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It’ll be 140 days since we last saw a regular-season NBA game when the league resumes on Thursday. The NBA reported that there are zero COVID-19 cases around the league as of July 21st which means (for now) that the NBA bubble in Orlando is a success.

NBA fans feared that the season wouldn’t return but thanks to careful planning on behalf of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver the National Basketball Association is back with a condensed number of teams from 30 to 22. As we get back to action, here are the biggest storylines from where we left off in March.

Zion Williamson

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Zion Williamson left the “NBA Bubble” to tend to a family emergency. The former Duke superstar has since returned and cleared quarantine leaving the decision to him whether or not he plays on Thursday. The Pelicans are fighting for a playoff position currently four games out of 8th place. If the Pelicans make a run, we could see a LeBron vs. Zion first round in the post-season which would be a box office matchup.

Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony’s career is dwindling, but since signing with the Portland Trailblazers he’s shown that he is still an asset to any 12-man roster in the league. Accepting his 3rd option scoring role behind Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, Melo has averaged an honest 15 points per game giving Portland something of a lift late in the season.

Currently three games out of 8th place, Melo and the Trailblazers want to get right to work to lock up that final playoff spot. Although the former Syracuse National Champion has likely done enough to secure a contract next season, Melo has been vocal about this final playoff push well aware of the opportunity that Blazers have as a team that made it to the Western Conference Finals last season.

The Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets have gotten a lot of press lately thanks to their rookie acquisition Bol Bol whose NBA debut resulted in a 16 point 10 rebound outing adding six blocks in the Nuggets game against the Washington Wizards. The 2nd round pick from Oregon was a projected lottery pick before suffering a foot injury in college, an injury that spells doom for a lot of players his size (7’2).

The Nuggets as the three seed have been underrated as a contender in this league, but with an added big man in Bol Bol to defend and grab boards adding in All-Star stretch player Nikola Jokic and company, the Nuggets could have a legitimate chance this season to compete for the NBA Finals.

Giannis Antetoukounmpo

Giannis Antetoukounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks are looking at a possible back to back 60 win season and a repeat 1st place spot in the Eastern Conference. Putting up another MVP caliber season averaging 29 points and 13.5 rebounds, the Greek Freak has moved on from individual awards and has been craving a shot at the title.

Two years ago, The Bucks fell to Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics in the first round. Last season, an historic run by Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors left the Bucks at the Eastern Conference Finals, but with Kawhi now out west, Giannis’ path seems clear to face whoever wins the battle in the opposing conference.

LeBron James

LeBron is always the headline so no surprise that he is one of the biggest stories going on in the NBA restart. After a gaudy 2018-2019 season plagued with injuries and poor play, the Lakers missed the playoffs for the 5th year in a row. A box office offseason acquisition of Anthony Davis turned the Lakers into a contender overnight and now have a chance to reclaim the greatness of the Lakers franchise that players like Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kobe Bryant helped build.

Like Carmelo, LeBron is on the Back Nine of his NBA career although you couldn’t tell with the numbers he’s putting up (25 pts, 7 rebounds, 10 assists). Also an MVP candidate, LeBron James in year 17 has looked like he can last 10 more seasons. But with father time being undefeated and as a current member of an elite Lakers squad, LeBron and his fans want to see the King earn at least 1 more ring before retirement.

The expectation is that LeBron and AD will meet up with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference Finals. Thursday’s meeting between the top 2 teams in the West could be a preview of what’s to come deep in the playoffs. The Clippers currently hold the regular-season series over the Lakers 2-1.

Protests

ESPN is reporting that the Utah Jazz and the New Orleans Pelicans plan to do a joint kneeling protest during the National Anthem on Thursday. It would be no surprise to see the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers follow suit prior to their game on Thursday. These protests, though expected would likely cause a reaction from those who oppose the form of protest started by Colin Kaepernick in 2015.

Protests could potentially become a constant theme for the remainder of the season. The majority of players have already opted to replace their last name on their game jersey to promote people or initiatives that they support like Breonna Taylor, Black Lives Matter and Education Reform.