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Foot injury to keep New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson sidelined for start of season

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METAIRIE, La. — New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson will miss the start of the regular season because of a right foot injury that required offseason surgery, Pelicans vice president of basketball operations David Griffin said on Thursday.

Williamson received scans on Wednesday, and after reviewing the scans with Dr. Richard Ferkel and Pelicans team doctor Dr. Scott Montgomery, Griffin said the doctors were “very encouraged” by the healing of the bone.

However, there was no “fixed timeline” given on Williamson’s return-to-play status. Griffin said Williamson will get more scans in two to two-and-a-half weeks and the team will go from there.

“It’s everyone’s goal that Zion return to play as soon as safely possible,” Griffin said. “Obviously, two to two-and-a-half weeks from now means he will not be on the floor for the first week of games. When he is able to return safely, we will do that.”

At media day on Sept. 27, Griffin said Williamson injured his foot prior to Summer League in the early part of the offseason but added at the time that “his timeline should get him back on the court in time for the regular season.”

Williamson followed that up by saying “I expect to be back for the first game. First official game, I would say.” Griffin said there have been no setbacks in Williamson’s recovery and that nothing has gone wrong, either.

“It just takes a certain amount of time for guys to lay the bone that the doctors want to see,” Griffin said. “This is where our timeline is.”

Williamson was cleared to start running and to do 1-on-0 on-court work, Griffin said. But it was unclear when he would be specifically cleared for more activities.

“Throughout the process, we’ll be heading toward that,” Griffin said of Williamson getting to the point where he could play 5-on-5. “It may be well before the 2½ weeks that he does that. It’s really just a function of how things progress.”

For first-year Pelicans coach Willie Green, he now has to start year at the helm without Williamson.

“It’s a part of (the game). We miss him,” Green said. “He’s here and he’s progressing, as Griff spoke about. But we gotta get other guys ready, there’s a game coming up Wednesday against Philly. We just need to be prepared.”

How the Pelicans line up on opening night against the Sixers remains up for debate. For the first preseason game when Brandon Ingram played, Green went with Ingram and Naji Marshall as the starting forwards. When asked about playing Ingram up at the power forward position, Green mentioned the fluidness of NBA lineups today.

“I think 3, 4, 2 are interchangeable in the NBA right now,” Green said. “Unless you play certain teams, you play the Lakers, they could be a little bit bigger. You play Milwaukee, they could put a big lineup out there. That’s when you really gotta think about your starting 4, 3. But against a lot of teams, 3 and 4 guys are interchangeable and BI can play either of those positions.”

Williamson and Ingram, two All-Stars, were supposed to anchor a Pelicans’ lineup that featured more shooting this season – something that was going to ease the burden and number of bodies each player saw on the defensive end of the floor. Now, as the team had to do in Williamson’s rookie season, they’ll have to get off on the right foot without their big man.

In 2019, Williamson also suffered an injury in the preseason that delayed the start of his season. A torn meniscus in his right knee pushed Williamson’s NBA debut to Jan. 22, 2020.

“It’s not ideal, obviously,” Griffin said. “It’s also not terribly debilitating either. The idea again is to return as soon and safely as possible. I think the way the doctors are handling this gives a great deal of confidence that that’s going to be the case. We would love to not have to deal with it. But we’re really happy with the way it’s gone so far.”

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DeMar DeRozan, shorthanded Chicago Bulls hand Brooklyn Nets ‘bad, tough loss’

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NEW YORK — With DeMar DeRozan drawing James Harden and Kevin Durant with him on a drive into the paint, Lonzo Ball was all alone on the right wing as he launched a 3, crouched in anticipation and then turned toward courtside fans behind him after drilling a late dagger against the Brooklyn Nets.

Down four rotation players due to health and injuries, the Chicago Bulls continued their surprising start to the season by erasing an 11-point third-quarter deficit to give the Nets a stinging 111-107 loss at Barclays Center on Saturday night.

The Bulls (16-8) have won three straight games and leave New York having beaten the Knicks at Madison Square Garden and the Nets at Barclays Center on this road trip. This is also the second time this season that the Bulls outplayed the preseason favorite to win the Eastern Conference in the fourth quarter to hand the Nets a bitter loss, clinching the season series between the two teams.

“You want to be the best, you got to beat the best,” said DeRozan, who picked the Nets apart with 13 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter. “Everybody talks about being best but you got to go out there. No matter if you are shorthanded, you want to be the best, you got to go out there and compete against the best.”

The Bulls entered the game shorthanded with Javonte Green and Coby White in health and safety protocols after testing positive for COVID-19. With Patrick Williams (left wrist) already out, the Bulls started Alex Caruso at power forward but he was later ruled out due to a hamstring injury that was bothering him entering the game. Bulls coach Billy Donovan said it was a medical decision to pull Caruso and that he did not know how long Caruso might be sidelined.

