• Kyle Russell

This Night in the NBA: We’re Back!

Opening night certainly wasn’t a letdown. After a four month hiatus, the NBA is back and kicked things off with two intense down to the wire games. Without further ado, let's jump into the recaps.

Utah Jazz Vs. New Orleans Pelicans: Jazz Deal Blow to Pelicans' Playoff Hopes

Though not as must see as two title contenders duking it out, (more on that later( this game easily had the higher stakes for the teams. The Utah Jazz are jostling for homecourt in the first round of the playoffs, while the Pelicans are fighting just to make it there. The night began with a touching with a powerful gesture from both teams.

New Orleans came out with urgency, taking a three point lead at the end of the first quarter then ballooning it to 12 by halftime. Leading the way was Brandon Ingram, who dropped eight in the second quarter as the Pelicans built on their lead. 

The Jazz pushed back in the third, chipping away at the deficit by going to Rudy Gobert for lobs. J.J. Redick knocked down back-to-back threes to keep the Pelicans in the lead going into the fourth. Donovan Mitchell took over for the Jazz in the fourth, scoring eight points of his own with a healthy amount of time at the line. His efforts got the Jazz their first lead since the first quarter. The two teams then went back and forth down the line, tying it up with less than a minute to go. Gobert drew a foul and sank both free throws to give the Jazz the lead. Ingram tried a go ahead 3-pointer at the buzzer but rimmed out, leading the Pelicans to a loss but the Jazz a win.

What This Means for the Jazz

The Jazz came in tonight currently the fourth seed in the Western Conference. Currently there are only 2.5 games separating the third seed and sixth seed, 3.5 if you include seventh seed. For the Jazz, the win tonight meant better securing their fourth seed position and having homecourt, for whatever it's worth, in the first round. Beyond that, the Jazz tonight showed the poise of a true playoff team. They weathered the storm the Pelicans threw at them in the first half, made adjustments, and chipped away until they could secure the win. Led by Mitchell and Gobert, they’re playoff locks for a reason.

What This Means for the Pelicans

Without going into too much detail, the Pelicans need to win a lot to have a chance at the playoffs. Starting off with a loss by blowing a double-digit lead does not bode well for their already slim chances. What’s odd about the game though was how little they ended up playing Zion Williamson, only 15 minutes in total. He was being productive, but maybe the Pelicans would rather mail it in to play the long game with Williamson. To their point, what good is there in throwing Williamson into a physical first round series loss against the Lakers? Still, it would have been better to see Zion unleashed for a game or two before then.

Los Angeles Clippers Vs. Los Angeles Lakers: James Locks Up Win for Lakers

The other matchup for tonight was almost certainly a Western Conference Finals preview. Like most previous installments of “The Battle for LA”, Clippers vs. Lakers was intense, playoff like basketball between two elite teams. The Lakers built a double-digit lead by the end of the first quarter in large part behind a 14-point start by Anthony Davis. Kawhi Leonard responded with his own 14-point quarter in the second, keeping the Clippers offense alive at times, and helping close the gap to two by halftime.

The second half saw the Lakers go without a field goal for the first five minutes while the Clippers pushed ahead to an 11-point lead. LeBron James buried a three to break the cold spell before resting, where Davis took over and pumped in 10 big points while James rested. The fourth quarter was a back and forth affair as well, with the game tied with 28 seconds left. James put back his own miss to give the Lakers the lead, then followed it up by locking down Leonard and Paul George to get the win.

What This Means for the Clippers

A loss still hurts the Clippers, who are only a game ahead of the third seed Nuggets and only two ahead of the fourth seed Jazz. Dropping to fourth and facing the Lakers in the second round would not be ideal. Still, they were without two of their key rotation players and closers in Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams, so it’s not like they were quite at full strength tonight. But depending on how the other games go, the Clippers could need a few wins near the end to secure their seeding when they should be resting them before a playoff push.

What This Means for the Lakers

Considering they’ve almost assured their first seed, this game was mainly about pride for the Lakers. The first two rounds of the “Battle for LA” saw the Clippers win and looked pretty in control while doing it. Since then, the Lakers have evened up the series at 2-2. Outside of that, they got great performances from Kuzma and Waiters off the bench. Waiters in particular looked great both running the show for the Lakers while James sat or playing off James while he played. Speaking of, James did a phenomenal job pushing through a bad-shooting night to rebound, dish out assists, and play tough defense. When Davis is dropping 34 points, it’s much easier to focus on other stuff.

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