Nets prepare to face a Pelicans team that includes Zion Williamson

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson drives against Chicago Bulls forward Patrick Williams during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Chicago, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Zion Williamson had one of the biggest moments of his life at Barclays Center three years ago when the New Orleans Pelicans drafted him first overall in 2019, but the Nets are hoping that the NBA big man has a less memorable night when they open the season on Wednesday. 

The Nets didn’t get the chance to see Williamson last year as he dealt with a broken right foot that sidelined him for the entire year. Injuries have derailed much of the Pelicans star’s first three seasons in the NBA and have limited him to just 85 games over that time. 

It makes Steve Nash and his coaching staff’s job a bit trickier trying to gameplan for him coming to town for the season opener. 

“Which Zion do you get? But I think you’d be foolish not to expect an exceptional player,” Nash said after practice on Monday. “He’s so talented and gifted. He causes problems for everybody. No matter, I think, what state of his body and game is in, he’s still such a unique athlete and player. You gotta be prepared.”

Williamson will be playing in his first NBA game since May 4 when he steps onto the court in Brooklyn. Even without Williamson, the Pelicans managed to make the playoffs with a 36-46 record last season but were knocked out by the Phoenix Suns in the first round. 

The Nets defeated New Orleans in both meetings last season when the two sides met. Nets superstar Kevin Durant expected a tough matchup against the Pelicans, especially out of Williamson. 

“Excitement. Athleticism. Somebody that can put up points pretty fast,” Durant said about Williamson. “It’s a matchup problem for a lot of people, so we got our work cut out (with) him, and then you got two other scorers behind him that can score from all levels. So we got our work cut out for us, but it’s going to be exciting times when guys get healthy, especially the marquee guys in this league.”

Durant is someone that can sympathize with Williamson and what has had to go through to come back from an injury. The Brooklyn cornerstone said that there was some anxiety and you can lose some of your confidence.

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Both are things that he had to work through in the past. 

“For sure, cause the train don’t stop going cause you’re injured,” Durant explained. “The whole league keep moving, the game keeps evolving. You don’t want to get caught behind. You’re not playing in NBA games, so you’re feeling like you’re left out a bit. You want to make sure your game is right, your condition is right, everything is sold like before you left. You can have a little anxiety creep in there sometimes, but it’s all about just going out there and just playing your hardest when the ball is tipped.”