Basketball

Gobert, Jazz meet Pelicans (and possibly Zion) as NBA resumes

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ByReuters
30/07/2020 at 01:31 | Updated 30/07/2020 at 01:33

The Utah Jazz were squarely in the spotlight when the NBA season was suspended March 11.

The New Orleans Pelicans were making a push to play on a bigger stage.

They'll share the marquee when the season resumes Thursday in the NBA "bubble"
near Orlando, Fla.

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Back on March 11, when Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19,
the NBA canceled his team's game in Oklahoma City that night. Gobert came
under fire for his action in the days prior, when he made light of the virus
and touched reporters' microphones and reportedly acted similarly by touching
teammates and their belongings before he knew he was infected.

"Obviously, when you have the whole world judging you or threatening you or
sending you a lot of negative energy and stuff like that, it's something that
I would say is not easy as a human being," Gobert said two weeks ago of
dealing with the coronavirus-related fallout. "But, at the same time, people
are just judging you on the perception they have and the perception you get
from sometimes it can be one picture, one video or one interview, one action.
So, people don't really know you."

Dominoes began to fall as the league announced that the season would be
suspended at the conclusion of the final game that night -- New Orleans at
Sacramento.

But New Orleans was leery of playing after learning that a member of the
officiating crew worked a Jazz game a few nights earlier. So the game against
the Kings was postponed and the NBA went on hiatus.

Now, 141 days later, the Jazz and the Pelicans lead the way in the resumption
of the season.

New Orleans and Oklahoma City were the only teams to win all of their
scrimmages, and the Jazz went 2-1.

"The intensity level is going to be much, much higher (Thursday)," Pelicans
coach Alvin Gentry said. "I'm confident that our guys will compete at a high
level and be ready to play."

The Pelicans got good news Tuesday night when rookie forward Zion Williamson
returned to practice. He left the bubble July 16 to tend to a family emergency
and returned last Friday.

As of Wednesday, Williamson's status was listed as a game-time decision for
Thursday. However, the Pelicans hope Williamson will see action in the opener
of the eight-game seeding schedule.

"Obviously as a coach you want him out there as much as you can possibly have
him out there," Gentry said Wednesday. "We have guys that are better equipped
to make those decisions than I am from a health standpoint and a
minutes-played standpoint. It'll be collectively something that's done by
sitting down and talking about it and figuring it out if he does end up
playing."

Williamson added, "The NBA isn't something you can usually just jump straight
into. ... So I think me and my team are gonna look to see what's best and if
I'm ready to go out there."

Gobert looked fully recovered in Utah's scrimmages, averaging 15.3 points and
seven rebounds. A rift between Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, Utah's leading
scorer who tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after Gobert did, seems to
have healed.

"I'm happy now that I'm in a good place and I'm happy that I get the joy back
from playing basketball with my team and the competitiveness is back," Gobert
said. "I'm ready to try to go out there and try to win the championship.
That's the goal. To be honest, after everything we've been through, as a team
and as human beings, it would be a great comeback."

The Jazz will be without second-leading scorer Bojan Bogdanovic (20.2 points
per game), who underwent season-ending wrist surgery in May. Sixth man Joe
Ingles is expected to replace Bogdanovic, who was making 41.4 percent of his
3-point attempts, in the starting lineup, but replacing the long-distance
production will be a group effort.

"I think with Bojan out, obviously there's opportunity from the 3-point line
that we really need to take advantage of," Mitchell said. "I think it's very
crucial to our game getting there and knocking shots down, just being
confident and taking the early shots."

The Jazz (41-23) are in fourth place in the Western Conference. The Pelicans
(28-36) are tied with Portland (29-37) and Sacramento (28-36), 3 1/2 games
behind eighth-place Memphis (32-33) in the West.

Both the Pelicans and Jazz were playing well prior to the suspension of the
season. New Orleans, which endured a 13-game losing streak during an
injury-plagued first half of the season, won eight of its last 13 games. Utah
won five of its last six games.

The Jazz won the season's first two meetings -- 128-120 at home and 128-126 on
the road. The Pelicans won the most recent matchup, 138-132 in New Orleans on
Jan. 16.

--Field Level Media

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