For the second time this season, New Orleans Pelicans’ “debut” rookie Zion Williamson was disrupted by a minute constraint that kept him off the floor of a nearby game in the final minutes.
Williamson made his debut on January 22, and after his 17-point explosion nearly knocked the roof off the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, the rookie headed for the bench for the 5:23 final and the Pelicans ended up losing to the San Antonio Spurs.
On Thursday night, as the NBA resumed its season with Williamson and the Pelicans in the first game, he again missed the last minutes of what turned into a loss in New Orleans 106-104 at Lake Utah in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
Williamson was ready to play a predetermined number of minutes and reached his quota when he left the fourth quarter and stayed 7:19 when New Orleans remained on the four-point lead. He didn’t return even when they took the lead in Jazz, or with the remaining 6.9 seconds, when the Pelicans had a chance to tie or win two.
“Of course we would like us to play it down, but we used the minutes we were given, and that’s it,” said Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry.
“We didn’t want to keep him there. Medical people said we played them in the minutes that allowed us to play it, and just moved on. I thought he looked good, I thought he had some good times and of course we are much better and different when he’s out on the floor. ‘ “
Asked if it was just a fitness problem with Williamson – who missed the first 43 games of the season due to knee surgery – Gentry said, “the minutes told me he could play, and that’s what I did.”
Overall, Williamson played 15 minutes against jazz and scored 13 points in a 6-of-8 shot. For the first time in his young career, the NBA was not eliminated. He also committed three fouls, had two turns and was his career worst minus-16.
Williamson said it was “not just conditioning,” but a return to his movement and a sense of play.
“This is the NBA, he’s the best player in the world and you want to feel comfortable,” said Williamson. “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 be prone to family medical emergency and returned on July 24. When he returned to the NBA campus, he had to quarantine for four days.
He left the quarantine on Tuesday and joined the Pelicans so he would not do any 5-on-5 or 3-on-3 work. It was playing time for jazz openers.
Williamson said the team didn’t hold him back and although he wanted to be on the floor in the fourth quarter, he could easily stand him completely.
How long will it take for him to come back?
“Honestly, I don’t know how long it will take,” Williamson said. “I think maybe a few games.”
Williamson claimed that he had no obstacles to conditioning, but mentioned that he felt like January when he sat down again.
The loss fell from New Orleans to 4.5 games after the eighth seed at the Western Conference with seven games. New Orleans returns to action Saturday against the LA Clippers and then Memphis Grizzlies takes eighth place on Monday.