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If LeBron James shoots a jumper but no fans are there to see it, did he shoot a jumper?

We kid. But on Thursday, the N.B.A. made its return at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla., with several of its most visible stars, including James, Zion Williamson, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis taking part in a doubleheader. The games were sloppy — the rust after a four-month layoff was real — but they were nonetheless compelling, both of them coming down to the final seconds.

The most striking images came before the games, when members of all four teams kneeled during the national anthem. Several players wore “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts. The N.B.A. ran commercials with coaches and players expressing their desire to fight for social justice.

In the opener between the Utah Jazz and the New Orleans Pelicans, the game came down to a final shot. Brandon Ingram of the Pelicans rimmed out a last second 3-pointer, and the Jazz pulled out a 106-104 win. Jordan Clarkson led the Jazz with 23 points off the bench.

The Los Angeles Lakers led for much of their game against their crosstown rivals, the Clippers. But like the opener, this game came down to the final possession. After James made a tip shot with 12 seconds left, Paul George missed a contested 3-pointer for the Clippers as time expired, much like at the end of the opening game. The Lakers won, 103-101.

Here’s how the Lakers beat the Clippers, and how the Jazz came back to beat the Pelicans.

Players kneeled during the national anthem.

The highly anticipated N.B.A. restart tipped off with a symbol of solidarity, rather than rivalry. Pelicans and Jazz players, coaches and staff kneeled together in front of a Black Lives Matter floor mural painted on the edge of the court as a wordless rendition of the national anthem by the musician Jon Batiste played.

It was the first of many demonstrations for social justice causes expected this season. The players across the 22 teams participating in the restart were allowed to replace their names on the backs of their jerseys with phrases related to social justice. On the floor today were “peace,” “equality” and “listen to me” among others.

And as the Compton Kidz Club sang the national anthem on a video screen before the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers tipped off later in the evening, both teams kneeled. Several players on both teams, including LeBron James, wore T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”

Commissioner Adam Silver had released a statement earlier in the night saying that the N.B.A.’s longstanding rule, which prohibits players from kneeling, would not be enforced.

Many N.B.A. players have been active in various social justice initiatives this summer.

In early June, James and a group of prominent Black athletes and entertainers — including Trae Young, Draymond Green, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Jalen Rose — announced that they would be starting a new group aimed at protecting African-Americans’ voting rights.

“Yes, we want you to go out and vote, but we’re also going to give you the tutorial,” James said of the organization, called More Than a Vote. “We’re going to give you the background of how to vote and what they’re trying to do, the other side, to stop you from voting.

Read more:

How the Jazz beat the Pelicans

Credit…Ashley Landis/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

1st Quarter: The Pelicans close strong to take the lead.

Rudy Gobert, the first N.B.A. player known to have tested positive for the coronavirus, snagged the first points of the restart, swooping in with a shot from near under the basket after grabbing the ball from the tipoff.

Despite an early Jazz lead, the Pelicans took control in the last minutes of the first quarter, going into the second quarter up 26-23. Pelicans guard JJ Redick put in the work that pushed the Pelicans ahead, shining with his notorious 90 percent sink rate and a clean assist to guard Jrue Holiday to close the gap.

Zion Williamson got going with a few buckets in the quarter. He averaged 23.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in 19 games this season.

Halftime: New Orleans is clicking.

Pelicans Coach Alvin Gentry vowed to use Zion Williamson in “short bursts” after Williamson missed so much practice time recently tending to an urgent family matter. But New Orleans’ other stars have clicked quickly to compensate for the limited minutes. Brandon Ingram (15 points) and Jrue Holiday (12 points) have complemented Williamson’s 9 points on 4-for-4 shooting in just seven minutes. It’s been sharp offensive start for the Pelicans in building a 60-48 lead, as they seek to build early momentum in their quest to wrest the West’s No. 8 seed away from Memphis.

Ah, one point of familiar comfort in an N.B.A. broadcast: the TNT analysts Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith bantering with host Ernie Johnson at halftime. They sat socially distanced, with dividers between one another on set at a very long table.

