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Zion Williamson remains without definitive return date, but his first full practice with New Orleans Pelicans appears fast approaching

Zion’s level of activity continues to increase, but the best news is that he’s felt good after every test.

NBA: Houston Rockets at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

With the calendar jumping to a new decade — Happy New Year, everyone! — Zion Williamson’s first regular season game action for the New Orleans Pelicans appears to be edging closer and closer.

“A lot of it is player development (PD) stuff right now,” said Alvin Gentry after Tuesday’s practice. “Hopefully, it won’t be that long before he can join us in doing a few things here and there, and then just go from there and expand up. He had a good PD workout. {Prior to Sunday’s game against the Rockets, Zion participated in a 3-on-3 scrimmage with Pelican developmental coaches.} You guys were able to witness it with the coaches where he was going up and down... Just the fact that he’s out there running up and down the court and being able to do some things basketball wise, I think is a step in the right direction.”

The head coach went on to emphasize that Zion feels good and his surgically repaired right knee has not suffered any setbacks, something that David Griffin recently cautioned could possibly occur once Williamson progressed to full weight-bearing activity.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

“He has not had anything as far as a setback,” said Gentry. “Actually, he’s felt pretty good. If I could knock on wood, I would. He’s trending in the right direction.”

Although Gentry cannot pinpoint a return date yet, he did say that the Pelicans will have a much better idea of being able to predict Zion’s first game once he’s able to engage fully in practices. This coincides with an ESPN report filed by Andrew Lopez on Christmas Day.

A source within the organization told ESPN that before Williamson makes his on-court return, the team would like him to undergo at least two or three practices doing full work. A source told Sedano the team is targeting just after the new year for those practices.

Shams Charania of The Athletic corroborated yesterday that Zion’s first practice is imminent.

“As the calendar shifts to 2020, Pelicans No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson is on the cusp of a breakthrough,” says Charania in the link above. “Williamson is expected to return to his first practice shortly after the New Year on Wednesday. I’m told both sides are hopeful of a January season debut for Williamson.”

The one puzzling piece of information from this quote, though, regards Zion returning to practice on Wednesday. According to Gentry yesterday, the Pelicans would not hold practice on New Year’s Day — hey, players like to celebrate on New Year’s Eve too!

And according to the team’s itinerary posted at the start of this week, New Orleans is not scheduled to practice tomorrow neither since the team is due to leave for Los Angeles — a 3+ hour flight — and battle the Lakers on Friday.

Honestly, it’s a little difficult to pinpoint the next practice session because the Pelicans play a back-to-back on the road this Friday/Saturday and then fly back home to welcome the Utah Jazz on Monday. Per standard operating procedures, it’s extremely unlikely that the team would hold a practice this coming Sunday, so maybe we’re looking at next Tuesday? That day does fall in between two home games.

Either way, accounting for several practices and perusing this month’s list of home games — seems unlikely that Zion’s first game of the season comes on the road — the earliest Zion might return to game action could either come against the Utah Jazz (January 16th), Los Angeles Clippers (January 18th) or the San Antonio Spurs (January 22nd).

At this point, we’ll happily take any of those dates this month, but let’s take Gentry’s sage advice and rap on some wood. Zion’s knee still has a few more hurdles to clear first.