The N.B.A. is finally back in action, with games featuring some of the stars fans have missed the most: LeBron James and Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers; Kawhi Leonard and Paul George of the Los Angeles Clippers; and (maybe) Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans.
More than four months after the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, the N.B.A. is kicking off with a doubleheader. Each of the 22 teams participating in the restart will play in eight seeding games before the playoffs.
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What to expect in tonight’s matchups
With all due respect to the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, who will make his much-anticipated return for Milwaukee in a game against the Boston Celtics on Friday night, LeBron James remains the league’s most captivating presence. At 35, James had the Lakers soaring when the season was interrupted in March. But he clearly kept in shape during the long layoff, and he sees another clear shot at a fourth championship — regardless of all the talk of adding an asterisk to this year’s title because of the shortened and unusual season.
Of course, none of this would even be possible for the Lakers without power forward Anthony Davis, who was averaging 26.7 points and 9.4 rebounds a game when the season was suspended. Davis got poked in the eye a few days ago and missed the Lakers’ final scrimmage. But he says he plans to play against the Clippers.
What have players been up to during the hiatus?
When the severity of the coronavirus outbreak became clear, many N.B.A. players found themselves without the bare training necessities. They are accustomed to having every athletic resource — high-tech training software, training staff, expansive practice facilities — at their fingertips.
So it was jarring for players to suddenly be hoop-less. The Washington Wizards and the Dallas Mavericks said only two of their 17 players initially had access to a basket. Only two of the 16 Denver Nuggets players had a functional rim nearby.
Restarting the season so quickly has raised injury concerns.
The standard N.B.A. off-season is filled with weeks of off-games. The forced break of play and practice has meant that this pandemic pause may have been the longest time many N.B.A. players have gone without playing and practicing at a high level.
That has some coaches worried about the quick ramp up in Florida. Players only had three weeks after they exited quarantine to reacclimate their bodies to the demands of the N.B.A. That may leave more players susceptible to injury.
“This is a different, unique ramp-up,” Washington Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard said. “The physical demand of playing basketball is different than running on a treadmill, doing Peloton, doing workouts in your garage on Zoom. We’ll have basically two weeks to really get to five-on-five.”