Pelicans wing Trey Murphy confirmed that he has accepted an invitation to participate in this year’s Slam Dunk Contest in Salt Lake City and tells William Guillory of The Athletic that he’s looking forward to trying to make his mark on the event. “I’m pretty excited. There are definitely some high flyers I’m going against,” Murphy said of reported participants Kenyon Martin Jr., Shaedon Sharpe, and Mac McClung. “I know those guys are going to come with some great dunks. I’ve seen some of the dunks they’ve done in the past. That just makes me want to come in and do even better.”

Antetokounmpo, James Head All-Star Starters; Embiid Falls Short

Lakers forward LeBron James tied Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Thursday with his 19th NBA All-Star selection. James, who currently shares the record with Abdul-Jabbar for most All-Star Games played with 18, was chosen as a starter, according to a league press release.

All of the starters were revealed on Thursday night.

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, Warriors guard Stephen Curry and Mavericks guard Luka Doncic were the other starters chosen out of the Western Conference. James will serve as a team captain for the sixth straight year, since he received the most votes.

Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, named a team captain for the third time, heads the list of starters out of the Eastern Conference. Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, Nets forward Kevin Durant, Nets guard Kyrie Irving, and Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell will join him, but the league’s second-leading scorer, Sixers center Joel Embiid (33.4 PPG), didn’t garner enough votes.

The starters are selected by a weighted voting process with the fan vote accounting for half of the final outcome. The player and media portions of the vote each counted for 25 percent. Three frontcourt players and two guards were selected from each conference.

Embiid finished third in the player and media voting among Eastern Conference frontcourt players but fourth in the fan voting. All voting results can be found here.

The game will be played Feb. 19 in Salt Lake City. James and Antetokounmpo will choose their teams shortly before the game begins. James will set the league record for most All-Star appearances if he plays, since Abdul-Jabbar did not play in the 1973 game after being chosen.

The reserves, which are chosen by the league’s coaches, will be announced Feb. 2.

Pelicans’ Zion Williamson Out At Least Two More Weeks

The Pelicans announced in a press release that star forward Zion Williamson was recently reevaluated, and while he is “making good progress” in his recovery from a right hamstring strain and is “healing as expected,” he will be out for at least two more weeks. He’ll be evaluated again at that time.

Williamson sustained the hamstring strain on January 2 against Philadelphia. He has missed the last three weeks with the injury.

At the time he was injured, the Pelicans were 23-14 and held the third-best record in the Western Conference. They have gone 3-7 in their 10 most recent games without Williamson, including four consecutive losses, to fall to 26-21, the fourth-best record in the West.

The 22-year-old was having a stellar season prior to his latest injury, averaging 26.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.1 steals while shooting 60.8% from the floor and 71.4% from the line through 29 games (33.0 minutes per contest). He almost certainly would have earned his second All-Star nod had he stayed healthy, and there’s still a chance he gets voted in, but it’s looking doubtful that he’ll return before the break and be able to participate in the exhibition game at this point.

Until Williamson and Brandon Ingram (toe) are able to return to the lineup, New Orleans will continue to lean on players like CJ McCollum, Jonas Valanciunas and Trey Murphy, among others, for offensive production. Ingram and fellow forward Naji Marshall (toe) have been ruled out for Tuesday’s contest against Denver, per head coach Willie Green (Twitter link via Christian Clark of NOLA.com).

Southwest Notes: Ingram, Zion, Tillman, Sengun, Porter

The Pelicans were able to survive for a while with Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson both injured, but their current 3-8 stretch is raising concerns, writes William Guillory of The Athletic. New Orleans has fallen into fourth place in the West amid a prolonged January slump. The team ranks 22nd in the league in offensive rating and 24th in defensive rating during the month and is coming off three straight double-digit losses.

“We have to find our defensive identity. Right now, we’re not guarding the way we’re capable of,” coach Willie Green said. “Those are things that we can control. We can make a decision as a team that we want to guard better. We just haven’t been doing it.”

