NBA bubble updates: What Zion’s return means for Pelicans

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The New Orleans Pelicans watched a chance to get a leg up in the heated race for the West’s No. 8 seed fade away while Zion Williamson sat on the bench.

The Pelicans’ 16-point lead evaporated as the Utah Jazz stormed back in the second half to come away with a 106-104 win in the NBA’s first game of the restart at the Walt Disney World Resort.

New Orleans had a chance at a magical ending but Brandon Ingram‘s three-point attempt at the buzzer was off. Ingram caught the ball off the inbounds and dribbled to the right wing. He sized up Utah’s Royce O’Neal as Pelicans guard JJ Redick came off a triple screen and took the shot. The ball rolled around the rim but bounced out, securing the win for Utah.

After the shot, Ingram and Redick talked briefly at halfcourt, then Ingram quickly walked off the court and into the back.

Ingram said the shot was something he was working on, but says he let his team down on the defensive end. He sent Donovan Mitchell to the line with 48.5 seconds remaining and failed to grab a defensive rebound that set up the go-ahead free throws by Rudy Gobert.

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said there were two options at the end but said the bottom line was he felt Ingram took a great shot and he felt like the shot was going in. But he added, thanks to the Pelicans’ 20 turnovers, it shouldn’t have come down to a potential game-winner.

“We let a golden opportunity slip away,” Gentry said.

The Pelicans have struggled to close out games all season. New Orleans — which tied the score at 104 with 32.1 seconds left Thursday night — has now lost a league-leading 20 games in which it had the lead or was tied in the final minute of regulation. Turn even a handful of those losses into wins, and the Pelicans could potentially already be in a playoff position in the West.

Instead, Thursday’s loss drops them all the way to No. 11, four games behind the No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies, who they’ll face in a critical game on Monday night. — Andrew Lopez

MORE: Here’s what we can’t wait to watch in the NBA restart

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Paul George ties the game at 101 with a straightaway 3 only to see LeBron James give the Lakers the lead on the other end. George’s potential winner is defended by James and is off the mark to give the Lakers the victory.

Thursday’s best

Lakers clip Clippers late

Of course the final contest in the “Battle for L.A.” series came down to the final moments.

Paul George nailed consecutive 3-pointers late, the second one with 0:29 left tied the game at 101. On the next possession, James followed his own miss down the lane, gathered the rebound and put it back in for the go-ahead basket. The Clippers still had a chance to tie or win the game, but the Lakers leading man was brilliant on the last defensive possession — forcing the ball out of Leonard’s hands and covering George as his 3-point try at the buzzer misfired.

The win was the 50th for the Lakers this season, and evened the series with their in-arena rivals at 2-2.

NBA puts social messaging above player names

While the backs of the uniforms of players such as Alex Caruso (“Black Lives Matter”) and Marcus Morris Sr. (“Education Reform”) looked different, so, too, did uniforms worn by players who chose to keep their last names rather than swap them out with a social justice message. LeBron James‘ surname appeared below the No. 23 on his gold Lakers jersey, rather than above it. As did Kawhi Leonard‘s last name, appearing underneath No. 2 on his white Clippers kit.

The messages being placed above the uniform number, where the player name would typically appear, was requested by players to show that the message is more important than their name, a source with knowledge of the league’s plans for the restart told ESPN. For the players who chose no message and just their name, it is placed below for consistency. For the restart, above the number is reserved for messages and below for names.

King James takes flight in the bubble

LeBron James struggled to score in his first game back after 141 days off, but the Lakers’ star hasn’t forgotten how to finish big in traffic.

NBA players are fans, too

Who said NBA games were being played without fans?

With 22 teams in the bubble and only four in action Thursday night, players who had the day off took the opportunity to watch Clippers-Lakers live in The Arena at ESPN Wide World of Sports.

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Lonzo with the alley, Zion with the oop

Before Thursday, Lonzo Ball and Zion Williamson had played only 19 games together, but they formed an instant on-court connection in that short time. Ball averaged 3.0 assists per game to Williamson, the third-most for any duo in the NBA. And even though Williamson didn’t play in any of the Pelicans’ scrimmages, they didn’t show any rust in connecting again.

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Lonzo Ball lobs a backdoor alley-oop to Zion Williamson for the finish.

Williamson is playing in “short bursts” against the Jazz. In his first two stints, lasting a total of seven minutes, he was 4-for-4 from the field for nine points.

Gobert throws a block party

Rudy Gobert might have scored the first points of the NBA restart, but the Jazz center is still best known for his defense, and he showed why Thursday night.