Zion Williamson is dealing with a finger injury during the Pelicans' playoff push

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Zion Williamson's long-awaited first playoff push with the New Orleans Pelicans won't be pain free.

Williamson injured a finger on his shooting hand while blocking a shot shortly before halftime of New Orleans' 117-108 loss to Orlando on Wednesday night.

But some good news arrived on Thursday when coach Willie Green said after practice that Williamson's finger did not appear to have structural damage. Green added that Williamson would be listed as day to day on the club's injury report leading up to Friday night's home game against San Antonio.

“Just banged it against the backboard really hard,” Williamson said after the game.

Williamson kept playing after the injury, but not before heading to the locker room to have it examined. The last of his 15 points came on a dunk in the fourth quarter, but he also sat out the game's final seven-plus minutes.

With six games remaining, the Pelicans have a tenuous hold on sixth place in the Western Conference. They began Thursday just a half0game ahead of seventh-place Sacramento. Only the top six seeds in each conference advance directly to the NBA playoffs and avoid a play-in involving teams that finish seventh through 10th.

Meanwhile, high-scoring wing Brandon Ingram has been sidelined since March 21 by a bone bruise in his left knee, and it's not clear if he'll return before the end of the regular season. But the Pelicans can be hopeful about their stretch run as long as Williamson avoids the type of health issues that sidelined him for most of his first four NBA seasons.

Williamson has played 65 games this season, more than any other regular season in his previous four years since being drafted first overall out of Duke in 2019. His average of nearly 23 points per game leads the team. He has looked as fit and spry as ever, running the floor and getting above the rim for alley-oop dunks on one end or to swat away shots on the other.

The Pelicans have made the Western Conference play-in twice and NBA playoffs once in the past two seasons, but Williamson was not healthy enough to play either time.

His form and fitness lately have contrasted sharply with most of his previous NBA seasons. He played in just 24 games as a rookie because of a knee injury and other conditioning concerns, missed all of his third season with a foot injury and was done after just 29 games last season because of a right hamstring strain.

Williamson has missed just 11 games this season but none since Feb. 10 and has played in 26 straight games.

“It's just getting to that part of the season,” Williamson said recently. “Just trying to let my teammates know I'm here — I'm with y'all.”

New Orleans has lost three straight and four of five, but all four losses have come against teams currently in position to make the playoffs — including Boston and Oklahoma City, which boast two of the best records in the NBA.

“There's no need to panic,” Williamson said assuredly after the Orlando loss. “We just got to come with a higher level of focus into these next few games.”