Zion Williamson Clears Health and Safety Protocols, Rejoins the New Orleans Pelicans

Posted on: December 26, 2022, 07:53h. 

Last updated on: December 26, 2022, 01:14h.

The New Orleans Pelicans played two games last week without power forward Zion Williamson in the lineup. That’s after he entered the NBA’s COVID health and safety protocols. He’s now cleared to play in Monday night’s game against the Indiana Pacers.

New Orleans Pelicans Zion Williamson COVID health safety protocols returns
New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) drives the baseline against point guard Jrue Holiday (21) and center Brook Lopez (11) from the Milwaukee Bucks. (Image: Stephen Lew/USA Today Sports)

The Pelicans (20-12) are -6.5 favorites at home against the visiting Pacers (17-16) tonight. During games at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans this season, the Pelicans are 13-4 on their home court.

The Pelicans are 17-15 against the spread this season. But they’re 10-3 at home when oddsmakers install them as the favorite.

The Pelicans are currently the #2 seed in the Western Conference behind the Denver Nuggets (21-11). Without Williamson in the previous two games, the Pelicans defeated the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder. They needed an overtime session to fend off the pesky Thunder on Friday.

The Pacers occupy eighth place in the Eastern Conference. If the season ended today, the Pacers would be headed to the Play-In Tournament. The Pacers had a rough month with a 5-8 record since the end of November.

Zion the Leading Scorer on High-Flying Pelicans

The Pelicans are the third-highest scoring team in the NBA this season, averaging 117.9 points per game. As the Pelicans’ leading scorer, Williamson averages 25.2 points per game in 25 games this season. He’s the second-best rebounder on the team, averaging 7.2 boards per game. He’s also dishing 4.7 assists per game, while contributing 1.2 steals per game.

Williamson missed all of last season with a fractured foot, and the Pelicans still managed to claw their way into the 2022 Western Conference Play-In Tournament. With Williamson at full strength this season, the Pelicans are competing for a #1 playoff seed with the premier teams in the Western Conference.

Williamson picked up the scoring slack for an injured small forward Brandon Ingram. Ingram is about to miss a 14th game in a row while nursing a toe injury. In 15 games this season, Ingram averaged 20.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game as the Pelicans’ second-best scorer and playmaker.

The Pelicans have much more depth this season, which is why they more than held their own without Williamson and Ingram in the lineup. Williamson missed seven games this season, including two games after a scary fall in late October against the Utah Jazz. He also missed three games with a foot contusion in November.

Overall, the Pelicans posted a 5-2 record in games without Williamson this season, including their most-recent back-to-back victories.

McCollum: “Zion Unleashed”

It takes a lot to impress NBA veterans. But Pelicans shooting guard CJ McCollum is amazed with what Williamson accomplished this season.

You’re starting to see Zion unleashed,” McCollum said in a recent column in Andscape. “I’m not going to say it’s his best form because he’s 22, he’s going to get better. But this is him maximizing his potential, his skill set and utilizing everything.”

McCollum was critical of Williamson’s aloofness last season. Williamson was not living in New Orleans while he rehabbed his foot injury, and did not appear on the bench during games. All parties chalked the incident up to inexperience. But Williamson now has veterans that will keep him accountable for his actions on and off the court.

Williamson sat on the bench in street clothes during the Pelicans’ run in the 2022 Western Conference Play-In Tournament. They secured the #8 seed, but were bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the top-seeded Phoenix Suns. Despite the opening-round exit, the Pelicans caught their first taste of the postseason.

With a healthy Williamson playing the best ball of his young career, fans in the Big Easy are excited at the possibility of a deep playoff run this season.

Finding Value Bets on the Pelicans

The Pelicans are +2000 odds to win the 2022-23 NBA championship, according to an update by DraftKings. While they might not be one of the top contenders to win a championship, the Pelicans offer tremendous value in conference and division futures.

The Pelicans are +850 to win the Western Conference title and secure a trip to the 2023 NBA Finals. They’re the sixth-highest team on the futures board. But they’re clustered together with the front-runners in the conference. Over the last two weeks, the Pelicans found themselves in a tight fight for the #1 seed with the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies.

The Grizzlies are the betting favorite to win back-to-back Southwest Division titles at -160 odds. The Pelicans are +170 odds to win their first-ever division title while playing under the “Pelicans” moniker. In 2007-08, the New Orleans Hornets went 56-26 and won the team’s only Southwest crown.