After a hiatus of nearly five months, the NBA is finally returning to action. The final games of the regular season are set to begin tomorrow at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, FL, where players and team officials have been quarantining for the past month. Two games are set to take place tomorrow, with the first being between the New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz at 6:30 pm EST. Utah, who sits at a record of 41-23, is currently the 4th seed in the Western Conference and have already punched their ticket to the postseason. New Orleans, sitting at 28-36, is one of five teams in the Western Conference not currently in the playoffs invited to play in the Orlando restart. While the Jazz would certainly love to get a higher seed in the playoffs, the stakes are much higher for the Pelicans in this game and the rest of the restart. Before the season was postponed, New Orleans seemed to be getting in a groove and was making a serious push for the playoffs. Rookie sensation Zion Williamson was playing very well after he made his much-anticipated debut in January, and Brandon Ingram broke out and was having an All-Star season. With several young pieces in place, can New Orleans make a late push in the restart and take the 8th seed?
TV Section: New Orleans Pelicans vs. Utah Jazz, 7/30/20 6:30 pm EST, TV: TNT Radio: ESPN Radio
Pelicans Starting 5
The Pelicans are a team that I believe can make some serious noise in this NBA restart. The team had a positive record since the debut of Zion Williamson and was inching closer to getting that coveted 8th spot in the Western Conference. Williamson, who made his debut in January, was averaging 23.6 points per game on 58.9% shooting from the field, which are outstanding numbers for a rookie. I was skeptical if Williamson’s play would translate well to the NBA when he was drafted #1 overall, as he was known for using his pure strength and athleticism to get buckets. However, since watching Williamson play, I can say that I was wrong. There are more reasons other than Williamson that I think the Pelicans could make some noise in the restart, however. Brandon Ingram was having the best season of his career in his first year in New Orleans, averaging 24.3 points per game on route to an All-Star nod. The team also still has veteran guard Jrue Holiday, who is an excellent defender and scorer from the SG position. Lonzo Ball starts at the point for New Orleans, who provides this offense with great defense and playmaking. The only weak spot in this starting five and why I think the Pelicans might lose this matchup is their center. Derrick Favors starts at center for the Pelicans despite being only 6’9. He will be facing Rudy Gobert, one of the best defenders and centers in the entire NBA. It will be difficult for New Orleans to control the boards when Favors is on the floor, so look for them to give Jaxson Hayes some quality minutes in tomorrow’s matchup. Williamson and Ingram will no doubt do their thing on the offensive side of the ball. But if the Pelicans want to win the first game of the restart, they will need to defend well and get good play from their big men.
Jazz Starting 5
Entering the 2019-20 season, I believed that the Jazz would be a team to look out for in the Western Conference. With Utah sitting at 41-23 and 4th in the West, they have certainly met my expectations. The Jazz has been a perennial playoff team for the past several years, and they improved this past offseason significantly. The team acquired Mike Conley in a trade with the Grizzlies and signed forward Bojan Bogdanovic from the Pacers in free agency to a four-year deal. Both players have proven excellent additions to a team that already had some key pieces in place. Conley’s production has taken a hit, as he’s not being used as frequently as he was in Memphis. Despite this, the man is still averaging 13.8 points and has been a great complementary player in the backcourt to young star Donovan Mitchell. Bogdanovic has also been performing well, averaging a career-high 20.2 points per game to go with 41.4% 3pt percentage. Bogdanovic has been an excellent scorer and shooter for the Jazz, and having another quality scorer on the floor also benefits Mitchell. Unfortunately, Bogdanovic will miss the entirety of the league restart with an injury, which is a huge blow for this Jazz team. Mitchell himself was also having the best season of his young career before the season was postponed, averaging 24.2 points per game. On top of that, the team still has two-time DPOY Rudy Gobert, who remains a beast on the boards and is an elite rim protector. As I stated might be the case for the Pelicans as well, the Jazz will need to play solid defense to win this game. Gobert will need to protect the paint and rebound well if the Jazz wants to slow down Williamson. Overall, I believe that Utah has a slight edge in this matchup thanks to its combination of veteran leadership and star talent.
Pelicans vs Jazz Fantasy Basketball Angle
While this might not be the most surprising pick for a player to highlight for fantasy, I think this is the right play. Zion Williamson should be in your starting fantasy lineup if you have him on your team. It is clear that the guy can produce at a high level, as he is currently averaging 23.6 points on 58.9% shooting and 6.8 rebounds per game. Ahead of the league restart, it was reported that Williamson has lost some weight and gained more muscle. This is a scary report for other NBA teams to hear, as a leaner Zion could prove to be a nightmare matchup for opposing teams. I think that his matchup tonight against the Jazz is a favorable one for him. While the Jazz might not have him guarding Zion, Joe Ingles is set to start at power forward across from Zion. He is historically not a great defender, and Zion should have a field day going at him in the post and on the boards. I could easily see Utah throwing one of their better defenders on Williamson, but I don’t think that will stop him from having a good game. If you want to get an edge on the competition in your fantasy league at the beginning of the restart, I’d advise starting Williamson if you have him on your team.
Pelicans vs Jazz Betting Odds
Pelicans Odds: -120
Jazz Odds: +100
The Pelicans are favored to win this matchup against the Jazz Thursday night; however, I think that betting on Utah would be a smart play. Although the Jazz will be without Bojan Bogdanovic, I still believe that they are the overall better team. New Orleans has several dangerous pieces on offense and is a solid defensive team. However, Utah’s depth and play from their star players are what I think will make the difference. I think it would be wise to bet the under in this matchup, as both teams have defenders all across the floor. I do not believe that this game will be a high scoring affair, but the winner of this matchup could go either way. However, if I were a betting man, I’d go with Utah in this matchup.
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