Possible NBA group stage scenario described as “elaborate game” to get Zion Williamson into playoffs

Photo: Derick E. Hingle/USA Today Sports

The NBA’s proposed plan of a World Cup-style group stage appears to be set to get the New Orleans Pelicans and Zion Williamson in the playoffs.

In the group stage proposal, the top 20 teams would be broken into five tiers based on their win-loss record.

The Pelicans would be in tier five along with the Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs.

“I’ve already heard people in this league say this is an ‘elaborate game’ to get Zion Williamson into this bubble,” said ESPN’s Brian Windhorst on the latest Hoop Collective podcast.

“I’ll tell you one thing: that scenario gets Zion Williamson in,” said Windhorst. “Look, I’ve just heard… I’m not saying the NBA is going this route, I’m just saying I’ve already heard this scenario that no matter what happens, the cutoff line will be the Pelicans. They’ll be in. It will be the first time in the history of the NBA that the league kicked the ball into the fairway for New Orleans.”

The NBA will lose a good chunk of money with the loss of the remaining regular season games and ticket sales.

“The league is smart,” said Nancy Lieberman of Fox Sports Nola. “Why would you not want Zion in the playoffs?”

Williamson’s NBA debut produced the second-highest telecast of the season on ESPN, more than all but one game on Christmas Day.

He is also already the fourth-highest offcourt earning player in the NBA, only trailing LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.

It’s no secret that there is a “Zion effect” that may help the Pelicans get into the postseason and even draw more viewers.