The bright lights of Amway Arena shining down on some of the league’s biggest stars. The whole world waiting with blistering anticipation. Anxious for what would be the first official NBA tip-off in over four months. July 30th, 2020 marks the day the NBA officially rose from the clutches of Covid-19 as four of the most exciting teams in the Western Conference squared off in the first game of the eight-game play in.
With matchups between the Utah Jazz vs. New Orleans Pelicans and the Battle of LA, Lakers vs. Clippers, neither game disappointed. Not a dull moment as stars traded baskets all the way down to the wire where late game heroics would eventually determine the winner. But what can we take away from Day 1 of what has been the most anticipated sports return possibly in basketball history? Here are three things we learned from yesterday’s matchups.
In game 1 of our double header, all eyes were pointing at rookie phenom Zion Williamson and Pelicans, in anticipation that New Orleans would strike first as the potential candidate for the 8th seed in the West. Instead it was the Jazz who stole the show with Jordan Clarkson with 23 points, five rebounds and three assists as they clutched out a 106-104 win in the final seconds off of two huge Rudy Gobert free throws despite being down for most of the game.
Since acquiring Clarkson in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers back in December, Utah has gone 24 – 11 including ten straight wins in his first 10 games with the team. As a spark plug off the bench, Clarkson has contributed nearly 16 points a game on 48.2% shooting and will be asked to play big minutes this postseason with the absence Bojan Bogdanovic (team’s second leading scorer) who has been ruled out afterundergoing season-ending surgery on his right wrist back in May.
With the Jazz already having significant fire power in the backcourt with Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley, who both scored 20 apiece, Clarkson gives them yet another ball handler who scores at a high volume and does so in a hurry. Utah may miss Bogdanovic in the playoffs but if Clarkson keeps playing like this, they will instantly become a dark horse contender in the West.
2) Pelicans Are Tanking the Playoff Push
One would think that with the Pelicans being four games back and only having eight games to make a push that they would give Zion Williamson big minutes in what seemed to be a winnable game. Unfortunately, we all thought wrong. Brandon Ingram played out of his mind, leading his team with 23 points and chipping in eight rebounds. Veteran guards Jrue Holiday and JJ Redick combined for 41 points. And New Orleans spent most of the game ahead until about the fourth quarter of the game.
But the biggest enigma was Williamson who oddly only played 15 minutes of the game and did not play at all during the last three minutes of the game, leaving the Pelicans star frustrated and unhappy. Appearing on The Dan Patrick Show, Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes noted that Williamson was “pissed” about his minutes restriction.
If this continues, not only will New Orleans be missing the playoffs this season, but they will have yet another disgruntled star on their team fearing the possibility of their prime being wasted (a la Anthony Davis).
3) The Battle of LA Looks One-Sided
In a much-anticipated rematch between the Lakers and Clippers, Anthony Davis and Lakers came out on top. Lebron James and Davis led as they combined for 50 points, 19 rebounds and 11 assists. Kyle Kuzma and new signee Dion Waiters even heavily contributed, combining for 27 points on 5 of 13 shooting from three as the Lakers stole the win with a self putback layup with 12.8 seconds left in the game. But that does not tell the whole story.
Although the Lakers came out with the win, the Clippers still appear to be the better team. The Clippers stars, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard combined for 58 points on 9 of 15 shooting from three. The game was nip and tuck from start to finish and they did so without Lou Williams, who isserving a 10-day quarantine, Montrezl Harrell who hasyet to report to Orlando and a limited Patrick Beverley who only played 15 minutes after beinglisted as questionable before the game. Considering that the Clippers were missing two of their top four scorers who are also both viable candidates for Sixth Man of the Year, the fact that the game was as close as it was hints that a full strength Clippers team is going to be tough for the Lakers to handle.
ESPN analyst and co-host of ESPN First Take, Stephen A. Smith, agrees as he made it clear this morning that what he saw from Lakers last night left a lot to be desired. “Last night was the first time I looked at the Lakers and said ‘I don’t like their chances’, Smith said. Smith doubled down on his point in favor of Clippers through high praise Paul George who had 38 points and hit the big three down the stretch to tie things up at 101. “That Paul George last night?” Smith added. “If that Paul George is like that in the playoffs … [the rest of the league is in trouble]. The Clippers may have lost last night, but if that was what their team looked like at only half strength, every team that could potentially face off with them this postseason may want to book their vacation tickets early.
The NBA Restart kickoff was a great moment for the league and NBA fans everywhere that hopefully provided us all with a newfound appreciation for the game of basketball. This weekend looks like an exciting one as we can finally say that the NBA is back.
Hi there! My name is Jalon Dixon, but most people just call me Jay. As an aspiring, young sports writer and podcaster, I enjoy discussing sports (mainly basketball and football) and sharing my knowledge with others. Growing up right in the middle of Towson University, Morgan State, Goucher College and others, I have gotten the chance to learn so much about a handful of the different athletic teams that thrive here in Baltimore. I want to be the voice of local fans and teams that may not get the same spotlight as others, but still play a big part in our everyday lives. My motto is "Always Embrace Conversation," so if you ever want to give me feedback on a piece or even just have a friendly sports debate, feel free to email me! Hope you enjoy my work and maybe even learn something along the way.