Green is hoping to see his team respond better without Ingram and Williamson because there’s no timetable for either of them to return. Ingram hasn’t played since November 25 because of a left big toe contusion, and a report this week suggested some members of the organization are becoming impatient with his long absence. Williamson has a strained right hamstring, and Guillory doubts that he’ll be back before February or possibly even the All-Star break.

“We have a ‘next man up’ mentality, but it’s always nice to have two All-Stars in the rotation,” Trey Murphy said. “That’s just the bottom line. You’re missing about 40 points on a very low night. You’re getting at least 40 from those two.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Grizzlies power forward Xavier Tillman talks to Spencer Davies of Basketball News about how he tries to stay sharp despite limited playing time. Tillman is averaging 11.3 minutes in 27 games and usually isn’t part of the rotation unless somebody is hurt, so he’s been doing extra work in practice and asked the coaching staff to let him play in the G League. “Being in a (Memphis) Hustle game allowed me to just play and play in a real game,” Tillman said. “So when I got my opportunity called — like now due to injury — I was ready to go and ready to help the team in all ways.”
  • The Rockets are misusing second-year center Alperen Sengun on offense, which makes it difficult to judge his long-term value, Sam Vecenie of The Athletic states in a discussion with fellow Athletic writer Kelly Iko. Vecenie sees Sengun as an exceptional ball-handler and passer, but says the team’s guards frequently don’t get the ball to him when they should. That combined with his shortcomings on defense are limiting his effectiveness.
  • Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. missed his fifth straight game tonight with a left foot contusion. His condition will be reevaluated in about a week, tweets Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle.

Southwest Notes: Morant, Brooks, Zion, Pelicans, Wright

Grizzlies star Ja Morant is being sued, according to TMZ Sports. The lawsuit was reportedly filed by a 17-year-old who was playing a pickup game at Morant’s home over the summer. The two got in a verbal altercation and the teenager threw the ball at Morant’s face, with Morant punching him in return.

The point guard admitted to striking the teenager, per TMZ, but said it was in self-defense after he’d been threatened. Police investigated the incident and referred the matter to the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office, which declined to press criminal charges, as Lucas Finton of The Memphis Commercial Appeal relays.

Here’s more from the Southwest:

  • Morant and the rest of the Grizzlies appreciate Dillon Brooks‘ contributions, even if some question his shot selection, per ESPN’s Tim Bontemps (Insider link). “He’s the head of the snake on the defensive end for us,” Morant said. “Guards the best player, takes on that challenge every single day. Obviously when he’s out there, being Dillon, he gives us a lot of energy. And then once he goes to the offensive end and makes shots, it’s hard for teams to guard us.”
  • Expect the Pelicans to be very cautious with Zion Williamson‘s hamstring strain — they can be very tricky injuries and are prone to being aggravated if not fully healed, writes William Guillory of The Athletic. Williamson is officially out at least three weeks, but Guillory thinks it will be longer than that. He also expects Brandon Ingram to return to action pretty soon, though it’s hard to say exactly when — the forward has been dealing with a big toe sprain, but has been ramping up his practice activity.
  • Mavericks point guard McKinley Wright IV, who is on a two-way contract, has been getting some run lately with so many key rotation players injured. He’s grateful for the opportunity to play NBA minutes, as Eddie Sefko of Mavs.com writes. “It’s been a dream come true for me,” Wright said. “Everybody’s dream is to play in the NBA and I’ve been earning pretty valuable minutes to help contribute to our winning. Right now, that’s defending the ball, bringing energy off the bench and using my speed to get downcourt. I’m thankful to be in the position I am.” The former Colorado star has primarily played in the G League in his first two pro seasons.

Zion Williamson Has Hamstring Strain, Out At Least Three Weeks

Pelicans forward Zion Williamson will be sidelined a minimum of three weeks due to a right hamstring strain, the team’s PR department tweets.

