The New Orleans Pelicans were in the thick of the Western Conference playoff hunt and eying a spot in the play-in tournament, but their postseason hopes are quickly fading after they lost Zion Williamson for the last 10 games of the regular season with a finger injury. Head coach Stan Van Gundy and the Pelicans’ officials are pissed off at the NBA because officials routinely fail to call hard fouls against Williamson despite the obvious fact that opponents are brutally targeting the All-Star.
Williamson, who is left-handed, suffered the injury to his shooting hand sometime during one of the back-to-back games against the Golden State Warriors earlier in the week in a fierce meeting between two bubble teams. On Thursday, he underwent an MRI and an x-ray revealed a fracture in his left ring finger.
The team also revealed that Williamson played most of this season with an injury on his non-shooting hand. Both injuries occurred due to excessive fouling by opponents, with most of the infractions going unpenalized by myopic officials.
Williamson averaged 27 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game this season. His 27.27 PER rating was fourth-best in the NBA. He also shot 61.1% from the floor this season.
Blind Zebras and Zion Hunting
The Pelicans are furious that NBA officials routinely overlook the brutal beating Williamson takes on a nightly basis. David Griffin, the VP of basketball operations for the Pelicans, held a press conference today in which he blasted the NBA for looking the other way and not protecting one of the league’s up-and-coming superstars.
“He got the injury because of the open season that there’s been on Zion Williamson in the paint,” said Griffin. “He has been absolutely mauled in the paint on a regular basis to the point where other players have said to him, ‘I’m going to keep doing this to you!’ because they don’t call it.”
Zion’s size and girth is one of the reasons why officials ignore the shenanigans in the paint, where he generates 75% of his offense.
“He doesn’t flop,” said head coach Stan Van Gundy. “He doesn’t yell and scream at the referees.”
“There’s more violence encouraged in the paint against Zion Williamson than any player I’ve seen since Shaq,” said Griffin. “It was egregious and horrific then, and the same is true now.”
Griffin alluded to “Hack-a-Shaq” when opposing teams sent two or three guys to deliver a hard foul against Shaquille O’Neal because the refs can only call a foul on one player, yet three guys got a lick in. At the same time, the strategy worked because of O’Neal’s poor free-throw shooting.
“Zion gets to the free-throw line a lot,” said Van Gundy. “I’ve had referees say to me, ‘How many free throws has he shot?’ It’s a stupid question. It doesn’t matter. Call it every single time he gets fouled. That’s all your job is. That’s all. Call it.”
NOLA Season Dunzo Without Zion?
The Pelicans trailed the San Antonio Spurs by 1.5 games, but have only six games remaining on the schedule compared to seven for the Spurs. The Pelicans’ chances of overtaking the Spurs to secure the #10 seed for the play-in tournament seem slim without Williamson and Brandon Ingram.
Ingram, the Pels’ second-best scorer averaging 23.8 ppg, injured his ankle in the first half of Tuesday’s big win over the Golden State Warriors. He attempted to play through the pain, but only played the third quarter before he couldn’t continue in the fourth quarter.
“I was a little surprised he came back in and played in the third quarter,” said Van Gundy. “Thank God he did. He played well. Going back out there on that ankle in the third quarter was gutsy and had a lot to do with our win.”
Ingram only suffered a mild sprain, but he will miss a couple of games. Without the top two scorers this weekend, the Pelicans are in a tough spot. They can only hope that the banged-up San Antonio Spurs continue their slide. The Spurs are in the middle of a five-game losing streak, which is why the Pelicans were still in the postseason hunt.