- Rudy Gobert‘s positive coronavirus test on March 11 shut down the NBA. Four-and-a-half months later, it was Gobert scoring the game-winning basket for the Jazz in the first game of the NBA’s restart. As Tim MacMahon of ESPN details, Gobert said on Thursday night that he’s “grateful” to be in a position to get back on the court and resume the season. “Life works in mysterious ways,” he said.
Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson is among the top stars to watch in the NBA’s Orlando season restart, according to Scott Kushner of NOLA.com. Kushner notes that the league’s unique eight-game seeding play-in approach was clearly designed to imbue value to the Pelicans’ eight contests, and to allow a debut Williamson playoff appearance to be possible.
This play-in option, which equips the teams in the West seeded ninth to 13th with a theoretical chance of making the playoffs in a knockout two-game wildcard bout with that No. 8 seed, would benefit a team like the eleventh-seeded Pelicans, who fall to a 28-37 record after their loss to the Jazz tonight.
There’s more out of the NBA’s Southwest Division:
- Mavericks director of player personnel Tony Ronzone has been accused of sexual assault by another Mavericks employee, according to Jessica Luther and Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated. After the Sports Illustrated investigation was published, the Mavericks issued a response, per Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com. The Mavericks called the article a “one-sided, incomplete and sensational form of journalism, with its inaccuracies, mischaracterizations and omissions.”
- Spurs starting shooting guard Bryn Forbes will miss the team’s first seeding game in the league’s Disney World restart as he battles a sore right quad, according to Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News (Twitter link).
- Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News wonders if, thanks in part to the Spurs‘ inclusion in the Orlando restart, star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan and longtime head coach Gregg Popovich might remain with the team beyond this season. DeRozan, 30, can opt out of the 2020/21 season, the last season in the five-year, $139MM contract he signed with the team that drafted him, the Raptors, in 2016. Popovich, 71, has coached the Spurs since 1996. The team has made six Finals appearances during his tenure, winning five.
JULY 30: Williamson will be active on Thursday vs. the Jazz, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports (Twitter links). Although Zion won’t have a set minutes restriction, he’s expected to play in “short quick bursts,” Haynes adds.
JULY 29: The availability of Pelicans star rookie forward Zion Williamson for his team’s first seeding match on Thursday against the Jazz will be a game-time decision, according to head coach Alvin Gentry, writes Andrew Lopez of ESPN.
Williamson cleared his on-campus quarantine on Tuesday, having returned to the league’s Orlando restart campus last week after tending to a pressing family matter. He will have practiced twice with his team ahead of Gentry’s decision tomorrow.
Gentry did acknowledge during a press conference today that Williamson took part in five-on-five drills on Tuesday. Zion engaged in a light-contact practice with the Pelicans today, per Mark Medina of USA Today (Twitter link).
Williamson has no reservations about his preferences for tomorrow’s contest in Orlando. “If you know me, I want to hoop,” Williamson said. The No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA draft has been limited to just 19 contests out of a possible 64 this season, though his play has lifted New Orleans to the brink of playoff contention.
Williamson boasts a terrific slash line of 23.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, and 2.2 APG, while shooting 58.9% from the field and 46.2% from long range. For the 2019/20 season, the Pelicans are 11-8 with Williamson and 17-28 without him.
Gentry noted that the Pelicans’ medical staff would determine whether or not there would be a minutes restriction on Williamson, should he indeed suit up on Thursday, according to Andrew Lopez of ESPN (Twitter link). Williamson had no known medical issues prior to departing the Orlando campus earlier this month.
- In addition to improving as a player, Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell also wants to improve as a teammate, writes Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune. As Walden relays, head coach Quin Snyder has been impressed by Mitchell’s development in both areas. “That maturation process has been going on,” Snyder said. “And some of it you guys don’t see as much. Some of it we see on the floor, some of it we see in the locker room, some of it we see during video (review). … There’s an awareness and a care factor there that has manifested itself in even more leadership.”
- Mike Conley has endured some rough patches during his first season with the Jazz but the veteran point guard feels like he’s settled in, Tony Jones of The Athletic notes. “It feels like I’ve played a full season already,” Conley said. “I’ve had a chance to build chemistry with my coaches and with my teammates. I haven’t had any questions about plays or my role. I have a clear picture on what to expect.”
- G League Coach of the Year Martin Schiller, who had been the head coach of the Jazz‘ NBAGL affiliate, is leaving the Salt Lake City Stars to coach Zalgiris Kaunas in Lithuania, as Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune details.
As we detailed on Friday when we discussed the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference, there will be an opportunity for teams to move up – or down – in the standings when play resumes on July 30.
With eight “seeding games” on tap, teams are unlikely to make up five- or six-game deficits on the clubs ahead of them in the standings, but there’s a strong likelihood of a shake-up in instances where teams are only separated by a game or two.
That’s even more true in the Western Conference than it is in the East, albeit not necessarily at the very top of the standings, where the 49-14 Lakers hold a fairly comfortable lead on the 44-20 Clippers. The Lakers’ magic number to clinch the conference is just three, so they’re a safe bet to hang onto the No. 1 seed.
