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Injured Zion: Playoff return 'definitely realistic'

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OKLAHOMA CITY — More than an hour after the New Orleans Pelicans’ practice ended at the Paycom Center on Tuesday afternoon, Zion Williamson was still in the weight room lifting and working on his conditioning.

Tuesday marked a week since Williamson strained his left hamstring in the Pelicans’ play-in tournament loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. With Williamson out, his team advanced to the playoffs with a play-in win against the Sacramento Kings on Friday.

In his first comments to the media since the injury, Williamson spoke about the timing after playing a career-high 70 games this season.

“Super demoralizing at first, can’t lie,” Williamson said. “The season had been going so well, so for that to happen, it definitely was demoralizing. But I took a day or two to get past that, and now I’m back on what I’ve been saying all year, stacking my days and getting back on the court.”

Williamson said he felt the injury occur late in the fourth quarter when he rose up against Lakers center Anthony Davis and scored a tying bucket that gave him 40 points as the team tried to complete an 18-point comeback. The Lakers called timeout seconds later, but Williamson was already signaling to the bench that he needed to come out of the game.

“It was super frustrating, especially at that point in the game,” Williamson said. But my team, my teammates, they handled business, and here we are in the playoffs, so that’s still exciting. I’m excited for them, and hopefully I’ll be able to return to the court.”

Williamson said he must continue to pass tests in order to return to the court. He said he has to get to a certain baseline and then pass certain tests after that.

When asked if there was a chance he could return this postseason, Williamson said, “That is definitely realistic. That is absolutely realistic. But like I said, I got to pass the tests and get back to baseline, and hopefully I’ll be out there.”

Last Wednesday, when it was announced an MRI confirmed Williamson had a left hamstring strain, the Pelicans said he would be reexamined in about two weeks.

Last season, Williamson suffered a hamstring injury to his right leg on Jan. 2 and ended up missing the rest of the season, including the Pelicans’ play-in tournament loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Williamson said it helped knowing his latest injury wasn’t as bad as the first one.

“That was definitely one of those kind of bittersweet moments,” Williamson said. “At least it’s not like [last year]. So just build off of that.”

Williamson said that with the injury last year, he could feel a sharp pain going down his right leg. He said that wasn’t the case this time around and that he just felt like “something’s off.”

Williamson also said watching his team in Game 1, a 94-92 loss to the Thunder, was tough.

“I really love hooping, so it was bittersweet for me, if I’m being honest,” Williamson said. “It was really bittersweet. The whole time I just kept envisioning myself out there and my impact of the game, but at the same time I had to put aside my personal feelings and be there for my teammates.”

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