New Orleans Pelicans PF Zion Williamson has been dealing with a hamstring injury since January and the team has been very cautious with his return. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Williamson is unlikely to return in time for the NBA play-in tournament, which will begin next week. Most teams have two games remaining in the season but in the Western Conference standings, things are incredibly tight.
The Pelicans enter Friday with two games remaining, sitting in 8th place in the Western Conference at 41-39, tied with the Los Angeles Lakers. Both the Pels and Lakers are a game behind the Clippers and Warriors in the standings. NOLA and L.A. are also a game ahead of the Timberwolves and 2.5 games ahead of the Thunder. There’s an outside shot the Pelicans can jump into the top-6 teams in the West and avoid the play-in tournament, affording some extra time to mend for Williamson.
Williamson leads the Pelicans in scoring, averaging 26 points per game this season. The issue is that’s in just 29 games. New Orleans is among a handful of teams that have had key players injured most of the season. The Pels also haven’t had Brandon Ingram for almost half their games in 2022-23. C.J. McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas have anchored the team with Zion and Ingram sidelined. If the Pelicans can get healthy, they’ll be a tough out in the play-in or first round.
Getting through the play-in may be a tough task. It looks like the most likely opponent for New Orleans could be the Lakers in the 7-8 game. The Pelicans would still be in position to make the playoffs but as the 8-seed, having to face the Denver Nuggets in the first round. That may appear better than having to face the Phoenix Suns, Clippers or Warriors in the opening round.