The Nets (16-7) looked at this game as a big test for them. They were shorthanded themselves with Joe Harris (ankle) and James Johnson (shoulder) out to go along with Kyrie Irving, who is not with the team. But they were looking to settle a score after losing, 118-95, in Chicago on Nov. 8 and get a quality win over one of the top teams in the conference.

Brooklyn led 71-60 with 6:34 left in the third and appeared to be in control. But that cushion was gone by the 9:28 mark in the fourth. Durant scored nine of his 28 points in the fourth quarter but Harden struggled with his shot, missing 5-of-6 shots in the fourth. The Nets defense allowed Chicago to shoot 52.2% in the fourth quarter. Chicago also enjoyed a 27-to-9 advantage in free-throw attempts for the game.

“We just gotta go out there and play with some force and confidence, like we want to win,” Durant said. “And understand it’s a long game, and just stick with the game plan. It’s a bad, it’s a tough loss. … We didn’t take advantage of being up nine-10 points. We just let them stay in the game and we were supposed to just bury them.”

Harden, who recently admitted he is having difficulty finding balance between being more of a playmaker versus when to be a scorer with Irving not playing, shot just 5-of-21 overall before finishing with 14 points, 14 assists and seven rebounds.

“Blame this one on me,” said Harden. “I had a lot of opportunities at the rim that I didn’t convert that could have settled this game down.”

Durant said he should’ve helped Harden more by making more shots.

“That would’ve took pressure off of him,” Durant said.

At the end, the Nets watched another struggling shooter make the game’s biggest shot. After Durant cut the deficit to 107-105 with a 3-pointer, DeRozan drove and drew Harden and Durant with him in the paint. DeRozan found Ball alone on the right wing and the point guard delivered the dagger 3, just his second of the game. Ball finished 3-for-10 overall and just 2-for-7 from behind the arc.

Ball — who had eight points, nine rebounds, seven assists and three blocks against the Nets — also missed 8-of-10 3-point shots in Thursday’s win over the Knicks. But the Bulls continue to develop chemistry and trust in one another as they moved to within half a game of the Nets for the lead in the East.

“It says a lot about our team,” DeRozan said of the wins against the Knicks and Nets. “How resilient. How we approach challenges. We don’t shy away from them. We accept them.

“… It is difficult to win in this league, especially coming into two hostile environments on the road, playing against two teams and the best team in our conference, to withstand the blow that we took from them throughout the whole game, to buckle down in the fourth quarter and pull out a victory.”

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Chicago Bulls’ Javonte Green tests positive for COVID-19, joins Coby White in protocols

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The Chicago Bulls, who played the Hornets on Monday, saw Javonte Green test positive for COVID-19 on Friday, following Coby White earlier this week.

Charlotte had four players enter health and safety protocols on Saturday.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan said before his team faced the Nets in Brooklyn Saturday night that Green had driven back to Chicago on Friday, and was feeling all right. He added that Chicago expects to continue daily testing in the wake of multiple positive tests, and that he anticipates the league continuing to tighten its protocols as time goes by.

“I think that’s happening,” Donovan said of the protocols getting stricter. “I don’t think there’s any question that’s happening. I think there’s going to be, my guess would be, stricter policies than there have been this year. To your point, I think Thanksgiving and you’re dealing with Christmas and then New Year’s … people are going to be around family. I think that the way it’s moving right now is it’s getting a little more stricter.

“Certainly for us right now it’s a lot stricter because we’ve got two players who are positive.”

Donovan also praised his players for how they’ve handled the twists and turns of the situation over the past several days.

“Well, we’re not the only ones dealing with it,” Donovan said, “but the only guys I can respond to our our guys, and our guys have been class acts, totally professional. I think they’ve handled whatever has come their way. We’re not the only team that’s dealing with it, that’s had to deal with it.

“I think there was obviously some hope and some optimism we kind of passed this going into the season. That certainly hasn’t happened. But our guys have handled it, and the whole thing about you have to control what you can control. There’s a lot of inconveniences, things can get frustrating and annoying and you worry about are you infected or are you healthy, and you’ve got a couple teammates and guys on the team who have tested positive, so I’m sure some of that stuff goes through those guys’ minds.”

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Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo to miss second game with calf soreness

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Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo will miss Saturday’s game against the Miami Heat with right calf soreness, coach Mike Budenholzer announced before the game.

It’s the second straight game Antetokounmpo has been sidelined because of the injury, which kept him out of the second half of a back-to-back on Thursday in Toronto. Budenholzer said then he was hopeful this would be just a short-term issue.

“We’ll just take it day by day,” Budenholzer said Saturday. “See how it goes”

The Bucks’ roster has been hampered by injuries and illnesses since the start of the season, but they had won eight of their past nine games entering Saturday to storm back into the mix at the top of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

In 21 games this season, Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.6 points and 11.8 rebounds while collecting a career-high 6.0 assists and 1.7 blocks.

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