SportsPulse: Need a refresher on where we left off with the NBA before play was halted? Mackenzie Salmon hits the rewind button and gets us up to speed.
After a four-month layoff, Thursday marked the official return of the 2019-2020 NBA season, with the Jazz defeating the Pelicans and the Lakers topping the Clippers in the first games in the league’s Disney World bubble.
Friday’s slate features six games including exciting matchups: the Blazers defeated the Grizzlies 140-135 in overtime in an important seeding game (Ja Morant put the loss on himself); Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks held off the Celtics 119-112; and the Rockets clipped the Mavericks 153-149 in overtime.
Keep it here for updates throughout the day and into the night from Jeff Zillgitt, Mark Medina — on the ground at Disney — and the USA TODAY Sports NBA team, including analysis, news and highlights:
Blazers’ Jusuf Nurkic: ‘Wear a damn mask’
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — This did not mark the appropriate time to bask in the Portland Trail Blazers’ 140-135 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday, a pivotal game that could give Portland a chance to sneak in the NBA playoffs. Nor did this seem appropriate for Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic to celebrate his return after breaking his left leg over 16 months ago.
“The last couple of days have been the toughest days of my life. My grandma got COVID and she’s in a coma,” Nurkic said. “Please take care of yourself. Wear a damn mask.”
It is not clear how Nurkic’s 67-year-old grandmother, Hana, contracted the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. But Nurkic said he had considered traveling to his native Bosnia to visit her. He decided otherwise out of safety and logistical concerns. It’s unclear how the NBA would determine what Nurkic’s level of quarantine would be for a possible trip because of varying factors, including how he is traveling, what he would be doing and for how long and if he would get tested for COVID-19 daily, according to a league spokesperson who was not authorized to comment publicly on the situation.
“It was on my mind to leave the bubble and be with family. She didn’t want to go to the hospital in the first place,” Nurkic said. “Finally I said. ‘If you don’t go, I’ll come.’ That made her mind to go to the hospital. Hopefully it’s not too late. I don’t know if I would help her more if I went there or if she would still be alive if I came the next day.”
He received some encouraging news, though, from his family.
“As far as I know, she’s in a coma and can survive,” Nurkic said. “People don’t understand how serious this (stuff) is. That’s why you have to pay attention to do what you can to save someone’s life.”
Nurkic alerted his teammates, who supported Nurkic partly by praying for he and his family during team chapel before Friday’s game. Then, Nurkic finished with 18 points on 5-of-11 shooting along with nine rebounds and five assists.
“His heart is somewhere else, but his body is here so we’re just trying to lift him,” C.J. McCollum said. “It’s a tough situation for him to be so far away from his family, and be able to compete. I give him a lot of credit for going out there with a heavy heart.”
— Mark Medina
Magic’s Jonathan Isaac explains decision not to kneel
Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac, one of the most outspoken Christians in the NBA, did not kneel for the national anthem nor did he wear a Black Lives Matter T-shirt while the rest of his teammates and opponents on the Brooklyn Nets did before the start of Friday’s game.
Isaac said he informed his teammates of his decision before the game and they supported him, but he understood people watching would have questions.
“I do believe that Black Lives Matter. A lot went into my decision and part of that is my thought kneeling or wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt don’t go hand-in-hand with supporting black lives,” Isaac said. ” … I believe my life is supported through the gospel, Jesus Christ, and everyone is made in the image of God and that we fall short of God’s glory. And that each and every one of us each and every day do things we shouldn’t do and say things that we shouldn’t (say) and hate and dislike people we shouldn’t hate and dislike. Sometimes it gets to point where we point fingers about whose evil is worse and sometimes it comes out as whose evil is most visible.
“… When you look around, racism isn’t the only thing that plagues our society, that plagues our nation, that plagues are world. We want to get past not only racism but everything that plagues our society. I feel like the answer to it is the gospel.”
Isaac also stressed that his decision to stand was not related to patriotism.
— Jeff Zillgitt
Pelicans defend Zion’s limited minutes
Zion Williamson played 15 minutes and wasn’t on the court for the final 7:19 of New Orleans’ loss to Utah in the NBA’s restart opener. It caused a stir.
Why didn’t Williamson play more Thursday? Why wasn’t he on the court with the game on the line in the final minutes? The answers are simple and logical, and the Pelicans on Friday went to great lengths to explain their decision to limit Williamson’s minutes.
In a nutshell, protecting his long-term health is more important to them than risking another knee injury in order to make the playoffs and lose in the first round.
— Jeff Zillgitt
NBA ref does not kneel
Referee Brent Barnaky, who was assigned to the Milwaukee-Boston game on Friday, declined to kneel during the national anthem while the Bucks and Celtics players and coaches knelt, along with the two other game officials, James Capers and Kevin Scott.
Friday’s key performances
- C.J. McCollum scored 33 points and Carmelo Anthony had 21 points, seven rebounds and two steals for Portland.
- Orlando’s Evan Fournier dropped in 24 points, and teammate Nik Vucevic had 22 points.
- Devin Booker scored 27 points, and DeAndre Ayton had 24 points and 12 rebounds for Phoenix. (The Suns are quietly improving under Coach Monty Williams).
- Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 36 points and grabbed 15 rebounds for Milwaukee.
- San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan scored 27 points, while Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox poured in 39 in a losing effort.
- James Harden scored 49 points and nabbed nine rebounds for Houston, and teammate Russell Westbrook had 31 and 11, respectively.
Thursday night’s return
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The whistles shrieked seemingly every time a defender moved an inch. The passes looked sloppy as the ball left their hands. And the double-digit runs seemed as unpredictable as the fluctuating stock market.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ 103-101 win over the Clippers looked ugly by every measure. Both teams hardly looked as sharp and unified as they did when they locked arms and knelt during the national anthem to protest systemic racism before the game. And that is fine. How else would you expect both teams to play in their first game since the NBA suspended the season on March 11 because of the novel coronavirus outbreak?
WHERE WERE WE? Recapping state of NBA playoff picture
LEBRON: ‘I hope we made Kaep proud’
The Lakers (50-14) and Clippers (44-21) may have “won the wait,” as Clippers coach Doc Rivers has put it, with disciplined quarantine workouts and diets. They may have healed their bodies during the four-month layoff. And they may have tapped into mindfulness exercises to keep their mental health strong through the depressing state of our world. Yet, it seemed inevitable players would struggle with their conditioning, their decision making and their consistency once the NBA resumed play here at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex.
— Mark Medina