After long layoff, Pelicans ready to compete again

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Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball

The New Orleans Pelicans season began 272 days ago.

It was suddenly interrupted 131 days ago.

Finally, it is about to resume. The Pelicans will be on a basketball court competing against another team for the first time since March 8 when they face the Brooklyn Nets in a scrimmage at 6 p.m. CDT Wednesday in Orlando, Fla.

It’s the first of three such tune-ups in preparation for the restart of the season inside the NBA bubble. Such is life in resuming the NBA season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

It seems unlikely that Zion Williamson will be available Wednesday, but perhaps he’ll return some time before the first actual game against the Utah Jazz on July 30. Williamson left the bubble last week because of a family emergency and it’s unknown when he will return.

The three scrimmages, which will feature 10-minute quarters rather than the standard 12-minute quarters, are designed to get players in game shape after four-month layoff

“I think our guys, from a conditioning standpoint, came back in pretty good shape, but to get your basketball legs under you and feel comfortable in not just a 40-minute scrimmage, but a 48-minute game … I still think that takes a little time,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “So it remains to be seen how they react to a 48-minute game.”

Williamson’s likely absence will require lineup and rotation changes at least initially.

“I think we’ll play a lot more guys and the rotation will be a little different anyway,” Gentry said. “We’re going to work on some things and probably play some combination of people who we would not normally play in a regular-season game, but we’re trying to find out some things about some of the guys that we have and the rotations and how they may work in certain situations.

“We will use these scrimmages as a gauge to those rotations and how exactly or how efficient they are. I think there’s a little bit of a combination of both. We also want to play good, solid basketball.”

New Orleans was playing good, solid basketball before the season was suspended March 11 just minutes before the Pelicans were scheduled to play the Kings in Sacramento.

The Pelicans had overcome a slow start, a rash of early-season injuries and a 13-game losing streak to move within striking distance of a playoff berth. They had won their last two games and eight of their last 13.

When the season resumes they will be in a virtual tie with Portland and Sacramento, 3½ games behind eighth-place Memphis.

“I’m very excited to play someone else besides us,” guard Josh Hart said. “We’ve been going, scrimmaging five-on-five just about every day since we’ve been down here, so very excited to do that. But it’s difficult for us because we don’t have room to kind of slowly ramp things up.

“We kind of just have to get it straight from the get-go. I think we’ll definitely play some guys, some of our big guys some decent minutes their first game to try to get them back into the rhythm of actually playing a game because we haven’t played a game in 3-4 months. … It’s about just kind of getting that rhythm as fast as we can, because when July 30th comes, we’ve got to hit the ground running.”

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Les East

CCS/SDS/Field Level Media

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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…

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