Finally, they’re back!!! The NBA restarted with energy and excitement as the Utah Jazz nipped the New Orleans Pelicans 106-104, and the Los Angeles Lakers outlasted their neighborhood rivals the Los Angeles Clippers 103-101 last July 30 at the Bubble in Orlando, Florida.
Fans from all over the globe watched with bated breaths as the NBA unveiled its ambitious effort to salvage a season in the midst of a still uncontrolled pandemic and a festering social justice issue. So far, the NBA seems to be winning its campaign, as the players, the staff and the support elements have been able to keep the Bubble immaculately safe from the uncommon, invisible enemy.
It’s been ‘all systems go’ so far, as the ‘safe and responsible’ plan set up by the NBA, with the full support and cooperation of the players’ association, has reported very encouraging results. The NBA has successfully registered successive periods of zero reports of COVID infection so far. This is a clear indicator that the players have bought in to the noble purpose of salvaging the season for the NBA. And more and more sports leagues are looking at the NBA’s audacious, yet laudable effort to bring some semblance of normalcy into the sports kingdom.
Over in the playing court, Rudy Gobert produced the first points to restart the season; and the last 2 points to win the game in a dramatic come-from-behind fashion for the Utah Jazz. It will be recalled that Rudy was the first player to have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, thereby stopping the NBA season dead on its tracks last March. As if trying to make amends for causing the suspension of the rest of the games, Rudy would team up with Donovan Mitchell to lead the Utah charge. The more-seasoned Jazz squeezed past the younger Pelicans only in the last 3 minutes of play.
The loss puts the Pelicans in a much more difficult situation in its grind to take the last slot in the Western Conference playoffs. With a 28-38 card now, they need to regain their scrimmage winning form to catch the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies – leading the pack of hopefuls for the coveted playoff slot – are sporting a 32-33 win-loss slate at present. Also in the wild race for the 8th slot are the Portland Trailblazers (29-37), the Sacramento Kings (28-36), the San Antonio Spurs (27-36) and the Phoenix Suns (26-39). This will be an interesting sprint to watch.
The second game to highlight the return of the NBA was the developing Battle for LA, as the 2 juggernauts from Lala-land crossed paths for the 4th time this season. Lebron James once again proved his kingship, as he barreled through to follow up his own miss to win the game 103-101. The head-to-head score now stands at 2 apiece, with no one clearly ahead in their private race to win the heart of LA.
It was a game of short spurts as the Lakers led for the entire first half, with both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George suffering from early foul trouble. In the 3rd canto, the Clippers took the lead with George’s consistent scoring. Anthony Davis regained the lead for the Lakers in the 4th quarter, as the 4 superstars alternated in the game highlights. Both teams came prepared with their A-games. Up until the end, no team – and no one – could show clear dominance over the other.
Watching the game however, I saw the Lakers came better prepared and playing more cohesively. Lebron’s leadership clearly showed, as well as coach Frank Vogel’s direction. It is evident that the Lakers took the scrimmage time more seriously. I believe they are now at 90% of their peak form. Expect them to cruise thru the rest of the games as they try to gain more playing time and more cohesion for their reserves, who are already minus Avery Bradley (elected not to join) and Rajon Rondo (injury). The Lakers’ objective for the rest of the regular season match-ups will be to stay fit and healthy, while trying to get more cohesion, better teamwork among their lesser talented second crew.
Over in the Clippers’ camp however, there is much more potential that is still to be displayed. The team played minus 2 Sixth Man of the Year candidates, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. Both will need to sit out a few games due to strict quarantine protocols. Even with the early foul trouble to both Kawhi and George, the Clippers deep bench clearly shined. This team has that luxury of resting its key playerwith the 2 supersubs coming in soon, coupled with the recent addition of veterans Marcus Morris and Joakim Noah to its already talent-laden bench. Coach Doc Rivers has a much deeper bench, with a more flexible rotation. Now, how to get the best chemistry to optimize his player rotation is a good problem every coach would love to have.
Clearly, the Battle for LA has become one of the highlights for the season. It is a rare occasion when two of the best teams in the league are practically playing in the same neighborhood. Expect sparks to fly. Expect nothing but the best. It is pride, it is bragging rights, it is the title as the neighborhood top dogs. All these are what matter now, nothing else.
But the greatest take-away from the resumption of the games is no longer about basketball. Its meaning, its very significance has transcended the game itself. The NBA has demonstrated it is capable of becoming bigger than basketball. More than the entertainment value it provides, the Restart offers a venue to promote safety protocols amid this pandemic. The players themselves demonstrate that with discipline, cooperation and complete adherence to stringent safety standards, we can defeat this unseen enemy. The NBA, thru the Bubble, has set a blueprint on how communities can create their own little bubbles until these tiny bubbles connect and slowly merge. The NBA provides hope for a return to normalcy, but only if people will adhere to heightened protocols to address these uncertain times.
On top of all that, the NBA is now leading the way in pushing for social reform – not just for the US – but for all the world to see. With messages plastered on the courts, on players’ jerseys, on TV screens, on social media and everywhere, the NBA is making it clear that it is against any form of social inequality in this world.
With the NBA Restart, we hope that the world can watch and learn. And hopefully, stand together to restart to a new ideal world as well.
For a closer look, just click on the pics. Cover photo courtesy of Los Angeles Magazine. Other photos courtesy of USA Today, Associated Press, CBS Sports, Bleacher Report, the Los Angeles Times, Silver Screen and Roll, Lakers Daily and Wikipedia.