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Zion Williamson, NBA’s latest Player of the Week recipient, looks to lead Pelicans in Utah

There’s a good chance Herb Jones returns to action for New Orleans

Utah Jazz v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans have several chances to atone for an early season overtime loss to the Utah Jazz over the next three days.

After losing Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson to injuries in the midst of the season home opener, Kelly Olynyk flipped in a layup with 3.1 seconds left in the extra period to help the Jazz hand the Pelicans their first defeat of the year, 122-121.

Since that game, though, a lot has transpired. The Pelicans have steadily climbed up the standings after beginning the campaign with five wins in the first 10 games. They’re now half a game clear of the Memphis Grizzlies, sitting atop of the Western Conference with an 18-8 record.

Meanwhile, following a 10-3 start, the Jazz have dropped 11 of 16 games to slip to 10th in the West. Although many expected for them to fall back to Earth, injuries have partially been to blame as Lauri Markkanen, Jordan Clarkson and Collin Sexton have missed time of late, with Mike Conley not suiting up in 10 of Utah’s last 11 games.

Outside of Sexton, who is on the injury report with a mild right hamstring strain, every key Jazz rotation player is expected to be in action tonight against the Pelicans.

With Utah’s rotation missing a cog or two, Nickel Alexander-Walker has seen more run, posting averages of 10.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists and good shooting percentages (51.7 FG%, 45.5 3PT%) since Thanksgiving Day.

Although they wound up falling to the Nuggets, NAW was excellent in Utah’s last game.

The Pelicans are not without some good news on the injury front too. Herb Jones (left ankle sprain) was upgraded to probable yesterday. Ingram (great big toe contusion) remains out but is expected to return very soon.

New Orleans’ top-rated defense since Nov. 8 will be put to the test against a Utah team that has been a top-scoring threat throughout the season. Despite winning only five games since the second week of November, the Jazz are still averaging 116.1 points because they’re knocking down a good portion of attempts from deep (36.8 3PT%). What’s more worrisome is they’re fifth in the league in 3-point attempts since Nov. 12.

If there’s one potential glaring weakness, the Pelicans give up more open perimeter looks than the average team. So running the Jazz off the 3-point line will be the biggest key in the two matchups this week.

Fortunately, any hiccups in that department could still be circumvented by New Orleans’ offense.

The Jazz have done an awful job in slowing down opponents during their recent slide, ranking second-worst with a 117.8 defensive rating. (For comparison’s sake, the Pelicans defensive rating is 106.2 over the same stretch.)

In addition, the Pelicans have Zion Williamson, who has been a destroyer of worlds and was named the Western Conference Player of the Week yesterday.

From the Pelicans PR department:

Williamson led New Orleans to a 3-0 week, recording averages of 33.0 points (second among Western Conference players), 8.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.0 steals in 37.3 minutes per contest, while shooting 70.4 percent from the field (first in the NBA among players that registered 13.0 or more field goal attempts per game). Williamson finished the week as one of two players in the West to average at least 30 points per game and the only Western Conference player to average at least 30 points and eight rebounds. Williamson also averaged an NBA-best 24.0 points in the paint per game during this stretch.

Williamson began the week by totaling 29 points (11-of-26 from the field), ten rebounds, five assists, one steal and one block in 33 minutes in a 104-98 win over Detroit, his fifth double-double of the season. Williamson followed up with back-to-back 35-point games against Phoenix. In Friday’s 128-117 win over the Suns, Williamson notched 35 points on 13-of-17 from the floor, seven boards and four assists. In Sunday’s 129-124 overtime win, Williamson tallied another 35 points, eight rebounds and three dimes while going 2-of-3 from deep and 5-of-7 at the foul line.

Williamson’s Player of the Week honor is the first of his career and makes him one of nine players in team history to win the award.

At the rate he’s been playing, many more NBA Player of the Week honors are sure to follow for Williamson, but for the here and now, don’t be surprised if Zion takes advantage of Utah’s porous defense and notches the first 40-point game of his career.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (18-8) at Utah Jazz (15-14)

When: December 13, 2022, 8:00 p.m. CT

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, League Pass

Where to listen: WRNO 99.5

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.