The NBA officially revealed its schedule for the resumption of the 2019-20 season following the coronavirus-enforced break and opening night features a star rookie and a marquee matchup. 

Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans will face the Utah Jazz at the Disney World complex near Orlando, Florida on July 30 in the first game of the resumed season, which will consist of a 22-team format.

The second game of the nationally televised doubleheader has LeBron James' Los Angeles Lakers facing Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers.  

The opening game will come more than four months after the season was paused on March 11 after Utah's Rudy Gobert became the first player in the league to test positive for COVID-19.

On Friday, the league officially completed talks with the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) on the terms for restarting the season, paving the way for the 88-game schedule of what are being called seeding games between 22 teams to be released. 

"We're coming back because sports matter in our society," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. "They bring people together when they need it most."

Each team will play eight "seeding" games that will take place in a 16-day span before ending on August 14.

The league will then begin a typical playoff format with the NBA Finals set to begin September 30 and ending no later than October 13. 

Excluding the opening night of the restart, there will be between four to seven games each day spread across three different courts. 

Games will start as early as 13:00 (local time) on weekdays, 12:30 on weekends and ending with 21:00 starts.  

Several players have opted out of the restart plan with reasons related to the coronavirus, while others – including the Denver Nuggets' Nikola Jokic, Sacramento Kings team-mates Jabari Parker and Alex Len and the Indiana Pacers' Malcolm Brogdon have tested positive.  

Ja Morant believes he deserves to win the NBA Rookie of the Year award over Zion Williamson.

Morant was selected second overall by the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2019 NBA Draft, with Williamson having gone first to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Williamson, who played just one season of college basketball at Duke before declaring for the draft, was the heavy favourite for Rookie of the Year honours going into the season.

However, Williamson suffered a torn meniscus in October, delaying his professional debut until January.

But he has been spectacular since returning from injury, averaging 23.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists per game. Williamson has shot 58.9 per cent from the field and 46.2 per cent from three-point range.

Morant, though, has the advantage of playing 59 games to Williamson's 19 during this season, which has seen him average 17.6 points, 6.9 assists and 3.5 rebounds.

He has shot 49.1 per cent from the field and 36.7 per cent from beyond the arc.

His performances had Memphis in the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference when the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking on Bleacher Report's 'Take it There with Taylor Rooks', Morant was asked if he felt like it should even be a close race for the award.

He replied: "Nah, I feel like I've done enough. I deserve it.

"I feel like my play this year proved all that. Had a great season so far. This corona stopped that short a little bit."

The prevailing sentiment among NBA players appears to be towards an eventual resumption of the 2019-20 season, rather than ending it prematurely.

Asked if he had spoken to anybody who feels the opposite, Morant said: "I haven't talked to anybody who hasn't wanted to play.

"I'm sure everybody wants to except for teams probably not in the playoffs."

New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson is likely to garner a lot of honours in his career, but none will be quite like the one bestowed upon him by the Audubon Nature Institute.

The organisation, which runs a zoo and aquarium in Louisiana, named a penguin after Williamson following the teenager's generous vow to cover the salaries of all Smoothie King Center staff over the next 30 days.

Williamson's pledge came after the NBA season was called to a halt amid the coronavirus pandemic, with the first overall pick in the 2019 draft alleviating some of the financial pressure on staff at the Pelicans' home court.

In light of that act of kindness, there is now a penguin called Zion who might one day meet the real deal, with the Audubon Nature Institute inviting the basketball prodigy, and his younger brother Noah, to come and see the critter. 

"Hey @Zionwilliamson and @PelicansNBA, meet Zion! During these challenging times, you've embraced the community with a truly remarkable act of generosity," a tweet read.

"Let us know when you want to take your little brother and meet your namesake!"

Former United States president Barack Obama has paid tribute to a host of NBA stars for their generosity amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The NBA was this week suspended indefinitely amid the spread of COVID-19, with league commissioner Adam Silver saying that will remain the case for at least 30 days.

In response, Kevin Love, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Blake Griffin all donated $100,000 to the arena staff of their respective teams to help those who will be hardest hit by the halting of NBA action.

Zion Williamson vowed to cover the salaries of all staff at the New Orleans Pelicans' Smoothie King Center for the next month.

Steph Curry, meanwhile, was influential in a collaboration involving Golden State Warriors players, coaches and owners pledging $1million to aid Chase Center employees.

Their efforts caught the attention of Obama, who praised them on Twitter.

"A shout out to Kevin, Giannis, Zion, Blake, Steph and all the players, owners and organizations who are setting a good example during a challenging time," wrote Obama.

