The New Orleans Pelicans saw plenty of social media criticism from their fans following a 105-100 road loss to the Utah Jazz this past Thanksgiving weekend. First, Zion Williamson did not play due to rest. Then the Pelicans squandered an 11-point fourth-quarter lead, dropping a very winnable game in a very crowded NBA Western Conference playoff race. It's a tough loss considering how they controlled the game for over 40 minutes, but the resting pattern of Williamson makes perfect sense regardless of injury history.

It looked like the altitude was taking a toll on tired legs as shots started falling short in the fourth quarter. The Pelicans had just gotten off a flight from Los Angeles earlier that morning. Veteran leaders Brandon Ingram (10/22) and Jonas Valanciunas (3/10) were a combined 13/33 from the field. Ingram was just 2/7 in the final 12 minutes.

“I think we just ran out of gas,” confirmed Pelicans head coach Willie Green. “I don't make excuses at all but it's a reality. It's a factor and we tried to push through it. We just didn't have enough in the tank.”

There was no sense in putting the oft-injured All-Star in a tough physical situation this early in the season. Green said the loss had nothing to do with Williamson's rest day, it was just “a tough back-to-back but every team has to play them. We had the game under control. They just made some momentum plays. We allowed some momentum plays to turn the game and that's the difference. All they were looking for was a little bit of life and we gave it to them. Tip your hat to them. Now we have to get ready to play them again on Monday.”

The Pelicans, now 1-3 without their franchise centerpiece, resting Williamson during scheduled back-to-back games makes sense regardless of injury history. Executive VP David Griffin addressed “winning the games that truly matter” during last season's exit interviews. Green has done so throughout this 2023-24 campaign.

Pelicans, Williamson Planning For Road Ahead

Pelicans resting Zion Williamson vs. Timberwolves

There is no point in looking back to last season or last Saturday for the franchise. Both exercises would be a waste of time. Williamson returns to the lineup for Monday's matchup against the Jazz with the team's focus on the road ahead. CJ McCollum (right lung small pneumothorax), Trey Murphy (left knee partial meniscectomy), Matt Ryan (right calf strain), and Dereon Seabron (G League two-way) are all still listed as Out, but are expected back sooner rather than later.

The schedule is not that daunting. The pathway to Williamson's sustained health through rest seems clear. For instance, the next back-to-back set starts with a visit from Victor Wembanyama's San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 1 before flying out to face the Chicago Bulls.

Williamson versus Wembanyama is one of the most anticipated matchups of the next decade, much less this season. It does not matter that the Spurs have the worst record in the West. Resting Williamson in the Windy City against the 5-13 Chicago Bulls after a plane right is just one step towards avoiding bothersome cramps that could derail a season. Ingram, Valanciunas, McCollum, and Murphy III supported by Dyson Daniels, Herb Jones, and Jordan Hawkins should be enough to snatch a road victory.

The Pelicans do not face another back-to-back situation for another month after leaving Chicago. A date with the Brooklyn Nets on Jan. 2 caps a five-game holiday homestand. The Pelicans head to Minnesota on Jan. 3 and double right back to the Smoothie King Center for a third game in four nights meeting against the LA Clippers on Jan. 5. Letting Williamson have a night off instead of banging with Karl Anthony-Towns and Rudy Gobert is a move looking more toward long-term success. Just protect the home nest that week and the Pelicans will be fine.

Working Out Williamson's Rest Day Schedule

Jonas Valanciunas and Zion Williamson of the Pelicans

Willie Green's squad has 10 more back-to-back sets left on the schedule. Only one lends itself to Williamson missing the first game but playing the second, the January 12-13 games against Denver and then the Dallas Mavericks. Nikola Jokic's Nuggets are undefeated at home and are expected to be a top seed. The Pelicans are more likely to need tiebreaker wins over Luka Doncic's Mavericks.

Every other situation is more suited to Williamson playing the front half and sitting out the back end.

  • Oklahoma City on Jan. 26 at home before flying to face the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 27
  • Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 9 followed by Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 10, both on the road
  • Houston Rockets on Feb. 22 then Miami Heat on Feb. 23 at home right after the All-Star break
  • New York Knicks on Feb.27 and Indiana Pacers on Feb. 28, both on the road
  • LA Clippers on March 15 and Portland Trail Blazers on March 16, both at home
  • Orlando Magic on March 21 and Miami Heat on March 22, both on the road
  • Sacramento Kings on April 11 and Golden State Warriors on April 12, both on the road

The Pelicans have two days off before facing the Thunder to finish off a four games in 11 days homestand. Everyone healthy should be available versus Oklahoma City. Playing the Bucks starts a four-games in seven days road trip. Ducking Dame Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo is a wise business decision. Beating Houston while knocking off All-Star break rust is more of a priority than jamming up Jimmy Butler's Heat.

Williamson will want to play against Lebron James in Hollywood and whoever wants to take the court in Madison Square Garden. Nothing against the Pacers or Blazers but Williamson has let his affinity for playing under the bright lights known since leaving Duke. The Pelicans do not have the be at full strength to be favored against Portland (4-12), and for good reason.

Getting time off is not rubbing Williamson's teammates wrong at all. Between rest days and becoming a father, these are excusable absences. The most recent loss in Utah is just a blip on the schedule. The Pelicans had won three in a row and five of six before running out of gas.

As for Williamson's overall demeanor throughout this process, “He’s been great, only missed one or two games so far (three). He’s been available all of the time, taking care of his body. He gives a [expletive],” respected big man Jonas Valanciunas told Mark Medina. “That is a big thing. He’s been a pro this year. He’s growing, getting more experience. Every time that he steps on the court, he does stuff. It’s not going to be overnight. You have to see it all to get the experience, and he does that. He’s willing to learn and willing to give everything. What else can you ask?”

If the resting plan works to get Zion Williamson to the postseason healthy, no one will have much reason to complain.