The Kings aren’t the only team dealing with the complexities of the NBA’s Orlando Bubble. On Thursday morning, the New Orleans Pelicans announced that star rookie Zion Williamson has stepped away from the league’s campus on the Disney World property to attend an urgent family medical matter.
Williamson intends to return at some point, but his absence, much like De’Aaron Fox’s with the Kings, could tilt the balance in the chase for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
At just 20-years-old, Williamson is a force to be reckoned with. He missed major time early in the season with a knee injury, but since returning, he’s averaging 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds in 29.7 minutes per game for New Orleans.
Listed at 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds, Williamson is a matchup nightmare. The Kings have yet to face the top overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, but his talent is undeniable.
Under normal circumstances, Sacramento has plenty of options to throw at Williamson, but these are anything but normal circumstances. Center Alex Len has yet to join the team in Orlando due to a positive coronavirus test in June. Harrison Barnes is also out of action with a positive test.
The Kings also have the issue that Richaun Holmes is quarantined to his room until July 22 due to a rules violation in the bubble.
Sacramento could have all of these players back in action by the time the season tips off, but there are no promises.
Williamson draws a ton of attention when he’s on the court, which opens the floor for Brandon Ingram and Jrue Holiday to do damage. He also collapses the defense which often leads to a wide open J.J. Redick on the perimeter.
New Orleans is 10-9 with Williamson in the lineup and 18-27 with him out. They have talent, but he adds a completely different dynamic to the team.
According to the team’s release, Williamson intends to return to the campus, but it’s a complicated situation. If he is allowed to take a coronavirus test every day he is away, he will face a quarantine of a minimum of two days upon his return. If he isn’t allowed to test daily, that minimum becomes four days.
The restart is still 14 days away, but Williamson is a young player that needs every day of practice possible. In addition, the Pelicans open their schedule against the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers, their two toughest remaining opponents.
New Orleans plays the weakest schedule out of all the teams vying for a playoff spot. Las Vegas has them as a +300 to represent the Western Conference as the eighth seed, with Sacramento coming in as a +1100.
At the time of the shutdown on March 11, the Kings and Pelicans were already in Golden 1 Center ready to do battle. The two teams were locked in a tie in the standings at 28-36, both three and a half games behind the Memphis Grizzlies with 18 games remaining.
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The league will pick back up with those same records, but they’ve condensed the schedule down to just eight games and it’s a sprint to the finish line. Both teams will also have to contend with the Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs.
Portland is in a virtual tie with the Kings and Pelicans in the standings, but they have a slight advantage in win percentage. San Antonio is a half-game back.
All four teams will have the eight games to compete for ninth place. If the ninth-place team finishes within three and a half games of the Grizzlies, there will be a play-in scenario with the eighth seed having a double elimination and the ninth-place team a single game elimination.
If Williamson misses substantial time, it should impact the Pelicans' ability to win. They have a soft schedule in the restart, but any time lost is bad news. If anything, a prolonged absence by Williamson would even the playing field slightly.