N.B.A. Restart Day 1 Schedule: Guide of Matchups, Tipoff Time and Channel

The N.B.A. is finally back.

More than four months after the N.B.A. suspended its season because of the coronavirus pandemic, the league on Thursday night will stage a pair of real games — ones that actually count in the standings — inside its bubble at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla. To mark the occasion, the league made sure to include a bunch of headliners in its grand reopening.

Who is playing?

After the Utah Jazz and the New Orleans Pelicans christen the festivities at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time, they will clear the stage so that the two heavyweights from Los Angeles — the Clippers and the Lakers — can reacquaint themselves at 9 p.m. E.T. in what could be a preview of the Western Conference finals.

How to watch

The doubleheader will be broadcast by TNT.

What are we watching?

Twenty-two teams are participating in the league’s restart, and each will play eight seeding games before the playoffs are scheduled to begin on Aug. 17. Players have spent recent weeks knocking off the rust at accelerated training camps, and teams played in a series of televised scrimmages. Some looked more prepared than others.

[See: This Is What Pandemic Basketball Looks Like]

But Thursday’s games are the culmination of an enormous gambit by the league, which desperately hopes to finish the season without any problems. (Looking at you, Major League Baseball.) So far, the N.B.A.’s highly restrictive campus has remained secure. On Tuesday, the league reported that none of the 344 players in the bubble had tested positive for the coronavirus since the results were last announced on July 20. Officials want to keep it that way.

Players to Watch

LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. And Zion Williamson — maybe?

With all due respect to the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, who will make his much-anticipated return for Milwaukee in a game against the Boston Celtics on Friday night, LeBron James remains the league’s most captivating presence. At 35, James had the Lakers soaring when the season was interrupted in March. But he clearly kept in shape during the long layoff, and he sees another clear shot at a fourth championship — regardless of all the talk of adding an asterisk to this year’s title because of the shortened and unusual season.

Of course, none of this would even be possible for the Lakers without power forward Anthony Davis, who was averaging 26.7 points and 9.4 rebounds a game when the season was suspended. Davis got poked in the eye a few days ago and missed the Lakers’ final scrimmage. But he says he plans to play against the Clippers.

The Clippers have their own outsize ambitions: to win their first championship. Kawhi Leonard, one season removed from his title run with the Toronto Raptors, has paired with Paul George to form one of the league’s most fearsome duos, and the Clippers have ridiculous depth — or at least they should in time for the playoffs.

And then there is Zion Williamson, the Pelicans’ first-year forward. You remember him, right? Steamer-trunk physique? Spring-loaded hops? He left the bubble for what the team described as an urgent family matter, but he has since returned. Coach Alvin Gentry told reporters that Williamson participated in the Pelicans’ practice on Wednesday but that his status for Thursday’s game against the Jazz would be a “game-time decision.”

As for the Jazz, they played an unwitting and unfortunate role in the league’s shutdown on March 11. It was center Rudy Gobert’s positive test before a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder that sent the whole thing tumbling. Gobert had been casual about the dangers of the virus in the days before his positive test, and it wound up causing friction with point guard Donovan Mitchell, who also tested positive. Gobert, one of the best defensive players in the league, has repeatedly apologized for his actions.

Several players around the league opted out of the restart, citing family concerns or injury issues. The Lakers are coping with the absence of Avery Bradley, who chose not to participate. Before the season was suspended, Bradley had been the team’s top perimeter defender.

The Lakers are also without point guard Rajon Rondo, who broke his right thumb in the bubble and is expected to be sidelined for several weeks. The Lakers have tried to shore up their backcourt by signing J.R. Smith, and he played well in their final scrimmage, scoring 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting in 25 minutes off the bench.

The Clippers are missing a bunch of pieces. Lou Williams, one of the league’s best reserves, will not play Thursday because he is stuck in his hotel room, serving a 10-day quarantine for breaking league protocol during an excused absence from the bubble. While home in Atlanta for a funeral, Williams stopped for wings at a strip club.

In addition, the Clippers’ Montrezl Harrell will miss the game after leaving the bubble, and Coach Doc Rivers assessed Patrick Beverley as a “maybe” after he recently returned.

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