"A reminder that we’re a community, and that each of us has an obligation to look out for each other."

Relief efforts have also seen Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban initiate a system to financially support the arena workers at his team's American Airlines Center.

Earlier this week, Obama had highlighted the impact cancelling large sporting events and other significant public gatherings can have in the fight against the virus.

He wrote: "If you're wondering whether it's an overreaction to cancel large gatherings and public events (and I love basketball)… these measures can slow the spread of the virus and save lives. We have to look out for each other."

New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson has vowed to cover the salaries of all Smoothie King Center staff over the next 30 days.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NBA season has been indefinitely suspended after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive on Wednesday.

Gobert's team-mate Donovan Mitchell has since confirmed he has contracted the virus and the NCAA has cancelled March Madness in response to the disease's spread.

Cleveland Cavaliers' Kevin Love, Detroit Pistons' Blake Griffin and Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo have all donated $100,000 to fund the staff at the home arenas of their teams.

And now Williamson – the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft – has pledged to pay the salaries of the staff at Smoothie King Center for 30 days.

"The people of New Orleans have been incredibly welcoming and supportive since I was drafted by the Pels last June, and some of the most special people I have met are those who work at Smoothie King Center," Williamson posted on Instagram.

"These are the folks who make our games possible, creating the perfect environment for our fans and everyone involved in the organization. 

"Unfortunately, many of them are still recovering from long term challenges created by [Hurricane] Katrina, and now face the economic impact of the postponement of games because of the virus.

"My mother has always set an example for me about being respectful for others and being grateful for what we have, and so today I am pledging to cover the salaries for all of those Smoothie King Center workers for the next 30 days.

"This is a small way for me to express my support and appreciation for these wonderful people who have been so great to me and my team-mates and hopefully we can all join together to relieve some of the stress and hardship caused by this national health crisis.

"This is an incredibly resilient city full of some of the most resilient people, but sometimes providing a little extra assistance can make things a little easier for the community."

The MLB and NHL have also postponed their seasons, while on Friday president Donald Trump declared a national state of emergency in the United States.

LeBron James sent a message to critics who question his mentoring of younger players, saying they could "kiss my a***".

James' triple-double of 34 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds led the Los Angeles Lakers past the New Orleans Pelicans 122-114 on Sunday.

For the Pelicans, Zion Williamson – the top pick in the 2019 NBA Draft – scored a career-high 35 points to continue the strong start to his career.

James, a three-time NBA champion and four-time MVP, shared a post-game moment with Williamson, a day after praising Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant.

"It's my obligation and it's my job to continue to pass on the game to the guys that are coming in after me, it's just my responsibility," he told a news conference on Sunday.

"No-one told me to do that, I just feel like it's my responsibility to leave the game in a better place than when I had it.

"When you see the class of guys that are in our league right now, I mentioned Ja last night, you mention Zion tonight, you see Trae Young, you see Luka Doncic, you see Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, you just see all these guys, these young guys, the league is in a very good place.

"If I'm able to give my wisdom and game and pass it down no matter when I'm playing or after I'm playing I feel like it's my job because the game has given me so much as I started playing when I was eight years old.

"It's my responsibility and anybody that says, 'LeBron, why would he do that while he's playing? It's a sign of weakness, he's buddy-buddy with guys he's going against', tell them they can kiss my a***, with a smile too."

James' Lakers hold a 46-13 record and are 5.5 games clear atop the Western Conference.

Zion Williamson was amazed to learn his latest rookie achievements have included matching the great Michael Jordan.

The number one overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft has sparkled since his belated debut last month following arthroscopic knee surgery.

And Williamson's 24 points in a 116-104 success against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday lifted his resurgent New Orleans Pelicans to ninth in the Western Conference, just two games shy of the playoff line.

It was the 19-year-old's individual exploits that garnered most attention, however, as Williamson became the first teenager ever to post 20-plus points in 10 straight games.

Earlier in his dominant run, Williamson had four consecutive games with at least 25 points while shooting at least 57 per cent from the field. Jordan was the last rookie to achieve this feat.

The former Duke sensation did not believe team-mate Jahlil Okafor when initially told of the statistic and turned to Pelicans security officer Chico Robinson for confirmation.

"Chico, my name's next to Michael Jordan?" Williamson asked. "Wow, Jahlil was for real.

"I mean, it's dope. I can't even lie. [He was] one of my favourite players growing up. I said in some interview, my mom told me to study film of him, so to be in that category, it means a lot."

Still, Williamson insists his focus is on delivering success for New Orleans, with their playoff bid now very much alive.

