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Report: Why Pelicans star Zion Williamson only played 15 minutes vs. Jazz

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One of the biggest surprises of Thursday’s opening matchup between the New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz was the strict minutes limit imposed on rookie sensation Zion Williamson. The 20-year-old logged just 15 minutes of action for his team and was unable to help his side down the stretch, as the Pelicans suffered a heartbreaking 106-104 loss.

Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry simply said after the game that while he wanted to play his rookie phenom more, the medical staff only allowed the 15 minutes. The Pelicans have their reasons for this decision, and as it turns out, it all boils down to Zion’s lack of fitness at the moment.

This report comes via Sam Amick of The Athletic:

Williamson, whose unique combination of linebacker size and incredible torque require so much caution as the Pelicans prioritize the bigger picture here, had practiced in a five-on-five setting a total of only four times since the league was shut down on March 11 because of COVID-19.

What’s more, he missed 13 days of work after leaving the bubble on July 16 in order to attend to an urgent family matter (including his four-day quarantine when he came back)… The Pelicans’ concerns about what might happen (again) if he did too much too soon after that kind of layoff from real five-on-five runs inspired the choice.

There you have it. The good news here is that Williamson does not appear to be suffering from any sort of injury. It’s just that he has not been able to get up to speed just yet. It’s hard to fault New Orleans for its big-picture decision here, especially considering how injury-prone Zion has been throughout his young career.

Williamson started for the Pelicans, but logged the least minutes of all the starters. He finished with 13 points on an efficient 6-of-8 shooting, plus an assist and two turnovers. It remains to be seen if the Pelicans intend to let their prized youngster loose in their remaining games inside the bubble, but the assumption is he’ll ramp up activity at some point.

However, there are only seven seeding games left, and the Pelicans’ loss is a major setback for their playoff hopes. They’re currently in 11th place in the Western Conference, four games behind the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies and half a game behind the Portland Trail Blazers and Sacramento Kings.