Zion Williamson back for Pelicans after sitting with injury

LOS ANGELES -- With a noon local tip on the West Coast, the New Orleans Pelicans started out Sunday's game against the LA Clippers a little slow. After an 18-point first quarter, things started to pick up.

Boosted by the return to the lineup of forward Zion Williamson, the Pelicans picked up the pace for a 112-91 victory over the Clippers on Sunday afternoon.

"I think based on the Central time zone; we were waking up from our nap," Pelicans guard CJ McCollum joked after the win. "We got some stops and were able to get and run. It made the game easier."

Williamson was back in the lineup after missing the past two games with a right posterior hip and lower back contusion from a fall he took Oct. 23 against the Utah Jazz. Williamson missed the final eight minutes of regulation and overtime in that game.

He was back in form against the Clippers, scoring 21 points to go along with 12 rebounds and seven assists, one off his career high.

"Glad to have him back," Pelicans coach Willie Green said. "When he touches the ball -- I've said it before -- he makes the right play. Whether it's a score for himself or finding his teammates and kicking it out and continuing to move. He was fantastic."

During the 2020-21 season, the Pelicans, then under coach Stan Van Gundy, shifted to using Williamson more as a point guard and let him control the offense and use his natural playmaking skills.

Since then, Williamson said he's seen his playmaking skills continue to grow.

"I would say before, I think I would rush it sometimes trying to see the open pass," Williamson said. "But now I just let it develop. I let the defense kind of shift towards me as soon as I see them take that shift. We got some special shooters on this team, and I'm able to find them and they knock the shots down."

Williamson was making plays off his drives and getting possessions going early thanks to something Green and his staff saw in the Clippers defense.

"The thing that we did today, which we didn't do a lot, was put the ball in Z's hands at the top, and he kind of played point guard for a bit during stretches in the game to try and take advantage of some of the mismatches," Green said. "It's something that happened [in the flow of the game], but it's something we have seen him do before, which we needed him to do in this game."

McCollum, who finished with a game-high 22 points, said it was nice to have Williamson back on the court and was complimentary of Williamson's passing throughout the game.

"He was aggressive," McCollum said. "He did what he was supposed to do in terms of decision-making, finishing around the basket. Sometimes he made the pass to the weak side. He rebounded. Initiated our offense. He was a big boost for us."

Williamson assisted on five 3-pointers, which tied his career high for assisted triples. As the defense continued to collapse, he made the right play. The Pelicans shot 7-of-11 off Williamson's passes, according to Second Spectrum data.

"Everyone locks in on Z," Pelicans forward Naji Marshall said. "It's just on us to make the right shot. He makes the right plays. He playmakes. Just like [Brandon Ingram]. It's on us to make the shot. I love that. And I hope he keeps passing to me."

The Pelicans were still without Ingram (concussion), who, like Williamson, was hurt in the Utah game. Green said before the game that Ingram was still in the beginning stages of the concussion protocol. Ingram is not with the Pelicans on the current road trip, which finishes Wednesday against the Los Angeles Lakers.

New Orleans could have two more players back for the Lakers game. Herb Jones (right knee hyperextension) was questionable for Sunday's game against the Clippers, but the decision was made to hold him out once he went through his pregame warm-ups.

There's also rookie guard Dyson Daniels, who is battling a left ankle sprain.

"He's getting better," Green said of Daniels. "We'll have a few days in between after this game, and hopefully he's closer to coming back against the Lakers. But we won't know until we go through a practice and see how he feels after that."

As for Williamson, he admitted he was still experiencing a little soreness from his fall but said he wanted to get back on the floor.

"I've taken a lot of falls, but I ain't never had a fall like that," Williamson said. "But it was fine enough for me to play. Unless I'm truly injured, I'm gonna be playing the game of basketball. That's just how I am."