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Zion Williamson’s minutes drama is reaching a breaking point

Zion Williamson is losing minutes as the New Orleans Pelicans are losing games.

The top pick in the 2019 NBA Draft played just 29 total minutes as the Pelicans dropped their first two games of the NBA bubble restart of the season in Orlando. It’s difficult to develop a rhythm when constantly in and out of the game.

“It’s very tough, to be honest, because as soon as I start to break that sweat, I look over and that horn is for me and I have to come out the game,” Williamson said. “Also, when I do catch the flow of the game, like I said, that horn goes off and it’s for me.”

Williamson missed 13 days of basketball activities to tend to a family emergency leading up to the Pelicans’ first game. They have eased him back with “burst restrictions” in each quarter.

The irony is the television draw of Williamson’s star power reportedly is one of the reasons the NBA drew the arbitrary line at 22 teams as part of the restart, making sure the Pelicans were included.

Williamson said getting frustrated “doesn’t help the situation,” but onlookers have noted he doesn’t seem to be having as much fun as he did earlier in his rookie season – an injury sidelined him until January, when he returned on a minutes count – or in his one season at Duke.

“It’s still fun, but I guess, like you said, it’s not to that full extent as y’all are used to seeing,” Williamson said. “I’m a competitor. I want to stay on the court. When I’m coming out of the game, my competitive side of me that I want to stay in. I guess that does affect the fun a little bit, but not too much.”

Zion Williamson
Zion WilliamsonGetty Images

The Pelicans trailed the Los Angeles Clippers by 37 points after three quarters on Saturday, so Williamson sat. Coach Alvin Gentry said Williamson would have played if the game was within reach.

“Obviously in a 30-point game, I’m not going to stick him back in in those situations even though some people think it would give him an opportunity to be on the floor and play,” Gentry said. “I just didn’t feel like that made sense in that situation.”

The Pelicans face the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night.

It is a crucial game if the Pelicans hope to salvage their chances of getting into a play-in series for the playoffs and pits Williamson against Rookie of the Year favorite Ja Morant.

How much Williamson plays, though, is anyone’s guess.

“You just have to be smart in those situations,” Gentry said. “Everyone wants to play and play right now. We try to spend time as coaches and medical people trying to let him understand that this is going to be for the best short term and long term really.”

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