Mark Daigneault discusses playoff series against Pelicans, Zion Williamson’s absence

After nearly a week of waiting, the Oklahoma City Thunder finally learned their first-round opponent will be the New Orleans Pelicans following the play-in tournament.

Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault talked about the matchup following Saturday’s practice. It was the final practice before the start of the playoffs for the first-seeded Thunder.

“They’ve strung together a really good year again. A team we have our respect for,” Daigneault said on the Pelicans. “I’m expecting a huge challenge for this series,”

The short-handed Pelicans will likely play the first round without Zion Williamson. The two-time All-Star suffered a hamstring strain in their play-in tournament loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

It’s a massive blow that can alter the series. After battling with health the last two years, Williamson has enjoyed a career season. He’ll miss at least two weeks.

Against the Lakers, Williamson scored a season-high 40 points before his leg injury. Without him, the Pelicans will rely on Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum to make up for their best player’s absence.

“It changes them significantly. He’s just such a unique player,” Daigneault said about Wiliamson’s absence.” There’s a really good version of them without him and there’s a really good version with him.

“I think they become a little bit more space-orient, pick-and-roll orient on offense. Defensively, they’re more light-sized and they do a lot more switching.”

The Thunder will enter the series fully healthy and rested. Meanwhile, the short-handed Pelicans are fresh off two highly intense postseason matchups.

Story originally appeared on Thunder Wire