Opening Night NBA Preview & Predictions
It feels like it’s been at least ten years since Rudy Gobert dapped a bunch of microphones before realizing he had tested positive for COVID-19, causing the entire sports world to come to a screeching halt just days later.
But, after nearly five-months of waiting, we finally have the NBA back in our lives, and what a doubleheader to kick things off.
The fun from the Orlando Bubble begins with Utah, and the aforementioned Rudy Gobert, squaring off against the newly re-bubbled Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans.
The nightcap is the long-awaited fourth installment of the Battle of LA when Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and the Clippers meet J.R. Smith and the Lakers.
(Ok yeah, the Lakers have some guy named LeBron and another guy named Anthony Davis that are pretty good at the sport of basketball too.)
Without further ado, your NBA Opening Night primer!
Utah Jazz at New Orleans Pelicans
Line: Pelicans -2.5 (FanDuel Sportsbook)
Total: O/U 222.5
Tip Time/TV: 6:30 PM ET, TNT
All eyes in this contest will naturally be on the 2019 #1 overall pick and Pelicans phenom Zion Williamson (confirmed to be ready to play Thursday), but this is an enormously important game for each side.
For the Pelicans, they enter this contest trailing the Grizzlies by 3.5-games in the race for the final playoff spot in the West. In order for the Pelicans to make it to the postseason, they will need to finish in 9th place and stay within at least four games to clinch a play-in series appearance against Memphis.
And then of course.. there’s Zion.
The Pelicans have talented young players all throughout their roster, like scoring dynamo Brandon Ingram and dime dealin’ guard Lonzo Ball, but they’re not Zion.
The anticipation to see Zion Williamson back on the floor, as he’s in the best shape of his young career, is going to be enough to have people tuning into this game and every Pelicans bubble game going forward.
For Utah, the Jazz are looking to pick up where they left off in March when they won five of six games (before their game provided the footage you’ll see on every COVID-19 documentary 20 years from now) and found themselves sitting in 4th place in the West.
The Jazz have clinched a playoff spot and are only looking to better their seeding in the playoffs, as they hope to avoid the 4/5 spot that could bring them Houston and then the Lakers in a possible second-round playoff matchup after that. Utah currently trails the Clippers by 3.5-games for the two-seed in the West, and the Nuggets by 1.5-games for the three-seed.
While we dissect the NBA standings and presume teams will return to the style of play they had several months ago, another storyline involving the Jazz to pay attention to will be the relationship between Gobert and star-talent Donovan Mitchell. The two players were said to already be on thin ice as it was, then Rudy Gobert happened to give Donovan Mitchell COVID-19, causing their relationship to get even rockier.
The two players have said they’ve squashed the beef and are focused on winning a championship, but in their first real game back it will be interesting to observe how the two teammates play together after everything that happened this spring.
This looks like a very evenly matched contest on paper, even more so considering the Jazz will be without their sharpshooting threat Bojan Bogdanovic for the rest of the season. We’re going to side with the younger Pelicans who should have an emotional lift by having Zion back on the floor with them, and a little extra motivation to get a big win to keep pace with the Grizzlies.
Prediction: Pelicans 113, Jazz 107
Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers
Line: Lakers -4 (FanDuel Sportsbook)
Tip Time/TV: 9:00 PM ET, TNT
Is this an early look at what the Western Conference Finals could bring?
We still have several weeks to get the answer to that question, but the second leg of the NBA Opening Night doubleheader is a doozy.
Clippers. Lakers. The matchup we’ve waited all season to see play out is a fitting matchup to have usher in a “Whole New Game” as the NBA has branded the restart on social media.
The Clippers enter the restart opener where they will be without Patrick Beverley and hot-wings connoisseur Lou Williams. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will both start, but Leonard has looked especially rusty during scrimmage play where he shot just 12-for-46 from the floor. Doc Rivers will obviously need Kawhi to shake the rust off prior to the formal beginning of the playoffs, so it will be interesting to see how he’s used during their final 8 games.
The Lakers will also have a small adjusting period, as they are without guards Rajon Rondo (thumb) and Avery Bradley (opted out due to COVID-19 health concerns) and will rely more on production from veterans Alex Caruso, Dion Waiters and the man/legend/myth himself — J.R. Smith.
However, when you have two of the best players in the universe on your side in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, those losses may not be as difficult to overcome.
This game should be a delight to watch unfold, but unlike the other games with amplified importance because of playoff positioning, this game feels less like two rivals wanting to go at it for a couple of hours and more like further tinkering ahead of more important games down the stretch.
We like the Lakers to even up their season series against the Clippers and to leave us wanting a seven-game series in September.
Prediction: Lakers 103, Clippers 94