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5 Things We Learned - NBA Return (Day 1)

After months of uncertainty in so many world issues, one which has been colossal in so many lives has been the postponement of all sporting activity across the globe. However, the 30th of July was the date set for the highly anticipated NBA season to be re-introduced into our lives.

The Utah Jazz and the New Orleans Pelicans had the honor of competing in the premier game of this period of each team playing 8 ‘play in matches’, to produce the final 16 playoff sides, as well as their respective seedings. With the Pelicans sitting in 9th place in the Western Conference at the beginning of lockdown, they knew every game was crucial for them to try and secure a spot in a ‘play-in game’, to secure a playoff berth, whilst the Jazz sat comfortably in the 4th spot, and could you use these games, to build some momentum and find the best rotations for the important games to come.

And if that wasn’t enough, the return of the NBA, on its opening evening, would also play host to the Los Angeles Rivalry match. Two teams, who many have as the favorites to be wearing a ring at the conclusion of this season, went head to head in a deserted Orlando. Both games resulted in victories by one possession, as the Jazz and Lakers took the spoils from the start of the NBA return.

Here is 5 things we learned from that first night back:

1) It’s Just Not The Same Without Fans

Although for the past few weeks, we have been able to view some basketball action on our screens, in the form of the scrimmage games, it had more of a Summer League vibe, prior to the true return of the NBA. In these games, we have been able to witness, the world of basketball in a completely unique way, without fans, where the majority of the noise is from the source of the players' sneakers. However, many, myself included, had the hope that the NBA games, would have a different feel to it and that there would be more feeling of that electric atmosphere that comes in a packed arena. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, and although both the Clippers and Lakers benches tried to solve that issue, the lack of fans in the arena made the viewing experience substantially distant to what we are accustom to. We can only hope as the games increase in importance, so to does the viewing experience for all fans.

2) The LA Rivalry is Legit

When asking the world of basketball to choose who they fancy as the team to win the NBA this season, the two teams mentioned the most, are those from the Staples Center. Whilst, the favoring of these two teams is almost always split between the two. The two, have now split their four regular-season games with a 2-2 split, and after four grueling battles, we are none the wiser as to is the ‘LA Superpower’. However, no matter how close the two seem to be, there was the doubt growing in many that their final regular-season encounter, may not have the same feel to it, with little to play for, as well as the huge difference of not having 20,000 fans screaming down your neck in a packed Staples Center. Little do we know what was to come. The game was flipped on its head throughout with both teams holding double-digit leads over the course of the four quarters. Trash talking, hard fouls, and vicious dunks were a few of many appetizing sights for us, viewers, to have the pleasure of witnessing. Although in the grand scheme of things, the result may not have a great deal of meaning, it has certainly left the NBA world, waiting for the potential of a LA, Western Conference Final, with extremely baited breath.

3) Zion Is Still Zion

In the build-up to the return of NBA basketball, Zion Williamson left the bubble and returned home for a family emergency, and therefore missed out on all scrimmages prior to the ‘Play-In’ games and received much fewer training sessions as fellow teammates. For this reason, the Pelicans are on a strict timetable to look after Zion and his body, resulting in the rookie out of Duke, playing on 15 minutes against the Jazz on Thursday night. Nonetheless, 15 minutes was enough for us to remember the hype surrounding Mr Williamson. With less than a minute on the clock, he was already at the line, completing yet another 3-point play in his short NBA career, whilst minutes later, finishing an exquisite Lonzo dime, with a thunderous hoop rattling slam, which would have sent Pelicans fans around the world into raptures. 13 points on 6-8 shooting, is a dangerous sight for any Western Conference team if the Pelicans are to make into the playoffs, and his body becomes better suited to the return of high-intensity basketball, his minutes are sure to fly up, which has all fans on the edge of their seats every time Alvin Gentry’s men take to the court from this point in.

4) Experience Could Be Crucial

In the lead game, we saw the Pelicans drop a 16-point lead, in a game they looked certain to win throughout, to a rugged, ‘never say die’ Jazz team. Although the talent in the New Orleans roster cannot be doubted, the ability to perform consistently over a 48-minute period and closeout games can. The return of the NBA in the format brings much uncertainty, and the first game back gave us a good insight that experience could be crucial in these final regular-season games and playoff games. Writing this article, it still baffles me how the Jazz managed to find a way to win that game, but the important thing is that they did. Prepare to see the experienced guys step up throughout all teams, both on and off the court in these strange times, to get the best out of there franchises.  

5) Are The Lakers Closing The Gap In The Depth Debate?

If you ask anyone who favors the Clippers over the Lakers, to be lifting the NBA trophy this season, the majority will use the Clippers deep roster as their premiere argument. Yet, on Thursday night it was the bench of the Lakers who outscored the Clippers and was a key factor in why Frank Vogel’s men took home the win. Yes, the Clippers were without key additions Lou Williams and Montrez Harrell, but the Lakers look to have closed the gap in this debate. The joining of experience in the form of Dion Waiters and JR Smith, who have both crucially played many games with fellow Laker, LeBron James, looks to add that critical depth, which will be paramount when the 7-game series come calling. Waiters looked an offensive threat, in his 21 minutes of game time scoring 11 points, shooting 50% from the floor. Additionally, Kyle Kuzma looks to be finding his stroke nicely as went 4-7 from 3, with another essential 16 points off the bench. 

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Seb Kennedy
01 août 2020


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