The NBA is back in action on Thursday night after the coronavirus pandemic led to the season being suspended in March

By Jason Duaine Hahn
July 30, 2020 04:30 PM
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James Harden
Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty

Welcome back, basketball.

The NBA returns to action on Thursday for the season's highly-anticipated restart, which comes 141 days after the coronavirus pandemic forced the league to postpone operations. But things will be dramatically different for both players and fans this time around.

In the first game of the doubleheader, the Utah Jazz will face Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans. That means the season will kick off with a match-up featuring Jazz player Rudy Gobert, whose positive coronavirus test initiated the NBA's lockdown in mid-March.

But Thursday's game won't be played in either Utah or New Orleans — the rest of the NBA season will be held at Walt Disney World resort in Orlando. The popular Florida tourist destination is where a total of 22 NBA teams have been placed inside a quarantine "bubble" for several weeks to protect themselves from contracting the potentially deadly virus.

So far, the experiment seems to be working: of the 346 players tested for coronavirus while inside Disney World, zero have returned positive tests since July 13, the basketball league announced Monday.

With every game taking place on a neutral court with no fans in attendance (another coronavirus precaution) that means "home court advantage" is non-existent for the rest of the season.

Dwight Howard
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The second game of the Thursday doubleheader pits LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers against their crosstown rivals, the L.A. Clippers.

The Lakers currently hold the best record in the Western Conference (49-14), while the Clippers — led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George — have the second seed with a 44-20 record. With only eight games left in the regular season, the Lakers are likely to hold on to the first seed and will play the team in the eighth spot of the Western Conference when the playoffs begin.

But earning the eighth spot in both conferences has gotten a little more interesting this year. According to the NBA, if the team with the eighth-best record is only four games or fewer ahead of the ninth-place team, both clubs will enter into a best-of-two series, giving the ninth team a chance to make the playoffs.

But if the team with the eighth-best record is more than four games ahead of the team in ninth place, they will have clinched the spot and no tournament will be needed. For teams like the Pelicans, who are currently in tenth place in the Western Conference, each game will be pivotal to their playoff chances.

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The rest of the playoffs will be played with a traditional best-of-seven series format with a first-round, conference semifinals round, conference finals and NBA Finals. The first round will begin August 17 and the Finals will start September 30.

On Thursday, the Jazz will take on the Pelicans at 6:30 p.m. EST (3:30 p.m. PST), while the Lakers will face the Clippers at 9 p.m. ET (6 p.m. PST). Both games will be available nationally on TNT.