"I think the world and the media is more happy for me than myself," he said. "Honestly, I don't even think much of it if I'm being honest.

"I just want to get the win. You know, my stepdad taught me growing up: if the team has success then the individual things will follow. I guess it's just one of those things."

LeBron James proved he is still the master after leading the Los Angeles Lakers to victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, but he tipped the apprentice Zion Williamson "to get better and better".

It was the first career meeting between superstar James and exciting rookie Williamson, with the former dropping a season-high 40 points and adding eight rebounds as the Lakers triumphed 118-109 to make it six straight wins in the NBA.

Anthony Davis contributed 21 points despite only going 6-for-21 from the field, adding 14 rebounds and six blocks, while Alex Caruso was also influential for the Lakers.

Speaking after the game, James predicted Williamson – who landed 29 points for the Pelicans, second only to former Laker Brandon Ingram's 34 – will be a star for years to come.

"He's playing exceptional basketball," James said in quotes reported by ESPN. 

"I think his game is going to get better and better, just having that experience. I think today's game is the perfect fit for his game. 

"The high pace, the way they play, it fits his game. It works perfectly, and our game is so many possessions now, so much space, it's perfect for his game, so he's doing exceptionally well with that."

Davis, who moved to LA from New Orleans in July, echoed a similar message in his assessment of Williamson, saying: "He's a great player.

"He's got a quick first step. Very explosive. He's going to continue to get better and better as he goes on."

Williamson was injured for the Pelicans' first two encounters with the Lakers this season but has now scored 20-plus points in nine consecutive games.

The 19-year-old paid tribute to James' performance.

"It was a great experience," Williamson said. "He's an incredible player. 

"His resume speaks for himself. He handled business. He came out here and did what he had to do to help his team get the win."

James also put up eight assists and provided several highlight-reel dunks. Asked to explain why he had so much success, the veteran said: "I was just reading the defense. 

"They went under a lot of my pick-and-rolls; pretty much every team has done that this year, so I just try to make them pay. 

"I was able to get a couple of threes going and then I was being aggressive the rest of the [third] quarter."

Zion Williamson believes LeBron James does not get the respect he deserves despite the incredible standard he has maintained throughout his NBA career.

Williamson will face LeBron for the first time in his career on Tuesday when the New Orleans Pelicans take on James and the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Pelicans are 10th in the Western Conference standings with a 25-32 record, but still harbour hopes of claiming the eighth seed in the playoffs.

Should they achieve that goal, the Pelicans could face the Lakers, who hold the top seed in the West as it stands, in the first round of the postseason.

Williamson, though, is not viewing this week's encounter as a possible playoff preview.

"I'm not necessarily looking at it from that perspective," he told reporters after scoring 28 points in the Pelicans' 115-101 road win over the Golden State Warriors on Sunday.  

"I'm looking at from the perspective as, you know we need every win, we're trying to fight for that eight seed in the playoffs."

On four-time MVP James, he added: "I used to watch him all the time, especially when he was in Cleveland the first time, he was just an incredible player to watch, he always held his own.

"Sometimes I feel he doesn't get the respect he deserves but it's not for me to decide."

Zion Williamson recognises he still has a lot to learn a month into his NBA career, although his New Orleans Pelicans team-mates claim the rookie is already getting "vet calls".

The number one overall draft pick made his long-awaited league debut in a defeat to the San Antonio Spurs on January 22 after recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery.

Williamson played his 11th game on Friday, and a 128-115 win over the Portland Trail Blazers moved the Pelicans to within four games of the playoffs in the Western Conference.

The 19-year-old is averaging 22.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, and he was typically influential again in a 25-point display.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Williamson insisted he is far from the finished product and does not expect to fulfil his immense potential until "year four or five".

However, having visited the free-throw line 10 times against the Trail Blazers, shooting 50 per cent, Williamson's team-mates are mocking his early ability to draw fouls.

"I'm learning the pace, when to do things, when not to do things," he said. "I'm starting to get my legs back under me a little bit, I'm learning my team-mates, just the travel.

"Even though I'm a rookie and people think that I'm doing good, there's so much that I have to learn.

"I'm always learning something new from JJ [Redick], E'Twaun [Moore], Jrue [Holiday], Zo [Lonzo Ball], Derrick Favors, so much about the game. There are small things that I'm learning.

"By year four or five, I feel like I'm going to have all of them down.

"I think I am starting to get a little bit comfortable - I'm not saying a lot [more comfortable] because it's only 11 games. I've got a lot to learn, but I'm ready for the journey."

