New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson, who left the NBA's bubble in Orlando, Florida, last week for a family emergency and had to clear quarantine upon his return, played just 15 minutes in Thursday's 106-104 loss to the Utah Jazz.
"It's not even just conditioning. It's just getting my flow to the game back," he said postgame of his limited playing time, per ESPN's Andrew Lopez. "This is the NBA, this is the best players in the world, and you want to feel comfortable. I don't want to hurt my team more than I helped them in a sense, if you understand me."
Ben Golliver @BenGolliver
Pelicans’ Zion Williamson, kept to 15 minutes in bubble opener, said he hasn’t suffered any medical setbacks & added that sitting during crunch time isn’t solely due to conditioning. “It’s just getting my flow to the game back... I don’t want to hurt my team more than I helped.” https://t.co/uK7FROHrW7
ESPN's Rachel Nichols passed along quotes from both Williamson and Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry in which the forward expressed some frustration and the coach suggested there was a minutes restriction:
Rachel Nichols @Rachel__Nichols
Zion is asked about the Pelicans: "They weren't holding me back. Yeah, I wanted to be out there; but was just working my way back into my flow. That's all it is......It is frustrating, but it's not so frustrating because I could easily - they could probably not even let me play."
New Orleans blew a 16-point advantage, and the Jazz took the lead for good on Rudy Gobert's two free throws with 6.9 seconds remaining. Brandon Ingram had an opportunity to win it at the other end, but his three-pointer rimmed out at the buzzer.
Williamson was on the sidelines for the closing stretch after checking out with more than seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. He impressed in his limited action and scored 13 points while finishing multiple lobs from his teammates.
It is encouraging for New Orleans that Williamson played well with the team in a fight for a playoff spot with just seven seeding games remaining.
The Pelicans are four games behind the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies and a half-game behind the Portland Trail Blazers and Sacramento Kings in the key race for the No. 9 seed. If the No. 9 seed is within four games of the No. 8 seed following the eight seeding games, the teams will face off in a play-in tournament for the final playoff spot.
New Orleans may have the highest ceiling in that group. Williamson soars for dunks, Ingram creates scoring opportunities as a go-to option, Jrue Holiday and JJ Redick provide veteran leadership, and Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart are key contributors.
Things won't get easier for the Pelicans when they face the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday, but Williamson will likely see more time as he builds his way toward being a more integral part of the rotation in these important contests.