“They could have the Last Supper on this table,” Barkley joked.

Barkley said that normally, the group would be watching the game together in the same room. Now, they had to watch by themselves in individual rooms. They all acknowledged the awkwardness.

“I’m not used to watching games like this,” O’Neal said. He added, “I really have to concentrate.”

3rd Quarter: The Jazz won’t go away.


Credit…Ashley Landis/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

The Pelicans’ lead tightened, 87-79, as the Jazz upped their offensive game in the third with help from a few 3-pointers — with Utah’s Royce O’Neale coming in hot toward the last three minutes of the quarter. But Utah’s success in the paint really sealed its comeback.

Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson and the Pelicans’ Ingram led the board with 18 points a piece. Lonzo Ball, the Pelicans point guard, leads the game in assists. And Gobert — despite being benched with a little over two minutes left on the clock after taking a foul from JJ Redick — still led in rebounds. New Orleans had 20 fouls by the quarter’s end.

Zion Williamson tossed clear assists to both Jrue Holiday in a dunk and Lonzo Ball for a layup early in the third, proving the 20-year-old’s chemistry is intact in his 20th career game. Redick also landed two 3s, holding the Pelicans’ lead.

A considerable concern for many teams after just three weeks of full-speed practices was their readiness for games that count and how ugly the product might look early. Utah was shooting 24.1 percent from the 3-point line through three quarters (7-of-29) and had committed 15 turnovers, with Donovan Mitchell shooting just 4-of-11 from the field for 12 points. The Jazz, though, entered the final period trailing by just 8 points, despite their up-and-down offense.

Take a look: Zion in action.

4th Quarter: The Pelicans give up a big lead and lose to the Jazz.


Credit…Ashley Landis/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

The N.B.A.’s first game amid the coronavirus pandemic ended with a gripping back and forth for a Jazz victory over the Pelicans, fitting for the novel atmosphere the game was played in. Tied with 7 seconds left, the win was decided by Rudy Gobert’s two successful free throws, putting Utah over New Orleans for good when Brandon Ingram missed a last-chance 3-pointer for the Pelicans. The final score was 106-104.

Utah’s Mitchell scored 8 points in the last 8 minutes of the game, which initially lifted the Jazz over the Pelicans. He hit a layup and a 3-pointer to overtake the lead in the last 4 minutes. Still, Utah’s Jordan Clarkson and Ingram were the top scorers with 23 points each.

5 Stats of the Game

1. Both teams, as expected, were sloppy in their first game since March. The Jazz and Pelicans each had 20 turnovers, well above their season averages.

2. Zion Williamson: once again impressive: 6-of-8 from the field for 13 points in 15 minutes.

3. Lonzo Ball: 2-of-13 from the field. Missed all four of his 3-point attempts.

4. The Jazz shot 8-of-34 (23.5 percent) from 3-point land and still managed to win.

5. Jordan Clarkson was the top scorer for the Jazz, and he didn’t even start. He scored 23 points off the bench.

How the Lakers beat the Clippers


Credit…Mike Ehrmann/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

1st Quarter: Anthony Davis makes his mark.

The two titans of the West tipped off with Lakers center JaVale McGee landing a clean shot with help from league-assist-leader LeBron James, who had two assists within the first couple of minutes and five by the end of the first quarter. The Lakers ended the first quarter ahead, 35-23.

Paul George, a six-time All-Star, scored the Clippers’ first points and led the team with 8 points out the gate.

Both teams were missing players. The Clippers were without Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, both of whom left the campus. Williams has since returned and is still in quarantine, while Harrell’s status is unknown. The Lakers do not have Rajon Rondo, who broke his thumb while in the bubble, or Avery Bradley, who opted to skip the Disney World restart.

Lakers forward Anthony Davis — who almost didn’t play because of an eye injury — had 14 points in the first quarter. Davis got into a tit-for-tat dunk battle with Clippers forward Joakim Noah, who smacked what should’ve been a clear shot for Davis out of his hands only to have Davis come back and dunk on him minutes later. Both forwards secured three rebounds in the first quarter.

