Z-Day in the NBA has finally arrived.
While it’s ridiculously unfair to pin the league’s declining ratings on Zion Williamson’s prolonged absence in this, his rookie season, there’s also no question his debut will help draw more eyeballs. ESPN ditched the Rockets and Nuggets, teams ranked among the Western Conference’s top-six, for a matchup featuring the Pelicans and Spurs to showcase his Wednesday debut. Neither team would make the playoffs if they started today. Few will complain.
New Orleans will host Denver on Friday in a game you’ll be able to watch since NBA League Pass is free this week and welcomes in the Celtics on Sunday for another nationally-televised ESPN broadcast. Zion will be your Super Bowl Sunday buffer entrée.
Williamson was brilliant this preseason. Then he tore his right meniscus in his knee in the ultimate buzzkill. He shot 71 percent from the field in living up to the hype and looked ready to tackle the season before being sidelined. The fact the Pelicans initially called it knee soreness probably set a gloomy tone.
Suddenly, fears arose that Williamson’s bull-in-a-china-shop style couldn’t be sustained. He goes too hard. His frame is too large. New Orleans trainers had to teach him the proper way to run.
Rehabilitation dragged on, Pels’ losses piled up and comparisons to Greg Oden arose from those who live to play Debbie Downer.
Now the 19-year-old is finally ready to play. I’ve seen footage of him in workouts and warm-ups. He looks ready. I wrote pre-injury how there was no way that I would fade him in the Rookie of the Year race. Post-injury, I went all-in on Ja Morant. Hopefully you did too
The Rookie of the Year award, barring injury, has already been won by Memphis point guard Ja Morant, who you can back at a return of 1-to-10, which means you’ll have to bet a thousand for every C-note you want to win.
Just two months ago, despite the knowledge that it would be difficult for Williamson to get back anywhere before Christmas, Morant’s odds were at 8-5 while Williamson was still in the mix in 5-1. Only one other rookie, New York’s R.J. Barrett, had better odds (4-1) a month into the NBA season.
Williamson may play a factor in the Pelicans’ continued resurgence since they’ve started making their run without him due to the improvement of Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, but he’s not going to be named the league’s top first-year player. He’s missed too much time. He’s going to be brought along responsibly.
He has a bright future if he can stay healthy. So do the Pelicans.
Pelicans at Nuggets: The Nuggets are caught in a Houston sandwich in this spot, facing the Rockets on the road Wednesday and then hosting James Harden and Co. Sunday at Pepsi Center.
Despite Denver’s status a Western Conference power, it is missing starters Jamal Murray, Paul Millsap and Gary Harris, so expect to lay a point or two.
This is a great spot for New Orleans here. PELICANS
Bulls at Cavaliers: We look for the Bulls to go into Cleveland and trip up a Cavs team that appears likely to deal Kevin Love and disband the current group sooner than later. Coming off Monday’s blowout home loss to a lowly Knicks team missing Barrett, there’s no faith in the Cavs defending their homecourt.
Chicago guard Zach LaVine has been surging. Expect to lay a few points with Chicago on the road. BULLS.
Clippers at Magic: I’m banking on the Clippers to handle a road test in Orlando. Head coach Doc Rivers still lives in the Central Florida area and will have his team properly focused after some bonding to handle business against the depleted Magic. Again, the visitors will likely be favored by 3-4 points. CLIPPERS
Last week: 3-0