NBA 2020 Restart: 6 Storylines to Watch for in Tonight's Double-Header

The NBA season is set to resume tonight with a double-header from within the bubble in Orlando, Florida.

Since the league has been on hold for more than four months, some basketball fans might need a refresher on where certain teams left off before the suspension and what issues they face heading into these new games. So, we've decided to highlight a few key storylines facing the four teams playing in Thursday's games.

Before the New Orleans Pelicans square off against the Utah Jazz, and before the Los Angeles Lakers take on the Los Angeles Clippers, check out Newsweek's NBA cheat sheet down below.

Zion Williamson
Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans reacts against the Miami Heat during a game at the Smoothie King Center on March 06, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Getty/Jonathan Bachman

Will Zion Williamson Play Tonight?

Zion Williamson, the No. 1 pick from the NBA's 2019 draft and the star attraction for the Pelicans, is easily the most exciting new face in basketball. Prior to the lockdown, Williamson dominated in games, becoming the first teenage player to score over 20 points in 10 consecutive games. But Williamson wasn't a consistent presence on the court—remember, because of injury, he didn't make his official NBA debut until January 2020, a few months into the 2019-2020 campaign.

And even now, with the NBA making its comeback, it's not completely certain that Williamson will play in the first game happening within the bubble. The 20-year-old had to leave the NBA's temporary Orlando hub on July 16, to tend to a family medical emergency. Because of quarantine precautions, there's a question as to whether the power forward will be able to take the court on Thursday. ESPN recently reported that Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said that Williamson's availability will be a "game-time decision."

Even if Williamson is allowed to play, fans would be fair in asking if he's ready. Following his absence from the bubble for 12 days, he was quarantined in a hotel room for an additional four days after returning to Orlando. While the star rookie told ESPN that he did some workouts, he (understandably) said that basketball wasn't as much of a concern as what his family was going through. "I was dealing with a family emergency, so it's God first and family. So basketball wasn't really there; I was dealing with something serious," he said, according to ESPN. "The NBA isn't something you can usually just jump straight into, especially off stuff like that."

Will the Pelicans Make It Into the Playoffs?

Despite being outside the playoff race prior to lockdown, the Pelicans still have a strong chance to take the eighth seed. To land that spot, the Pelicans will need to be within four games of the Memphis Grizzlies, who currently hold the eighth seed, and will then have to defeat them twice in a row in a tournament-style elimination, according to USA Today. Considering all of the anticipation surrounding Williamson, the NBA would probably be thrilled to have Pelicans in the playoff, especially if they end up facing off with the LeBron James-led Lakers, who currently hold the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

Are Utah's Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert Able to Play Together?

The Utah Jazz's center and guard combo reportedly had something of a falling out early in the coronavirus pandemic. Center Rudy Gobert was the first NBA player to be diagnosed with coronavirus, but before he was revealed to be COVID-positive, Gobert had made light of the virus, and jokingly rubbed his hands all over microphones at the end of a press conference. Shortly after Gobert's diagnosis, shooting guard Donovan Mitchell also tested positive.

Gobert apologized for his behavior and for endangering his teammates and others in a lengthy Instagram post. When asked about the situation in a Good Morning America interview, Mitchell said that it took sometime for him "to cool off."

An ESPN report from Adrian Wojnarowski shortly after Gobert's Instagram post said that there wasn't just damage between Gobert and Mitchell, but between Gobert and multiple people in the Jazz organization. "The Jazz are fortunate that they don't have to get back together and start playing games right now," Wojnarowski said. Despite the tumultuous back and forth between the two, Jazz executive Dennis Lindsey told Sports Illustrated that the two were willing to get past the rift.

Expect a ton of pundits and fans to take note of every bit of body language between Gobert and Mitchell during Thursday's bubble opener.

Lebron James Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clipper and LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half at Staples Center on March 08, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. Getty/Harry How

Can the Lakers Resume Their Momentum?

LeBron James and the Lakers were on a roll when the season came to halt, and held not only the best record in the West, but the second-best record in the entire NBA. Now, they're not only coming off a lengthy interruption, but they're also down some key personnel.

Aside from guard Avery Bradley opting out of the resumed season, point guard Rajon Rondo suffered a broken thumb on July 12, according to ESPN. Per The Ringer, Rondo's broken thumb will force him to sit out for at least six weeks. Without the two, "LeBron will be forced to shoulder an even heavier playmaking load," The Ringer wrote.

And to further complicate things, power forward Anthony Davis also suffered an eye injury during a recent scrimmage, leaving many wondering if he will play tonight.

All that being said, the Lakers did sign James' former Cleveland Cavaliers teammate, J.R. Smith, for the remainder of the season. That's something! Here's hoping that Smith won't lose track of the score while in Orlando.

How Is Anthony Davis Dealing With That Eye Injury?

Williamson isn't the only player who's questionable for tonight's double-header. Davis was taken out of a scrimmage against the Orlando Magic on Saturday after accidentally being poked in the eye. Despite the injury, Davis still watched from the bench, according to Spectrum reporter Mike Trudell.

Davis will not return to the game.

— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) July 25, 2020

Good to see Anthony Davis watching the game from the Lakers bench in this 2nd half after getting poked in the eye in that 1st Q.

— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) July 25, 2020

While Davis sat off on the sidelines in a pair of shades at practice on Tuesday, Sports Illustrated reporter Chris Mannix tweeted a video of him joining the team for practice on Wednesday. When asked if he would play in the Lakers' face-off against the Clippers in a press conference, Davis responded, "That's the plan." He said he would consult with a doctor to get an update.

Is Lakers vs. Clippers a Western Conference Finals Preview?

The Lakers-Clippers match is the marquee event for Thursday night, with the top two teams in the Western Conference meeting up once again. Despite the Lakers being down Rondo and Bradley, and the Clippers being down Lou Williams (long story), both teams are still favorites to reach the Western Conference Finals.

While there's still debate over who exactly will take the win in the Western Conference Finals, 15 of 16 experts for ESPN predict that the L.A. teams will face off in that match-up. (One person in the panel predicted that the Lakers would take on—and beat—the Houston Rockets.)

We'll have to wait until the playoffs are well underway to know if the two L.A. teams are really gonna fight over the chance to play in the NBA Finals, but for now, we're willing to bet that Thursday's game is a glimpse at what's to come.

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