On the foul calls, Williamson added: "I think I just draw a lot of fouls. My team-mates joke with me and say I get 'vet calls'. I don't know about that yet.

"But when we get to the free-throw line, it's one thing to get there but we just have to knock them down."

Portland are one of the teams standing between 11th-placed New Orleans and a playoff berth in the top eight, and Williamson acknowledges there is little room for error for his team.

"Honestly, for us, at this point, I think every game is important," he said. "It's really like a college season at this point now - every game matters. If we take a loss, it's a big loss, a tough loss for us.

"So we need to come into every game ready to play, ready to lock in, we can't have any slow starts. And if we do, we can't dig ourselves into a big hole."

Zion Williamson insisted he is not worried about pipping Ja Morant to the Rookie of the Year award as his chief concern is helping the New Orleans Pelicans reach the playoffs.

A knee injury delayed Williamson's much-anticipated debut in the NBA regular season by three months, during which time Morant assumed the role of the league's outstanding rookie.

Morant, picked second, directly behind Williamson in the 2019 NBA Draft, has led the Memphis Grizzlies to a 28-26 record and the eighth seed in the Western Conference at the All-Star break.

And it is a top-eight finish with the 11th-placed Pels that is motivating Williamson, who delivered back-to-back 30-point games prior to the interval to enhance his own Rookie of the Year case.

"Honestly, it's not even up to me," Williamson told ESPN of the Rookie of the Year race.

"I'm just playing and trying to get a playoff spot for my team.

"If I win it, it's nice, but if not, it's fine. It just comes with the game.

"I do want it but if I don't get it I'm not worried because I did miss half the season.

"Ja's been playing incredible so he has earned it."

Williamson's outstanding performances in high school and college meant he was the most hyped prospect to enter the league since LeBron James in 2003.

Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin tried to temper expectations back in June when he said New Orleans were "Jrue Holiday's team" and Williamson must not be considered "the saviour of this franchise".

Yet Williamson has quickly established himself as the centrepiece of New Orleans' team, a fact that has taken him aback too.

"I think the thing that has surprised me the most is how much my team-mates look to me to try and make an impact," the 19-year-old added.

"I'm a rookie and I thought they would let me feel the game out before they started giving me the ball but, no, they trust in me."

Zion Williamson dunked so hard during the NBA Rising Stars Challenge that he broke the backboard but jokingly suggested it may not have been his fault.

The rim was left askew after the New Orleans Pelicans rookie threw down a pass from Trae Young late in the second quarter of Team USA's 151-127 defeat of Team World at the United Center on Friday.

Arena staff at the venue for this year's All-Star festivities had to re-align everything during half-time, when Williamson discovered what had happened from team-mates.

Asked if he realised what he had done, Williamson said: "Not at all. I went into half-time and my team-mates started telling me about it.

"I don't know which dunk it was on, but I don't think it was me!"

The first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and Ja Morant, who played together for AAU team the South Carolina Hornets in 2014, caught the eye with some sensational plays.

Morant produced a through-the-legs alley-oop pass for a Williamson slam, but it was a different sequence that caused the Pelicans star to reflect on how far he and his former team-mate have come.

Asked for his favourite moment from the game, Williamson responded: "When Ja threw me the lob from half court. Reminisced on that, back to ninth grade.

"It was crazy honestly because after I caught it and we got a timeout or subbed out, I was thinking about our Hornets days and never in a million years would I have thought would we have been in this game or be in the situations we're in, so it would've been that moment."

Prior to taking to the floor, Williamson met Barack Obama at an NBA Cares event in Chicago and explained why he developed a newfound appreciation for the former United States president.

"First off he's a cool dude man, it's Obama, c'mon," said Williamson. "I gained so much more respect for him just by him saying that [he kept up with my games].

"I was like you probably have one of the most busy schedules and you're able to keep up with a rookie, superstars, college people, even high school people, and tell them their stats, what they've been doing good, what they can work on.

"When he told me that I just gained so much more respect for him."

Williamson was not born until after Michael Jordan had led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships, but he still has a great respect for the 14-time All-Star's exploits.

"It was my mom that led me to watching Michael Jordan and the Bulls. I asked her when I first started playing who should I go watch and she told me Jordan, [Larry] Bird and Magic [Johnson]," he said.

"I think I started with Magic, I was like man he can pass the ball. Bird, he can shoot and is an all-around player but when I got to Jordan she told me to watch full games, not highlights.

"I watched full games and as a kid the stuff he was doing was incredible to watch. Getting a steal, saving it and then doing a backwards layup or floating through the lane through three people, dunking it.

