Zion Williamson returned to New Orleans to continue rehabbing his foot injury and was cleared for one-on-one drills, but most likely won’t return to the Pelicans before the end of the regular season, and it’s also a slim chance he’ll be ready for the NBA playoffs.

Zion Williamson New Orleans Pelicans Return Playoffs Play-in Tournament
Zion Williamson has missed more games due to injuries than he’s played since he joined the New Orleans Pelicans in 2019. (Image: Getty)

Zion, the former #1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, hasn’t played in a single game this season. However, diehard fans are clinging to the notion that there’s still a chance Zion will return to action during the prelude to the playoffs with the Western Conference play-in tournament.

The Pelicans (30-42) currently occupy the #10 seed in the Western Conference playoff standings. With 10 games remaining, they hold a 1.5-game lead over the San Antonio Spurs on the bubble. The Portland Trail Blazers are only three games behind the Pelicans.

The curious case of the fractured foot

Last summer, Zion fractured his right foot during offseason workouts. The Pelicans hoped he could be ready soon after the start of the season, but his foot injury didn’t heal as fast as everyone desired, so his return was delayed.

Both Zion and Pelicans got a batch of bad news in December after he was cleared for light practice. He suffered a major setback in his rehab after he had pain and swelling in his right foot. He got an injection to speed up the healing process, but it didn’t work, so his return was postponed indefinitely.

After two months without much improvement, Zion consulted with a specialist and considered getting a second surgery in February. If he underwent the knife a second time, there would be zero chance to return for the regular season or postseason.

Zion caught heat from ex-teammate JJ Redick for not being more involved as a teammate. He spent the last two months in Portland rehabbing his injury and not in New Orleans, so he was never at the practice facility or traveling with the Pelicans for road games.

Every player has a different method of rehabbing from injuries, but a lot of players want to be in close contact with their team and teammates. Zion maintained a distance from the organization, which has led to rampant speculation that his days with the Pelicans are numbered.

Play-in Zion?

Perhaps the shade from Redick lit a fire under Zion’s ass, but he returned to New Orleans to continue his rehab.

Ideally, the Pelicans would like for Zion to play the last couple of regular-season games before the playoffs begin with the play-in tournament. However, Zion has yet to be cleared for regular practice sessions. Even if he returns to full-contact practice this week, it will take an unknown amount of time before his conditioning returns and he’s back in game shape.

“We still have to be careful with how much he does,” said New Orleans head coach Willie Green. “Just because he’s still going through the healing process. But we’re happy that he’s getting better. I know it feels good for him to finally be able to get on the floor and doing some of the things he’s doing.”

For now, it’s just one-on-one drills with assistant coach Corey Brewer. At least the results included a few eye-popping dunks that Zion posted on Instagram.

“As far as right now, the update is the update,” added Green. “Zion is still out indefinitely. We’re still working [on him] being fully healthy, which he’s not. But he’s getting there.”

Play-in tournament: Pelicans and Lakers

It’s a tight race on the Western Conference playoff bubble for all parties involved. The Pelicans are closing in on the struggling #9 Los Angeles Lakers (31-42), and trail by just a half-game. The only benefit of the #9 seed is that they host the #10 seed in a single game, with the winner playing the loser of the #7 vs #8 game.

The Pelicans have 10 more games remaining in the regular season, but the Lakers play only nine more games.

Will the New Orleans Pelicans make the playoffs?
Yes +330 No -500

If the Pelicans win the play-in tournament, they’ll be awarded the #8 seed and face the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs.

DraftKings posted a prop bet on whether or not the Pelicans will make the playoffs. Yes pays out +330, while no is the favorite at -500 odds.

FiveThirtyEight estimates the Pelicans have a 27% chance to qualify for the playoffs, but a 0.07% chance to win the Western Conference and advance to the NBA Finals. They also project that the Pelicans have an astronomical 0.02% chance to win the NBA championship.

According to DraftKings, the Pelicans are a long shot at +40000 odds to win the 2022 NBA Championship.