Medical imaging confirmed the injury that Williamson suffered during the second half of Monday’s game against Philadelphia. He’ll simply be reevaluated in three weeks, meaning he could be out longer than that. The Pelicans have 15 games remaining this month.

It’s obviously a significant blow for New Orleans, which has emerged as one of the Western Conference’s top contenders. The Pelicans have a 23-14 record, third-best in the West behind Denver and Memphis.

Williamson, who missed all of last season due to a foot injury, was well on his way to an All-Star season. He’s averaging 26.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 33 minutes per game. He was signed to a five-year max extension in July despite playing in a combined 85 games in three seasons after being the top pick of the 2019 draft.

The Pelicans have been without Brandon Ingram since Nov. 25 due to a left great toe contusion. He’s listed as out once again for Wednesday’s game against Houston, the team tweets.

If Ingram can return soon, it would certainly soften the blow regarding Williamson’s latest ailment. Naji Marshall, Larry Nance Jr. (also out on Wednesday due to right shoulder soreness) and Jaxson Hayes could also absorb some of Williamson’s minutes.

Southwest Notes: Williamson, Popovich, Pelicans, Jackson Jr.

Zion Williamson suffered a right hamstring strain in the second half of the Pelicans’ loss to Philadelphia on Monday. Williamson, who scored 26 points before departing, will undergo some additional evaluation to determine the severity, according to Willie Green, Christian Clark of the New Orleans Times-Picayune tweets.

“That was extremely difficult,” the Pelicans head coach said. “It was at a pivotal moment during the game. We’ll get some imaging and look at him. Hopefully, he’s OK. Tough loss for us.”

Williamson has appeared in 29 Pelicans games this season after sitting out last season with a foot injury.

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • The Spurs’ Gregg Popovich says he’ll knows it’s time to retire when he loses his enthusiasm for coaching his team to play the right way, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News tweets. “I think a little voice in my head will tell me, ‘That’s enough.’ If I’m tired of telling somebody, ‘Why are you getting beat back door so much? Can you please stay in front of somebody?’…When I stop wanting to do that, I will know,” he said.
  • Not only do Memphis fans consider their team the real deal, the rest of the league now considers the Grizzlies a true threat, Mark Giannotto of the Memphis Commercial Appeal opines. They emerged from their toughest nine-game stretch of the schedule thus far with a 5-4 record, with those victories coming by double digit margins.
  • Continuing with that storyline, The Athletic’s John Hollinger notes that the Grizzlies’ defense has been top-notch since Jaren Jackson Jr. returned to action. Jackson is blocking 5.8 shots per 100 possessions this season, by far the best in the league, and has been a force on both the perimeter and the paint in coverages.

Injury Updates: Finney-Smith, Green, Beal, Williamson, Payne

Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith will be out for several more games. He’ll be reevaluated in two weeks, per coach Jason Kidd, Eddie Sefko of Mavs.com tweets. Finney-Smith hasn’t played since Dec. 19 due to a groin injury. Guard Josh Green, who has been out since Dec. 9 due to a sprained right elbow, will get an examination on Friday.

We have more injury-related news:

  • On a night when the Wizards finally had a full, healthy roster, star Bradley Beal departed with just over four minutes remaining on Tuesday due to left hamstring soreness, according to Josh Robbins of The Athletic. Beal has been limited to 23 games this season after missing time with thigh and right hamstring injuries.
  • Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, who has missed three games due to a stint in the league’s health and safety protocols, is listed as probable to play on Wednesday against Minnesota, according to a team press release. Herbert Jones, who was also placed in protocols over the weekend, is listed as questionable.
  • Suns guard Cameron Payne, who has not played since Dec. 13 due to a right foot strain, is hopeful of returning during the team’s in-progress six-game road swing, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic reports. “It’d be hard just sitting back and watching, but kind of got to fight through the discomfort,” Payne said. “Just try to get me back to 100%. Just get me back to normal. I think I’m getting close. It’s been a rough two weeks, week and a half, but it’s coming to a close. Just getting close.”