After that though, there’s some congestion in the standings. The Clippers’ lead on the Nuggets (43-22) is just 1.5 games. Denver holds an identical lead over the Jazz (41-23). Utah, meanwhile, is just a couple losses away from slipping down to the No. 6 seed, as the Thunder (40-24) and Rockets (40-24) are right on their heels. The 40-27 Mavericks round out this group of six teams, a game-and-a-half behind OKC and Houston and just 5.5 games behind the second-seeded Clippers.
A number of those six clubs bunched up in the middle of the Western Conference playoff picture will face one another when play resumes. For instance, the Thunder – who have the potential to move up or down a couple spots in the standings – will open the restart against the Jazz and Nuggets and eventually finish their season against the Clippers. The Clips will face the Mavericks and Nuggets in addition to OKC. Dallas opens its eight seeding games by playing the Rockets.
Given the strength of competition in the West, seeding could be paramount in the postseason. The Nuggets, for example, could conceivably face the Jazz, Thunder, Rockets, or Mavs in the first round and would likely prefer some opponents to others in that group. The Jazz, currently at No. 4, could be motivated to avoid the No. 6 Rockets in the first round, since they’ve been eliminated by Houston in each of the previous two postseasons.
At the bottom of the playoff picture, the No. 8 Grizzlies (32-33) have essentially no chance to move up, since they’re seven games back of Dallas. But they’ll be looking to increase their lead over the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs, and Suns — if they can finish with more than a four-game lead on all those clubs, they’ll avoid a play-in tournament. If the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds finish within four games of one another, a play-in tournament will be necessary to determine that final playoff spot.
A newly-healthy Blazers squad will be a major threat to the Grizzlies, as will a Pelicans team that faces one of the league’s weakest schedules over the course of the eight seeding games.
What do you think? Do you think we’ll see much movement in the Western Conference’s top eight? Will the Grizzlies be knocked out by one of the challengers behind them in the standings? What do you expect the West’s top eight seeds to look like by the time the playoffs begin?
Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your predictions!
For the Jazz, adjusting to the NBA’s campus in Orlando was especially difficult during the first two days of the trip, Tony Jones of The Athletic details.
Like other teams, each player and staff member in Utah’s traveling party had to quarantine for the first 48 hours once they arrived. The sudden adjustment to being isolated was an eye-opener for many within the franchise.
“Those first 48 hours sucked,” Joe Ingles said with a chuckle. “The window of the room was sealed shut, so I couldn’t open it. So I fear over the course of some months, the room is going to get a little stanky.”
Coaches and staff members were no exception to this, naturally, with head coach Quin Snyder offering his perspective on the first 48 hours of his journey.
“We had a lot of time to ourselves,” Snyder said. “It was a lot of time to think. I had to be careful to not overthink.”
Utah is entering the resumed season with the fourth-best record in the Western Conference at 41-23, trailing the No. 3 seed Nuggets by 1.5 games and the No. 2 seed Clippers by three games.
Here are some other notes out of the Northwest Division tonight:
- The Jazz are also adjusting to life without Bojan Bogdanovic in Orlando, Ryan McDonald of The Deseret News writes. Bogdanovic is slated to miss the rest of the season after undergoing wrist surgery in May, averaging 20.2 points in 63 games on the year. “Missing Bojan, having to adjust the way we play, our style, I think Coach is adapting in a way that helps us out to play more freely but still have a lot of structure and the way he wants us to play,” Royce O’Neale said.
- Thunder forward Andre Roberson joined the team in practice on Friday for the first time in nearly a year, Royce Young of ESPN writes. Roberson, who last saw NBA action over two years ago, first sustained a ruptured patellar tendon in January of 2018. He suffered a setback later in the year that required additional surgery, then experienced another setback six weeks later by sustaining an avulsion fracture in his knee. “He looked really, really good in terms of the way he was moving,” head coach Billy Donovan said. “It was great to see him out there. I was really happy for him. But like we’ve talked about in the past, we’ll see how he can continue to build up and develop here over the next week, but he was out there today and he participated in everything.”
- The Trail Blazers’ big men looked good in their returns to the court last week, Jason Quick of The Athletic writes. Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins have both healed from their respective injuries, with Portland now sporting three seven-foot players when including Hassan Whiteside. “They both looked like the way we remembered them,” coach Terry Stotts said. “I told Nurk that — he’s the Nurk I remember playing at both ends of the floor. He made some really good passes, good rebounds. And Zach was full of energy. You couldn’t tell either one of them missed time. It was very encouraging.”
- The Jazz touched down in the NBA’s Orlando restart campus last night. Team general manager Justin Zanik indicated in a Zoom conversation today between himself, executive vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey and reporters that the club has not experienced any positive coronavirus tests since mandatory team testing began last month, according to Ryan McDonald of the Deseret News. Zanik traveled with the team to Orlando, while Lindsey stayed in Utah.