Noah was making his debut for the Clippers. Noah, a former defensive player of the year, has battled injuries for the last five years, but he put together a productive run with the Memphis Grizzlies last year. In his prime, Noah was an energetic, frenzied presence on the defensive end — and a frequent LeBron James antagonizer — and helped the Chicago Bulls get to the Eastern Conference finals.

The Lakers’ success near the board put them over in the end. They went 2-for-8 on 3-point shots; the Clippers missed all seven of their 3-point attempts.

One more thing …

The end-of-quarter interviews with coaches look much different. The broadcasts have been taking advantage of wide shots to show that the TNT sideline reporters are socially distant from the coaches, creating a bit of a jarring visual.

Let’s check in on LeBron James. (He’s great.)


Credit…Pool photo by Mike Ehrmann

And another look:

Dion Waiters may be who the Lakers needed.

Another new face on the floor tonight: Dion Waiters for the Lakers. Waiters, who entered the league as a rookie in 2012, can be a bit of an adventure. He’s always been a trigger-happy scorer. He likes to shoot, even though he’s not a particularly good shooter. But he’s known for scoring in bunches. When he gets hot, he’s dangerous. His best year was in 2014, when he averaged a career-high 15.9 points a game.

Waiters’s last stop in the league was with the Miami Heat. This season, he was suspended three times by the team for failing to adhere to team policies. He was eventually traded to the Grizzlies and waived, before signing as a free agent with the Lakers.

But the Lakers need depth, especially without Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley. Waiters, at his best, can help take the scoring load off LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Halftime: The Clippers close the gap.


Credit…Mike Ehrmann/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

The Lakers ended the first half just 2 points ahead, 54-52.

After a rough first quarter, Clippers guard Kawhi Leonard came back with a fury, landing a strong 3-pointer in the first few minutes, rocketing himself to an impressive 19 points in 16 minutes. Leonard, who helped lead the Toronto Raptors to their first championship last season, ranks eighth in the league for points per game.

The Lakers’ Anthony Davis had 20 points in 16 minutes. Forward Kyle Kuzma also locked in a couple of threes. But LeBron James only scored 6 points on 2-of-9 shooting (22 percent), with 6 rebounds.

Strong defense prevented success on both sides: The Clippers ended with a 56 percent sink rate. The Lakers, 51 percent.

Hoping to hear trash talk? You’re out of luck.

There was some, uh, hope from N.B.A. fans that the lack of people in the seats at the Disney World arenas would allow those of us on our couches to hear trash talk and cursing on the floor. Truthfully, in part because of some fake crowd noise, music being piped in during gameplay and copious bleeping from the TNT censors, there hasn’t been much of that. But a fan can hope!

3rd Quarter: Anthony Davis is on fire.

Not the expected comeback game for what was described as a potential preview of the Western Conference finals, with a third quarter bogged down by turnovers and fouls. The Clippers stole the lead by 1 point after a slow first half, starting the final quarter 77-76.

Anthony Davis, consistently leading in game points, goes into the fourth with 32 points.

LeBron James hasn’t had an assist since the first quarter, simply tallying 7 rebounds, just ahead of Clippers guard Reggie Jackson, who has 6.

The Lakers have rallied, but can they hold on?

LeBron James is just 4-of-16 for 12 points with 5 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Anthony Davis (32) and Kyle Kuzma (16) have been critical for the Lakers in the second half.

4th Quarter: The Lakers edge the Clippers, 103-101.

With a minute left, the Clippers’ Paul George tied up the game — only to have LeBron James first miss a shot, then snag a rebound to secure the 103-101 win for the Lakers.

But the conversation has been more about social justice than the down-to-the-wire games.

“The game of basketball has always been bigger than the ball and the rim,” James told TNT after the game.

James earned himself a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds, also leading the game in assists at 7.

George got hot from the field in the fourth to lead the Clippers with 30 points. Kawhi Leonard had 28. Clippers guard Pat Beverley locked in 8 points in the last quarter, but the Clippers were still unable to overcome the Lakers’ Anthony Davis, who stole the game, pouring in 34 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists.