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Winners and losers from Thursday’s NBA action

Vincent Frank
NBA opening night: Lakers-Clippers
July 30, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, USA; LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers dribbles the ball against Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers during the third quarter of the game at The Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on July 30, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Mandatory Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

The 2019-20 NBA season is finally back after a four-plus month hiatus. The two-game slate representing the restart of the season at Walt Disney World in Orlando Thursday evening could not have gone any better for the Association.

The first game saw the Utah Jazz pull off a comeback win over the New Orleans Pelicans when a potential Brandon Ingram game-winner bounced off the rim.

Then in the night cap, the two Los-Angeles based teams did battle in a back-and-forth affair with the Lakers narrowly defeating the Clippers to pretty much lock up the No. 1 seed out west.

Here, I look at the winners and losers from the two-game slate Thursday night to reopen the 2019-20 NBA season.

Winner: Rudy Gobert, center, Utah Jazz

Despite seeing a highlight-reel play go against him, Gobert’s first action since he tested positive for coronavirus back on March 11 went exceedingly well. The All-Star big man scored 14 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked three shots while connecting on 5-of-9 attempts from the field.

Gobert’s defensive prowess limited Pelicans centers to 2-of-6 shooting from the field. His two free throws in the final seconds cemented a big win for Utah against a game Pelicans squad. Gobert played great ball in Orlando Thursday night.

Loser: Lonzo Ball, guard, New Orleans Pelicans

With Zion Williamson’s minutes limited in this one, the Pelicans needed Ball to step up from a scoring standpoint. He had done that in the month-plus before the season was suspended this past spring. Unfortunately, the enigmatic former lottery pick was not up to the task.

Ball connected on just 2-of-13 from the field, including an 0-of-4 mark from three-point rang. He scored a grand total of four points while dishing out seven assists and turning the ball over three times. That’s just not going to get it done.

Winner: Jordan Clarkson, guard, Utah Jazz

Here’s a name we did not expect to make waves once the NBA season resumed Thursday evening. Clarkson had played a role off Utah’s bench after he was acquired from the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier in the season. Though, he took on even more importance in this one with Bojan Bogdanović out for the season.

That’s exactly what we saw from the veteran guard in a 106-104 win over New Orleans. Clarkson connected on 8-of-17 from the field, including 7-of-9 from inside the three-point arc. Sure he struggled from distance, but this scoring came in handy for Utah in a narrow victory.

Loser: Zion Williamson, forward, New Orleans Pelicans

I give this star rookie a lot of credit for suiting up Thursday after just one five-on-five practice following an extended absence from the Orlando bubble. Statistically, Williamson performed well in limited action. The forward shot 6-of-8 from the field in 15 minutes.

It did not extend to team-wide success with Mt. Zion on the court. New Orleans was minus-16 in those 15 minutes and plus-14 in the 33 minutes Williamson was on the bench. That’s certainly not the type of impact New Orleans has seen from the generational talent this season.

Winner: Clippers stars show out

It was not enough for the Clippers to escape an onslaught from Anthony Davis. But it could act as a sign of things to come with this Los Angeles team aiming for an NBA title in Orlando. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George combined for 58 points, eight rebounds and seven assists on 18-of-33 shooting from the field.

The Clippers are going to need these two superstars to continue stepping up if they want to outlast the Lakers in the Western Conference moving forward. They have had limited on-court time together thus far this season. If what we saw Thursday evening at Walt Disney World is any indication, the Clippers are going to be in a good position.

Winner: LeBron James comes up clutch

James started out the game by attempting to get his teammates involved. That included five first quarter assists before he threw down a jam over the above-mentioned Leonard. This is not necessarily a surprise given that James had utilized that same mentality early in games in the past.

However, the three-time NBA champion struggled when he actually shot the ball in this one. James connected on just 6-of-19 from the field. In all, James scored 16 points while turning the ball over five times. Though, he came up clutch when it counted the most. With the game tied at 101 late in the fourth quarter, James scored the go-ahead bucket on a put back.

James then shut down the combination of Leonard and George on the Clippers’ final possession to seal the victory for the Lakers. What an amazing game-ending performance from The King.

Loser: Clippers supporting cast couldn’t get it going

With both Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell away from the Clippers, they needed other players outside of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard to step up against the Lakers Thursday night. In no way did that happen.

The likes of Marcus Morris, Ivica Zubac and Reggie Jackson (Los Angeles’ three other starters) combined to shoot 3-of-17 from the field for 12 points. They turned the ball over a combined eight times in the process. Even when Williams and Harrell return, this is not going to be enough for the Clippers to earn the NBA title. That’s for sure.

Winner: Anthony Davis puts Lakers on his back

This is what makes Los Angeles so darn dangerous. A game that saw James struggle big time from the field included Davis picking it up from a scoring standpoint. The All-Star big man dropped 14 points in the third quarter, including eight consecutive points to narrow what was a growing Clippers lead. That changed momentum big time.

Davis would finish the evening with 34 points on 8-of-19 shooting from the field. He dominated in the paint, too, making 16 free throws. That could have made the biggest difference in a narrow Lakers win.