Southwest Notes: Grizzlies, Z. Williams, Zion, Spurs

The Grizzlies have become a target since Ja Morant proclaimed they don’t fear any other Western Conference contender, but Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal writes that it’s going to take a lot more than Sunday’s loss to the Warriors to shake their confidence.

The Christmas Day showdown was filled with the chippiness that has defined the rivalry between the two teams since last season’s playoffs. Golden State had six technical fouls, Draymond Green yelled toward Morant after blocking one of his shots, Klay Thompson taunted Dillon Brooks, and Jordan Poole was ejected in the fourth quarter.

Both teams have a tendency to be vocal, and Desmond Bane explained that it’s part of the Grizzlies’ personality.

“That’s in us,” he said. “That’s not something that comes and goes. It’s what we believe, it’s how we we feel. There ain’t nothing that’s going to change this swag. We can go on a six-game losing streak, and we’re still going to carry the same swag and same chip on our shoulder at all times.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Grizzlies forward Ziaire Williams continues to struggle after missing the first 24 games of the season with right patellar tendinitis, Cole adds in the same story. Williams made just one of five shots from the field Sunday, but he believes he’s headed in the right direction. “I’m confident right now, to be honest with you,” Williams said. “I’m just not making shots. If I make two more shots per game, I’m playing well and it’s a whole different perspective. I’m sticking with it.”
  • The Pelicans are listing Zion Williamson as doubtful for Monday’s game against the Pacers, citing “return to competition reconditioning,” according to Jim Eichenhofer of NBA.com. It would be the third straight missed game for Williamson, who is part of a long injury list for New Orleans.
  • Like many young teams, the Spurs are still learning how to be competitive for all 48 minutes of a game, per Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. The team suffered through lopsided stretches in a pair of losses last week at New Orleans and Orlando. “We are still a young group, but we have smart players, young guys who want to listen and get better,” Josh Richardson said. “Hopefully, one of these days it really starts kicking in. I think it just takes us stringing together a couple of games where we do play that full 48 to see what it looks like, to see how hard you have to play the whole game. Then, hopefully, that becomes the standard.”

Southwest Notes: Wood, Williamson, Hayes, Wembanyama

Christian Wood is “open” to signing an extension with the Mavericks, Tim MacMahon of ESPN tweets. Wood became eligible this weekend to sign an extension for as much as four years and $77MM.

“I’m happy to be here,” the Mavericks big man said. “That’s what I’ll say. The vibe is good. … I’m open to it.”

On Christmas Day, Wood had arguably his best game since being acquired by the Mavericks from Houston during the offseason. He piled up 30 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, four steals and two blocks in a victory over the Lakers.

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • Zion Williamson is no longer in the league’s health and safety protocols, ESPN’s Andrew Lopez tweets. He’s not listed on the injury report heading into the Pelicans’ game against Indiana on Monday. Williamson missed two games this past week.
  • Jaxson Hayes has been buried on the Pelicans’ bench, but with Williamson out on Friday, Hayes produced his best outing of the season, William Guillory of The Athletic notes. Hayes had 21 points, six rebounds and four assists against the Thunder. “As a player, you never want to be out of the rotation, but obviously things happen. … Having this opportunity to come back in and show what I can do still was really nice,” Hayes said. The Pelicans will have to extend Hayes a qualifying offer, currently valued at $9,170,460, to make him a restricted free agent next summer.
  • Adding Victor Wembanyama in the draft would make the Rockets a true title contender, according to Sam Vecenie of The Athletic. Jabari Smith Jr. and Wembanyama would make them equally adept in the frontcourt on both ends, Vecenie continues, while Wembanyama would play well off 2021 lottery pick Jalen Green in two-man offensive settings. Vecenie and Kelly Iko take a closer look at Houston’s young core, as well as other fits in next year’s draft.