The New Orleans Pelicans gave the entire NBA-watching world an enticing possible glimpse of the league’s future on Thursday, as star rookie Zion Williamson made his NBA debut in a loss to San Antonio. Williamson, who has been out since preseason with a knee injury, scored 22 points on 8-for-11 shooting and grabbed 7 rebounds in just 18 minutes. In one stretch, he scored 17 consecutive points for the Pelicans. He will continue to play with a closely watched minutes restriction with the Pelicans still four games out of a playoff spot, but fans will be fixated on him whenever he’s on the court. His return comes at a time when the team has played better, too. The Pelicans have won six of their last 10 games and, after a slew of injuries, have seen many of their stars return. Leading scorers Brandon Ingram and Jrue Holiday are back in the lineup, as is sharpshooting guard J.J. Redick. The next few weeks will be pivotal for New Orleans. If Williamson can help them climb back into the playoff race, their roster will likely remain intact. But if they fall further behind, New Orleans could become sellers at the trade deadline and look to move some of their veteran players. Denver remains near the top of the Western Conference standings, just a game behind Utah for second place, despite dealing with their own batch of injuries. The team will be without guards Jamal Murray and Gary Harris and frontcourt players Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee for Friday’s game. In their absence, Jerami Grant, Monte Morris and Michael Porter Jr. have seen expanded roles. Porter scored 19 points off the bench Wednesday, Grant has been starting in place of Millsap, and Morris could move into the starting lineup in Murray’s place should he miss extended time. Morris isn’t as explosive a scorer as Murray, but he’s a reliable shooter (39 percent from three-point range) and rarely turns it over. The Pelicans have beat the Nuggets twice in earlier meetings this season. Denver is 19-22-3 against the spread this season and New Orleans is 22-21-2.