Why didn’t Zion Williamson play more minutes vs. Jazz? Pelicans’ Alvin Gentry offers confusing explanation

Ja Rule — yes, Ja Rule — spoke for everyone who watched the Pelicans-Jazz matchup Thursday night (WARNING: BAD LANGUAGE BELOW).

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After re-entering the NBA’s campus following an excused absence and being cleared to play in the restart opener, Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson scored 13 points in just 15 minutes as New Orleans fell to Utah in a tightly contested game. Williamson played the first five minutes of the fourth quarter but never returned after being subbed out with 7:19 left in regulation.

When asked about Williamson sitting on the bench as the Jazz took control of the game, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told reporters the 20-year-old was on a minutes restriction.

“Well, of course we wish we could’ve played him down the stretch, but we had used the minutes that were given to us. That’s the way it is. We weren’t going to stick him back out there,” Gentry said. “Our medical people said that we played in the minutes that were allowed [for] us to play him, and we’ll just move on.

“I thought he looked good. I thought he had some good moments, and obviously we’re a much better and a much different basketball team when he’s out on the floor.”

Gentry’s explanation is confusing for a few reasons. First, Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reported prior to tipoff Williamson would play in “short bursts” but noted he wouldn’t necessarily be on a minutes restriction. So was Williamson on a burst plan, a minutes restriction or both?

Second, if Gentry did know Williamson couldn’t play more than approximately 15 minutes, did he not plan to save some of those minutes in case the Pelicans needed Williamson in crunch time? Every “seeding game” matters for the Pels because they are fighting against multiple Western Conference teams for the final playoff spot. If New Orleans’ coaching staff didn’t consider this scenario, then that’s a major error.

And third, what is Williamson’s status right now? Williamson said after the loss he hasn’t suffered any recent medical setbacks and denied he had to sit because of conditioning issues.

“Not even just conditioning, it’s just getting my flow to the game back,” Williamson said. “This is the NBA. These are the best players in the world. You want to feel comfortable. I don’t want to hurt my team more than I help them in a sense.”

Williamson is the future of the franchise. If there is any risk of him getting seriously hurt, then clearly he shouldn’t play. No reasonable person would question the Pelicans’ decision-making process in that situation.

However, this appears to be more of a communication issue. If the Pels want to make a playoff push, then everyone needs to be on the same page.

Otherwise, Ja Rule (and the rest of us) will keep asking the same question.

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