Zion Williamson lofts a shot over Utah's Rudy Gobert

Zion Williamson will be game-time decision for Utah game Thursday

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

Basketball fans everywhere, not just New Orleans Pelicans supporters, would love to see Zion Williamson play in Thursday’s official restart to the NBA’s 2019-20 season. It’s not a lock that the No. 1 overall draft pick will be available against the Utah Jazz, however. Following a light Wednesday practice in Orlando, Pelicans fifth-year head coach Alvin Gentry described Williamson’s status as a “game-time decision.” The 20-year-old rookie has now practiced twice since he exited the NBA campus July 16 to attend to an urgent family matter.

“It’s going to be a game-time decision,” Gentry said. “We’ll talk about it tonight, talk about it again tomorrow. Obviously it all depends on how he’s feeling.

“(His minutes are) something I’ll leave up to the medical staff. Obviously as a coach, you want him out there as much as possible. We have (medical staff) who are better equipped to make those decisions than I am, from a health standpoint and minutes-played standpoint.”

“(We) are looking at what’s best for me and my future, being safe,” Williamson said of what will go into the decision on playing Thursday. “But if you know me, I want to hoop. That’s just how I am. I’m never going to change. I’m going to want to hoop – it’s as simple as that.”

Williamson indicated multiple times Wednesday that he feels excellent physically, despite having a week-plus layoff, including having to quarantine for four days upon his return to Orlando.

“Even with the time off, my body still feels fine,” he said. “But when you get out there (in a real game), it’s 5-on-5 and you’re going against NBA players… The NBA isn’t something you can just jump right into.

“In the room (while in a four-day quarantine), I was able to do some body workouts, to keep my muscles going. While I was away, it was tough to do stuff – I was dealing with a family emergency. It’s God first, then family. Basketball wasn’t really there.”

It’s far from an exact comparison, but when Williamson made his official NBA debut in January after sitting out 44 games, he logged 18, 21, 27 and 30 minutes in his first four games, respectively. He played at least 30 minutes in each of NOLA’s last five games prior to the season’s interruption.

“I think he’s going to have to work his way back into game shape and get his rhythm,” said center Derrick Favors, who like Williamson was part of the Pelicans’ stark in-season turnaround. “You can’t just throw him into the fire and expect great things right away. It’s probably going to take some time. Hopefully not too long, but probably a week or so to get his legs back and take some of the rust off… hopefully when he gets back on the court, he can be his regular dominant self.”

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