The NBA is finally back in action, with games that have seen the absence of some of the most famous fans: LeBron James and Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers; Kawhi Leonard and Paul George of the Los Angeles Clippers; and Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans.
More than four months after the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NBA is kicking off a doubleheader from its so-called bubble at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Florida. Each of the 22 teams participating in the restart will play in eight seeding games before the playoffs.
Jazz and pelicans tipped TNT.
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Jazz takes the lead late.
Less than 4 minutes from the end, the pelicans are running out of time to resume the rhythm that made them cook in the first half. New Orleans is pushing for eighth seed in the West, which means every game counts.
The Pelicans’ lead narrowed, 87-79, while the Jazz increased their offensive game in the third with the help of some 3 points – with Utah Royce O’Neale going wild in the last three minutes of the fourth. But Utah’s success in painting really made a comeback.
Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson and Ingram Pelicans led the board with 18 points per piece. Lonzo Ball, the pelicans’ guard point, leads the game in assists. And Gobert – despite being on the bench with just over two minutes left on the clock after committing a foul by JJ Redick – still led to rebounds. New Orleans suffered 20 fouls at the end of the quarter.
Zion Williamson gave clear help to both Jrue Holiday in a dunk and Lonzo Ball for an early third layup, showing that the 20-year-old’s chemistry is intact in his 20th career game. Redick also scored two 3s, keeping command of the pelicans.
A considerable concern for many teams after just three weeks of high-speed tests was their readiness for the games that matter and how bad the product could look in advance. Utah was shooting 24.1 percent from the 3-point line in three quarters (7 of 29) and had committed 15 turnovers, with Donovan Mitchell shooting just 4 of 11 from the field for 12 points. Jazz, however, entered the last period, dragging only 8 points, despite its descending offense.
Check it out: Zion in action.
First half: New Orleans is shooting.
Pelican coach Alvin Gentry has promised to use Zion Williamson in “short bursts” after Williamson has lost so much practice time recently tending to an urgent family matter. But the other stars in New Orleans clicked quickly to make up for the limited minutes. Brandon Ingram (15 points) and Jrue Holiday (12 points) completed Williamson’s 9 points in shot 4 by 4 in just seven minutes. It was a brusque offensive start for pelicans in building a 60-48 lead, as they seek to create an initial momentum in their quest to rip seed n. 8 of the West from Memphis.
Ah, a familiar comfort point in an NBA broadcast: TNT analysts Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith who mumble with host Ernie Johnson halfway through. They sat socially apart, with dividers between them on set a very long table.
“They could have the last supper on this table” Barkley joked.
Barkley said that normally the group would watch the game together in the same room. Now, they had to look alone in the individual rooms. Everyone acknowledged the embarrassment.
“I’m not used to watching games like this,” said O’Neal. He added: “I really have to concentrate.”
How this game is different: it is too silent.
On television, the broadcast was mostly the same as any NBA game aired before the pandemic. The fact that there is no crowd isn’t immediately apparent, in part because of the digital fans on the video cards in the arena.
Where it is evident: the lack of crowd noise. In the NBA, the volume of a crowd can shift the momentum of a game. It could cause a timeout for a coach. It could amplify a player more than usual. So far, for example, Zion Williamson has had some beautiful theatrical performances, but it does not seem amazing because the noise of the crowd is not there. In a typical NBA game, you can tell who is winning by simply listening to the noise of the crowd. You can’t right now. It could be an adjustment for players.
Rudy Gobert, the first NBA player known to have tested positive for the coronavirus, grabbed the first few points of the reboot, jumping in with a close shot under the basket after grabbing the ball from the tip.
Despite a jazz record, pelicans took control in the last few minutes of the first quarter, going into the second quarter with an increase of 26-23. Pelican guard JJ Redick did the job that pushed the pelicans forward, shining with its well-known 90 percent drop rate and clean help to protect Jrue Holiday to bridge the gap.
Zion Williamson went ahead with a few buckets in the quarter. This season he has averaged 23.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in 19 games.
Jazz / Pelicans players and trainers went to their knees during the national anthem.
The eagerly awaited restart of the NBA took off with a symbol of solidarity rather than rivalry. Pelicans and jazz players, coaches and staff knelt in front of a Black Lives Matter floor mural painted on the edge of the court like a speechless rendition of the national anthem of musician Jon Batiste.
It was the first of many demonstrations for social justice cases expected this season. The players of the 22 teams participating in the restart have been allowed to replace their names on the back of the shirts with phrases related to social justice. Today on the floor there were “peace”, “equality” and “listen to me” among others.
“I respect the unified act of peaceful protest of our social justice teams and in these unique circumstances I will not enforce our longstanding rule requiring resistance during the execution of our national anthem,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver later during the game on a note.
The restart of the season so quickly raised injury problems.
The NBA standard low season is full of off-game weeks. Forced interruption of the game and practice meant that this pandemic break may have been the longest period in which many NBA players have passed without playing and training at a high level.
This has some coaches worried about the rapid ascent to Florida. The players had only three weeks after exiting the quarantine to re-acclimatize their bodies to the demands of the NBA which could leave more players susceptible to injury.
“This is a different, unique development,” said Washington Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard. “The physical demand to play basketball is different from running on a treadmill, doing Peloton, doing workouts in your garage on Zoom. We will basically have two weeks to really get to five out of five. “
Players are still pushing for social justice.
Many NBA players have been active in various social justice initiatives this summer.
In early June, LeBron James and a group of eminent black athletes and animators – including Trae Young, Draymond Green, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Jalen Rose – announced that they would launch a new group aimed at protecting the voting rights of African Americans.
“Yes, we want you to come out and vote, but we’ll also give you the tutorial,” said James of the organization, called More Than a Vote. “We will provide you with information on how to vote and what they are trying to do, on the other hand, to prevent you from voting.