Pelicans try to slow streaking Jazz with Zion close to return

NBA Basketball
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Zion Williamson is on his way back. But he won’t make his NBA debut in time to help the New Orleans Pelicans when they host the red-shot Utah Jazz on Thursday night.

The Pelicans announced Wednesday that the No. 1 overall draft pick is scheduled to play for the first time Jan. 22 at home against San Antonio. In the meantime New Orleans is hosting a Jazz team that has won 10 games in a row.

Utah has won 15 of its past 16 games after a 118-107 victory at Brooklyn on Tuesday night. The Jazz are 2-0 against New Orleans, the latest victory coming during the recent hot streak.

“We’re in a groove,” said guard Donovan Mitchell, who returned from a one-game absence due to illness to score 25 points against the Nets. “I think a lot of the offense comes instinctively. Defensively, I think it’s the same.

“A lot of times in the beginning of the year, we had to communicate a lot. Now it’s just like if we make a mistake, we have each other’s back. We’re just flowing. A lot of it’s not called. A lot of it’s just natural instinct taking over.”

The Jazz beat the Pelicans 128-120 at home on Nov. 23 and held on for a 128-126 win in New Orleans on Jan. 6. Bojan Bogdanovic scored 35 points in the most recent meeting.

“Offensively, we’re moving the ball,” guard Jordan Clarkson said. “Everybody’s making plays for each other. We’re just playing hard and competing, so we want to keep this streak going and continue to win games.”

The Pelicans have won three of the four games they have played since the latest loss to the Jazz. They have won nine of 13 and just concluded a 2-1 road trip with a 117-110 overtime win at Detroit on Monday.

In addition to Williamson, who had arthroscopic knee surgery on the eve of the season opener in October, the Pelicans were absent four of their top players against the Pistons — Brandon Ingram (knee), Jrue Holiday (elbow), JJ Redick (hamstring) and Derrick Favors (hamstring), all of whom are day to day.

Center Jahlil Okafor filled in for Favors and led the way with 25 points and 14 rebounds.

“I think it’s a huge win,” Okafor said. “Everybody contributed.”

All 10 Pelicans who dressed scored, and six scored in double figures. Point guard Lonzo Ball nearly had a triple-double, finishing with 17 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. Rookie forward Nicolo Melli made his first NBA start and had a season-best 20 points.

“We have a deep bench that has stepped up,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “(Before the game against Detroit), we said that over the course of an NBA season, you’re going to get an opportunity at some stage. The big question is, will you take advantage of that opportunity when it’s there? I thought everybody we put in the game (contributed).”

Gentry finally is going to have a chance to put Williamson in a game next week. But first the Pelicans face the Jazz, then host the Clippers on Saturday and visit the Grizzlies on Monday.

“It’ll be great when he walks on the court and plays,” Gentry said of Williamson. “That’ll be the end of that and we’ll go from there. Just to have a target date is a good thing.”

–Field Level Media

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