By John Ezekiel J. Hirro
The NBA is officially back. After a four-month hiatus, four teams returned to action on Friday (Philippine time) for the official start of the seeding games leading to the playoffs. Here are some takeaways:
‘Patient zero’ to hero
Utah Jazz bigman Rudy Gobert was the first NBA player to have tested positive for Covid-19. His positive test last March led to the suspension of the 2020-2021 season.
However, during Utah’s opener against the New Orleans Pelicans, Gobert, in poetic fashion, scored the first and last points of the game.
Rudy Gobert has the first bucket for the NBA restart pic.twitter.com/MIQULizyTG
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 30, 2020
The last two points, which came from free throws, proved pivotal as they sealed the victory for the Jazz.
Gobert sinks the game-winning free throws in the first game of the restart.
Jazz W. pic.twitter.com/2801zREI0o
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 31, 2020
Conley finally assured of a starting spot
Mike Conley was one of Utah’s biggest acquisitions last offseason. The Jazz traded for him in hopes of the veteran point guard providing maturity and helping the development of young all-star swingman Donovan Mitchell. However, he has yet to remain healthy for long stretches and prove that he belongs in the starting lineup.
In his absence, the Jazz went on a 10-game losing streak from December to January. Since his return, the Jazz had been shaky.
On Thursday, however, after being reinserted into the starting lineup due to the season-ending surgery of forward Bojan Bogdanovic, Conley scored 20 points on 7-16 shooting and dished out four assists.
The 32-year-old also showed flashes with his off-ball scoring and help defense.
Slopes of Zion
Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson, in his NBA 20 games so far, looked sensational, albeit limited. In 15 minutes of play on Friday, he scored 13 points on 6/8 shooting.
However, the health status, durability and impact of Williamson remains a mystery, as he was not inserted into the game during crunch time due to his minutes restriction.
The Pelicans, favored to face the eighth-seed Memphis Grizzlies for a playoff tournament, still have not only an upward hill to climb in the standings, but also up the steep slopes of hill Zion.
The Lakers signed Dion Waiters as a replacement for Troy Daniels before the season shutdown. As Rajon Rondo fell to injury and Avery Bradley elected not to join the team’s bubble run, Waiters looked like a deserving replacement, scoring 11 points with three rebounds and two assists. He only shot 1-6 from deep, but he was a +17 in 21 minutes.
Clippers need chemistry
The Los Angeles Clippers have arguably the deepest roster in the league. Marcus Morris went scoreless, Ivica Zubac only scored just two points and Reggie Jackson went for 10.
The all-star frontcourt duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George combined for 58 of the Clippers starters’ 70 total, but their backups and co-starters need to play more serviceable minutes for the team’s success.
To their defense, bench spark plugs Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell were out, but the Clippers could have definitely chalked up more with their active players.
Davis remains dominant
The Lakers went all-in on their gamble to trade for Anthony Davis. Against the Clippers, believed to be the Lakers’ co-favorites in the West, Davis scored 34 points with eight rebounds and four assists. Should he remain healthy, the Lakers will definitely use an unguardable giant who can shoot, dribble and pass. With the win on Friday, the Lakers notched their first 50-win season since 2010-2011, standing firm in the first spot in the West.
LeBron is… LeBron
LeBron James scored the game winner for the Lakers against their Los Angeles rivals.
Tie game. Orlando opener. Top two teams in the West.
The King came through 👑 pic.twitter.com/i77YzyrknH
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) July 31, 2020
Not only that, he also denied Leonard and George on the defensive end to seal the win.
LeBron James. At 35 years old. In his 17th season.