The coronavirus pandemic halted the NBA season four months ago, the equivalent of an entire offseason. It is easy to forget where everyone left off, let alone what has changed since we last saw them play basketball. In order to get you up to speed before the July 30 season re-opening slate at Walt Disney World in Orlando, we will be reviewing and previewing each of the 22 teams scheduled to participate.
[More NBA restart previews: Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Dallas Mavericks • Denver Nuggets • Houston Rockets • Indiana Pacers • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • Oklahoma City Thunder • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Phoenix Suns • Portland Trail Blazers • Sacramento Kings • San Antonio Spurs • Toronto Raptors • Utah Jazz • Washington Wizards]
Where were the New Orleans Pelicans?
Place: 10th in the West
First overall pick Zion Williamson debuted in January after a preseason knee injury, leading a sprint to playoff contention. Few rookies have made so great an impact in 19 games. Beyond Williamson’s per-36-minute averages (28.5 points , 8.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists), his presence on the floor improved the New Orleans Pelicans by 13.9 points per 100 possessions, elevating a bad offense and middling defense to the equivalent of a top-10 outfit on both ends of the floor. The 6-foot-6, 285-pound high-flying specimen was everything we imagined him to be as the NBA’s most anticipated prospect since LeBron James.
Williamson’s arrival followed a breakout All-Star campaign from Brandon Ingram and the steady shooting improvement of fellow former top-two pick Lonzo Ball. That young trio generated enough excitement to ease the pain of losing Anthony Davis to a trade demand, and they made for an intriguing enough playoff contender to entice reliable veterans J.J. Redick and Derrick Favors to join their cause in free agency.
The Pelicans’ light schedule down the stretch was always going to make the race for the eighth seed interesting, but now that they only need to leap the Portland Trail Blazers and finish within four games of the Memphis Grizzlies to force a play-in series, all eyes will be on Williamson when the season reopens.
Who’s in and who’s out?
Out: Josh Gray (undisclosed reasons)
The Pelicans can breathe a sigh of relief that the family emergency that pulled Williamson from the bubble did not prevent him from rejoining the team prior to their opener on Thursday. (The NBA is also counting on Williamson as a ratings booster.) He has returned to Orlando, cleared quarantine and rejoined the team. New Orleans is yet to clear him to play after four months off and 13 days away from camp, but you can bet everyone in the bubble is eager to see in action, save perhaps for the Utah Jazz.
Josh Gray was left off New Orleans’ restart roster for undisclosed reasons, and the team signed free agent Sindarius Thornwell out of the G League as a replacement. Gray appeared in just two games for the Pelicans this season, and Thornwell is not expected to crack what is now a full Pelicans rotation.
Over/under wins in the bubble: N/A
Championship odds: +12500
Always on the All-Star bubble, Jrue Holiday is wildly underrated as a two-way player, even if his contract would suggest otherwise. He continues to play at the All-Defensive level he showed opposite Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum in a sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers two years ago, and his offensive production (19.6 points and 6.9 assists per game) held steady in his first year without Davis since 2013.
Holiday can play off the ball with Ball at point guard or as the lead ballhandler with Redick at the two, and his length should allow the Pelicans to play three guards with Ingram at the four and Williamson at center, even if coach Alvin Gentry rarely tested those lineups. The hope is that the attention paid to Williamson opens the floor for improved outside looks from Holiday, and that increased shooting efficiency from the veteran guard repays the favor for the freakishly talented rookie. Lineups with both two-way standouts on the floor are already dominating opponents, but there is another level to reach.
(All times Eastern)
July 30: Utah Jazz, 6:30 p.m. (TNT)
Aug. 1: Los Angeles Clippers, 6 p.m. (ESPN
Aug. 3: Memphis Grizzlies, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Aug. 6: Sacramento Kings, 1:30 p.m. (NBATV)
Aug. 7: Washington Wizards, 8 p.m.
Aug. 9: San Antonio Spurs, 3 p.m. (ABC)
Aug. 11: Sacramento Kings, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Aug. 13: Orlando Magic, TBD
Because the Blazers bizarrely own a .001 winning percentage tiebreaker, the Pelicans must finish one game better than Portland without falling another game back of Memphis, just to force a play-in series. It is certainly possible, if not probable, given that their final six games in Orlando are against sub-.500 teams. New Orleans would then have to beat Memphis twice in a row to ensure Redick does not miss the playoffs for the first time in his career. That too is far from out of the question, as the Pelicans dominated their two head-to-head meetings in January — one without Williamson and one with him.
There is a very real possibility that Williamson and James’ Los Angeles Lakers could meet in the first round, pitting the future of the NBA against its present in a battle of sheer power. It would also give Ingram, Ball and Josh Hart a chance at revenge after James showed his hand for Davis in the middle of last season. What a fun series that would be, even if the Lakers would be overwhelming favorites.
Yahoo Sports NBA prediction
Place: 10th in the West
Finish: Failure to make the playoffs
Check out the NBA Disney World bubble in augmented reality:
More from our NBA restart series:
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