Zion Williamson dealing with finger injury during Pelicans’ playoff push

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Zion Williamson’s long-awaited first playoff push with the New Orleans Pelicans won’t be pain free.

Williamson injured a finger on his shooting hand while blocking a shot shortly before halftime of New Orleans’ 117-108 loss to Orlando on Wednesday night.

“Just banged it against the backboard really hard,” Williamson said.

Williamson kept playing after the injury, but not without heading to the locker room to have it examined. The last of his 15 points came on a dunk in the fourth quarter, but he also sat out the game’s final seven-plus minutes.

“I’m not sure exactly what the diagnosis is. I’m hoping he’s OK,” said Pelicans coach Willie Green, whose team already was without high-scoring wing Brandon Ingram because of a bone bruise in his left knee.

Williamson wouldn’t say whether he thought he could have played more in the fourth quarter.

“I don’t want to dive too deep into that question because I don’t want to say anything that’s not right,” Williamson said. “I’m going to get it looked at and go from there.”

With six games remaining, the Pelicans have a tenuous hold on sixth place in the Western Conference. They entered Thursday’s action just a half game ahead of seventh-place Sacramento. Only the top six seeds in each conference advance directly to the NBA playoffs and avoid a play-in involving teams that finish seventh through 10th.

The stretch run looked promising enough, though, as long as Williamson could avoid the type of health issues that sidelined him for much of his first four seasons.

Williamson has played 65 games this season, more than any other regular season in his previous four years since being drafted first overall out of Duke in 2019. His average of nearly 23 points per game leads the team. He has looked as fit and spry as ever, running the floor and getting above the rim for alley-oop dunks on one end or to swat away shots on the other.

The Pelicans have made the Western Conference play-in twice and NBA playoffs once in the past two seasons, but Williamson was not healthy enough to play either time.

His form and fitness lately have contrasted sharply with most of his first four pro seasons. He played in just 24 games as a rookie because of a knee injury and other conditioning concerns, missed all of his third season with a foot injury and was done after just 29 games last season because of a right hamstring strain.

Williamson has missed just 11 games this season, but none since Feb. 10 and has appeared in 26 games straight.

“It’s just getting to that part of the season,” Williamson said recently. “Just trying to let my teammates know I’m here — I’m with y’all.”

The Pelicans can only hope that’s still the case when they next take the court on Friday night at home against San Antonio.

Even with Williamson in the lineup, New Orleans has lost three straight and four of five.

“There’s no need to panic,” Williamson said assuredly after the Orlando loss. “We just got to come with a higher level of focus into these next few games.”

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