By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and it was an epic night of NBA action as the league returned from suspension with a pair of great games. In the opening game, the Utah Jazz outlasted the New Orleans Pelicans. Later in the evening, the Lakers defeated the Clippers late on a game-winner from LeBron James. To date, the NBA bubble in Orlando appears to be a major success from a logistical standpoint. Now, it seems the league’s approach to using scrimmages and seeding games to set-up the postseason is going to be another significant victory.
As for the on-court action, the big takeaway from Utah’s win was the lack of impact from big man Zion Williamson. Limited to only 15 minutes of action, Williamson had a minimal impact on the game. In fact, with New Orleans down two points in the closing seconds, Williamson was not on the court. With the Pelicans chasing the Grizzlies for a playoff spot in the Western Conference standings, every game is of great importance for New Orleans. Losing last night was a definite tough blow to the team’s postseason hopes.
In the clash of L.A. squads, a Paul George three-pointer late seemed to cement a trip to overtime for the Clippers and Lakers. LeBron James had other plans, however. After securing his own miss on a wild shot attempt, James hit a put-back that would serve as the game-winning basket. It wasn’t the prettiest of games—something mostly attributable to some ridiculous foul calls in the first quarter—but it was an excellent showcase for the NBA’s return. These two teams are likely preparing for a rematch in the Western Conference Finals, though plenty of other teams in the West will be looking to wreck those plans.
Today, action tips off in the afternoon with the Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets squaring off in the opener. Both teams are currently in the playoff field in the East, though COVID-19 has ruined any hopes for the Nets are making noise in the postseason. The Nets were ravaged by the virus, and the team will be fortunate to win a single game while in Orlando. Portland and Memphis square off in a sneaky-good match-up as the Blazers look to gain some ground on the Grizzlies in the race for the final playoff spot in the West. The Blazers should be welcoming back both Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic to the frontcourt. Portland is a team the rest of the West should be hoping to fail to reach the postseason.
Thursday night featured a potential Western Conference Finals preview as the L.A. teams met, and Friday night boasts the same for the East. The Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks will meet in a nationally-televised game. The Bucks were reeling heading into the suspended season due to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ailing knee. Now fully healthy, Milwaukee will look to get back on track and re-establish itself as the prohibitive favorite in the East. Boston will likely treat this like a playoff game, hoping to send a message to the rest of the NBA.
Closing out Friday night is a Texas showdown as the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks meet. The Rockets were rolling when the suspension hit, thriving via its newly-embraced small-ball lineup. Now weeks late, the rest of the league has had a chance to game-plan ways to counter Houston’s unique approach. Dallas currently sits 1.5 games behind Houston in the standings, and catching the Rockets would mean likely avoiding the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. With a strong showing during the re-seeding stage in Orlando, either Houston or Dallas could move up to as high as second or third in the West.