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Williamson's injury dampens otherwise dominant postseason debut

Zion Williamson Pelicans Zion Williamson - The Canadian Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Zion Williamson has been ruled out of the New Orleans Pelicans' Western Conference play-in game against the Sacramento Kings on Friday night because of a left hamstring injury — and is expected to miss up to two weeks should New Orleans advance to the NBA playoffs.

The injury occurred with about three minutes remaining in a 110-106 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in New Orleans' play-in tournament opener at home on Tuesday night. The club announced Wednesday that imaging confirmed he had a strained hamstring and that he would be re-evaluated in about two weeks.

Williamson's status is the latest in a series of untimely injuries during his first five NBA seasons and removes the Pelicans leading scorer from their lineup for a do-or-die, play-in tournament finale that will decide the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

Williamson scored 40 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the loss to the Lakers on Tuesday night. But moments after converting a driving, game-tying layup over Lakers star Anthony Davis, the Pelicans star forward was throwing a towel to the floor in disgust as he disappeared down a tunnel leading to the locker room.

“This is an unfortunate situation,” Pelicans guard CJ McCollum said. “He was having a great game. We're getting down the stretch of a highly important game where he's dominating and leaving his imprint in all phases. And he ends up having to leave the game early.

“I don't know what happened or the extent of it,” McCollum added. “Hopefully, he's back soon.”

Williamson, who missed most of his first four seasons because of a series of injuries to his knee, hand, foot and hamstring, finally got through a regular season relatively good health in his fifth year as a pro. He played in 70 games, leading the 49-win Pelicans in scoring at 22.9 points.

And for about 45 minutes on the game clock on Tuesday night, Williamson's maiden postseason performance did not disappoint. He was finding numerous ways to get around Davis and LeBron James and create angles to showcase his deft touch around the rim.

Sometimes he used the glass, sometimes he tossed the ball straight in. He slammed down forceful dunks and sprinkled in some midrange shots.

In the final seconds of the first half, he sprinted nearly the length of the court on the dribble before hitting a contested floater off the glass as time expired.

For Pelicans veteran forward Larry Nance Jr., Williamson's performance exemplified why the former Duke star was the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA draft.

“That dude is incredible,” Nance said. “My vocabulary is pretty expansive. I don’t have the words to describe his performance tonight and how he’s shouldered us all season.”

James, meanwhile, predicted that Williamson is "going to be great for a long time.”

“He's a generational player, a generational talent. He's going to continue to get better and better,” James said. “Tonight was just a small microcosm of how great he can be, his ability to get downhill, finish vs. smalls, finish vs. bigs, taller guys, shorter guys, doesn't matter,” James said. “One thing about him, he's not afraid to compete. So, that's a great thing. He's a star.”

A star the Pelicans will now be without with their season in the balance.