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Zion Williamson’s expected return a timely one for Pelicans

New Orleans has a difficult slate of opponents ahead

New Orleans Pelicans v Indiana Pacers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans are expected to welcome Zion Williamson back into the fold Monday night against the Indiana Pacers.

The starting power forward, who missed the last two games as he sat in COVID-19 health and safety protocols, was not listed on Sunday’s official injury report.

Brandon Ingram remains out with a left great toe contusion and Larry Nance Jr. is questionable with right Achilles soreness.

Williamson’s return is a timely one with the Pelicans scheduled to face playoff-caliber opponents five times in the next eight days. After the Pacers, the Timberwolves, Grizzlies and two meetings against the 76ers await.

Prior to his bout with COVID, Williamson was averaging 27.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.5 steals over his previous 13 games.

The Pelicans fell 129-122 to the hot-shooting Pacers — 22 makes from 3 — in early November, which coincided with Indiana’s best stretch of the season when they won nine of 11 contests. Since Nov. 23 though, they’ve compiled a 7-10 record, not winning consecutive games until only very recently.

So yes, the Pacers are arriving in New Orleans on a two-game winning streak, but their offense and defense have struggled for the better part of the last month, ranking 27th and 18th respectively over their sub-.500 play.

The Pacers still have enough weapons to surprise even the best squads any given night though, as evidenced by their 117-112 victory over the Celtics in Boston five days ago.

Tyrese Haliburton is a sure-fire bet to make the All-Star team with averages of 20.7 points, 10.5 assists, 1.7 steals and 3.1 three-point makes. Buddy Hield (17.5 points, 4.7 rebounds) and Myles Turner (16.2 points, 7.9 rebounds) have been consistent as well.

Bennedict Mathurin, who garnered a lot of fanfare with his stellar play out of the gates, has watched his numbers plummet. The rookie averaged 19.3 points on stellar shooting percentages (44.3 FG%, 42.1 3PT%, 82.5 FT%) in the first 16 games, but since, he’s averaging 15.2 points and hasn’t been as potent as the 38.2 FG%, 27.0 3PT% and 78.8 FT% shooting line indicates.

With CJ McCollum playing his best ball of the season, Williamson’s likely return, and the New Orleans bench still a notably positive despite Nance’s exclusion, the Pelicans should be able to handle the Pacers this evening. Not allowing them to go hog wild from the perimeter would do wonders to assist that cause.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (20-12) vs Indiana Pacers (17-16)

When: December 26, 2022, 7:00 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.