The Jazz beat the Pelicans in the first game of tonightâs doubleheader. Now LeBron James and the Lakers face the Clippers.
The Pelicans gave up a big lead to the Jazz and lost, 106-104, in the first game of the N.B.A. restart.
The N.B.A. is finally back in action, with games featuring some of the stars fans have missed the most: 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 because of the coronavirus pandemic, the N.B.A. is kicking off with a doubleheader from its so-called bubble at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla. Each of the 22 teams participating in the restart will play in eight seeding games before the playoffs.
The Jazz have attacked the basket relentlessly in the fourth quarter. Donovan Mitchell scored six straight Utah points to nudge the âvisitorsâ into a 102-99 lead before missing an uncontested layup to set up a tense finish. Of course, it didnât hurt Utahâs comeback chances that Zion Williamson went out with 7:19 remaining and did not return. Williamson scored 13 points in 15 minutes but did not grab a single rebound.
With less than 4 minutes to go, the Pelicans are running out of time to recapture the rhythm that had them cooking in the first half. New Orleans is pushing for the eighth seed in the West, meaning every game counts.
The Pelicansâ lead tightened, 87-79, as the Jazz upped their offensive game in the third with help from a few 3-pointers â with Utahâs Royce OâNeale coming in hot toward the last three minutes of the quarter. But Utahâs success in the paint really sealed its comeback.
Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson and the Pelicansâ Ingram led the board with 18 points a piece. Lonzo Ball, the Pelicans point guard, leads the game in assists. And Gobert â despite being benched with a little over two minutes left on the clock after taking a foul from JJ Redick â still led in rebounds. New Orleans had 20 fouls by the quarterâs end.
Zion Williamson tossed clear assists to both Jrue Holiday in a dunk and Lonzo Ball for a layup early in the third, proving the 20-year-oldâs chemistry is intact in his 20th career game. Redick also landed two 3s, holding the Pelicansâ lead.
A considerable concern for many teams after just three weeks of full-speed practices was their readiness for games that count and how ugly the product might look early. Utah was shooting 24.1 percent from the 3-point line through three quarters (7-of-29) and had committed 15 turnovers, with Donovan Mitchell shooting just 4-of-11 from the field for 12 points. The Jazz, though, entered the final period trailing by just 8 points, despite their up-and-down offense.
Pelicans Coach Alvin Gentry vowed to use Zion Williamson in âshort burstsâ after Williamson missed so much practice time recently tending to an urgent family matter. But New Orleansâ other stars have clicked quickly to compensate for the limited minutes. Brandon Ingram (15 points) and Jrue Holiday (12 points) have complemented Williamsonâs 9 points on 4-for-4 shooting in just seven minutes. Itâs been sharp offensive start for the Pelicans in building a 60-48 lead, as they seek to build early momentum in their quest to wrest the Westâs No. 8 seed away from Memphis.
Ah, one point of familiar comfort in an N.B.A. broadcast: the TNT analysts Charles Barkley, Shaquille OâNeal and Kenny Smith bantering with host Ernie Johnson at halftime. They sat socially distanced, with dividers between one another on set at a very long table.
Barkley said that normally, the group would be watching the game together in the same room. Now, they had to watch by themselves in individual rooms. They all acknowledged the awkwardness.
âIâm not used to watching games like this,â OâNeal said. He added, âI really have to concentrate.â
On television, the broadcast has looked mostly the same as any N.B.A. game that aired before the pandemic. That there is no crowd is not apparent right away, in part because of the digital fans on videoboards in the arena.
Where it is apparent: the lack of crowd noise. In the N.B.A., the loudness of a crowd can shift the momentum of a game. It might cause a coach to call timeout. It might amp up a player more than usual. So far, for example, Zion Williamson has had some nice plays, but it doesnât feel as eye popping because the crowd noise isnât there. In a typical N.B.A. game, you can tell who is winning simply by listening to the crowd noise. You canât now. That might be an adjustment for players.
Rudy Gobert, the first N.B.A. player known to have tested positive for the coronavirus, snagged the first points of the restart, swooping in with a shot from near under the basket after grabbing the ball from the tipoff.
Despite an early Jazz lead, the Pelicans took control in the last minutes of the first quarter, going into the second quarter up 26-23. Pelicans guard JJ Redick put in the work that pushed the Pelicans ahead, shining with his notorious 90 percent sink rate and a clean assist to guard Jrue Holiday to close the gap.
Zion Williamson got going with a few buckets in the quarter. He averaged 23.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in 19 games this season.
The highly anticipated N.B.A. restart tipped off with a symbol of solidarity, rather than rivalry. Pelicans and Jazz players, coaches and staff knelt together in front of a Black Lives Matter floor mural painted on the edge of the court as a wordless rendition of the national anthem by the musician Jon Batiste played.
It was the first of many demonstrations for social justice causes expected this season. The players across the 22 teams participating in the restart were allowed to replace their names on the backs of their jerseys with phrases related to social justice. On the floor today were âpeace,â âequalityâ and âlisten to meâ among others.
âI respect our teamsâ unified act of peaceful protest for social justice and under these unique circumstances will not enforce our longstanding rule requiring standing during the playing of our national anthem,â N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver said later during the game in a statement.
The standard N.B.A. off-season is filled with weeks of off-games. The forced break of play and practice has meant that this pandemic pause may have been the longest time many N.B.A. players have gone without playing and practicing at a high level.
That has some coaches worried about the quick ramp up in Florida. Players only had three weeks after they exited quarantine to reacclimate their bodies to the demands of the N.B.A. That may leave more players susceptible to injury.
âThis is a different, unique ramp-up,â Washington Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard said. âThe physical demand of playing basketball is different than running on a treadmill, doing Peloton, doing workouts in your garage on Zoom. Weâll have basically two weeks to really get to five-on-five.â
In early June, LeBron James and a group of prominent Black athletes and entertainers â including Trae Young, Draymond Green, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Jalen Rose â announced that they would be starting a new group aimed at protecting African-Americansâ voting rights.
âYes, we want you to go out and vote, but weâre also going to give you the tutorial,â James said of the organization, called More Than a Vote. âWeâre going to give you the background of how to vote and what theyâre trying to do, the other side, to stop you from voting.
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