Zion out indefinitely; Pels blame league for injury


New Orleans Pelicans power forward Zion Williamson is out indefinitely with a fractured left ring finger, an injury that executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin said was “avoidable” if the league did a better job officiating his franchise superstar.

Williamson, who is left-handed, underwent a CT scan Thursday prior to the team leaving for Philadelphia that revealed the injury. A treatment plan and timetable for his return will be determined after further evaluation.

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Griffin didn’t specify when the injury occurred, but Williamson appeared to hurt the finger while attempting to get a rebound in Tuesday’s 108-103 win over the Golden State Warriors. With roughly nine minutes left in the third quarter, Williamson appeared to injure the finger while going up for an offensive rebound against Warriors center Kevon Looney.

Williamson grabbed at his left hand as he went back up the court. On the other end, after a Stephen Curry 3-pointer, Williamson walked to the bench and asked to be subbed out. He subbed back in four minutes later and helped lead the Pelicans to a victory.

Pelicans Call Foul

Zion Williamson is fourth in the league in free throw attempts per game, but the Pelicans believe he should be getting to the line even more.

FTA PER GAME
Joel Embiid 11.1
Giannis Antetokounmpo 9.7
Trae Young 8.8
Zion Williamson 8.7
Jimmy Butler 8.0
Griffin said he believes the injury was likely the result of an accumulation of hits.

“I believe he probably suffered the injury over a period of time,” Griffin said. “It’s a striking injury. It’s a blunt-force injury. He was being beaten on the hand over and over and over again. For me to tell you one time, I don’t think I can do that. I don’t think he knows one time.”

Griffin’s comments came during a striking 13-minute news conference Friday in which he went after the league for the way Williamson has been officiated this season.

“I’m really frustrated because this was avoidable. We told the NBA through every means available to us, through sending in film, through speaking to everybody in the officials department and everybody in basketball operations, that the way they were officiating Zion was going to get him injured,” Griffin said. “And, quite frankly, he’s injured because of the open season that there’s been on Zion Williamson in the paint.

“He has been absolutely mauled in the paint on a regular basis to the point that other players have said to him, ‘I’m going to keep doing this to you because they don’t call it.’ There is more violence encouraged in the paint than any player I’ve seen since [Shaquille O’Neal]. It was egregious and horrific then, and the same is true now.”

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Entering Friday, Williamson was second to Giannis Antetokounmpo in total free throw attempts and behind only Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid and Trae Young in free throw attempts per game this season. Still, Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said his star should be shooting even more.

“He certainly takes a lot of hits. We’ve been on the referees hard. I know I have been every game,” Van Gundy said. “I get the response that, ‘Well, how many free throws has he shot?’ and my response is always, ‘Not enough.’

“The guy gets hit all the time. … In my opinion, he should easily lead the league in free throw attempts. The swipe-downs, the guy on both hands is just getting killed every night. The referees let it go too often. This is what you’re going to have.”

Those echoed the comments that Van Gundy made April 28 when Williamson was apparently fouled by the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic on what would have been a game-tying dunk in the final seconds. There was no call on the floor, and Denver came away with a two-point victory. The NBA’s Last Two Minute Report released the following day ruled that Jokic did foul Williamson.

Griffin noted that Williamson, who does not have a technical foul this season (and also didn’t have one in his one season at Duke), has been “doing exactly what he was taught to do in terms of honoring the league’s rule around decorum. He was respectful to officials. He was having conversations with officials, using the language that the head of officiating told him to use.”

Griffin also said that Williamson has been playing with an injury to his right hand as well.

“He’s a player that wanted to be available to his teammates so badly that he played through an injury that quite frankly nobody else would’ve played through,” Griffin said. “What reward he got for that was injuring the other hand in a way that didn’t need to happen at all.”

With Williamson out, the Pelicans were without five of their top eight scorers against Philadelphia on Friday. Brandon Ingram’s injury was dubbed a “left ankle inversion sprain” by Griffin, who added that Ingram will also be out indefinitely as he tries to work himself back.

New Orleans was also without center Steven Adams (toe injury), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (left high ankle sprain) and Josh Hart (right thumb surgery).

The Pelicans entered Friday’s game 2½ games back of the San Antonio Spurs for the last play-in spot in the Western Conference. Williamson, 20, is averaging 27 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists this season.

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