"So as a kid that really caught my attention and from then I just watched every full game Michael Jordan clip I could find."

Luka Doncic has described Zion Williamson as "a different beast", the like of which the NBA has never seen before.

Williamson, the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, had back-to-back 30-point games for the New Orleans Pelicans prior to the All-Star Game in Chicago this weekend.

The teenager has scored at least 20 points in eight of his first 10 NBA appearances - with five-time MVP Michael Jordan the last rookie to achieve such a feat - and is averaging 22.1 points after returning from a knee injury that delayed the start of his much-anticipated debut season.

Doncic will face Williamson in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday when Team World face Team USA and the Slovenian has been highly impressed by the Pels forward's adaptation to the NBA.

"You can see he's a beast," Doncic told reporters.

"What's he played - 10 games? He's averaging like 25 [points].

"He's a different beast. I don't think we've seen a player like him. He's going to be an amazing player."

Should Williamson continue to put up huge numbers, he could succeed Doncic in winning the Rookie of the Year award.

The Dallas Mavericks star has enjoyed a fine sophomore season too, averaging 28.9 points, 9.5 rebounds and 8.7 assists.

Along with reigning MVP and Greece international Giannis Antetokounmpo and Serbian center Nikola Jokic, Doncic is one of several international players currently starring in the NBA.

"There's a lot of international players that are really good," Doncic added.

"That's what it shows in this All-Star [Weekend] - there's a lot of international players.

"The world can see that we can play basketball too."

Zion Williamson has expressed an interest in representing the United States at an Olympics, having been left off the country's preliminary roster for the Tokyo Games.

The USA, who have won gold at the last three Olympics, announced their 44-man list for the 2020 Games earlier this week, with LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard among the star names included.

However, there is no place for 19-year-old rookie sensation Williamson, while other impressive youngsters like Trae Young and Ja Morant have also been overlooked.

New Orleans Pelicans forward Williamson has poured in at least 20 points in eight of his first 10 NBA games - a feat last achieved by the great Michael Jordan when he was a rookie - and the teenager revealed he is keen to play for USA down the line.

"That is something I would definitely want to do in the future," he told reporters.

"I think there's nothing better than representing your country."

Williamson was speaking ahead of the NBA's All-Star weekend, when he will represent Team USA in the Rising Stars Challenge.

Memphis Grizzlies point guard Morant, the current Rookie of the Year forerunner, and the Atlanta Hawks' sophomore Young are also on a team that will face a world side that has Luka Doncic and RJ Barrett on its roster.

"It's an honour to be here in my first year, despite being 10 games in," added Williamson, who missed the first three months of the season due to a knee injury.

The first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft was also asked which of the game's greats he tries to emulate when he was on the court.

"I don't try to emulate any of them. I just try to bring my own style to the game," he replied.

"I watched a lot of [Michael] Jordan, [Larry] Bird and Magic [Johnson] clips."

Zion Williamson conceded he had surprised himself with a magnificent 31-point performance in the New Orleans Pelicans' win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Pelicans made it three straight wins as they claimed a 138-117 victory that saw the rookie sensation add nine rebounds and five assists in just 28 minutes on the court.

Williamson missed Saturday's win over the Indiana Pacers with a sprained ankle but marked his return in style on Tuesday.

In only his ninth career game, having missed more than 13 weeks after meniscus surgery earlier in the season, the 19-year-old went over 30 points for the first time.

He has now scored 20 or more points seven times, with Grant Hill and Shaquille O'Neal the only NBA players to have achieved that inside their first 10 games.

After his impressive outing, Williamson expressed surprise over his rapid progress.

"I expect to make an impact but I don't expect to do nothing like this," a thrilled Williamson said, per ESPN.

"I just kind of look to come in, just kind of fit in, just not try to mess up, but my team-mates and coaches are always pushing me.

"I do hold myself to high expectations, but I think it's just finding the line between reality and dreams. If my team-mates find me, they find me. If not, just got to make another play, get the rebound and just play defense."

Asked about the process of finding the right spots on the court and improving his decision making, Williamson added: "I think it is kind of happening.

"People are trying to find their own way. I feel like my game is so unique I'll be able to adjust to it on the fly. 

"At the end of the day, I'm 19. I have a lot of room for growing. I will mess up. I'm not perfect – I'm just going to learn from them."

Team-mate Lonzo Ball believes there is still so much more to come from Williamson.

"I mean, he's only going to get better," said the former Los Angeles Lakers point guard.

"He's 19 and came in midseason. I feel like he's still not in the shape he can be in. It's kind of scary thinking about what he can do in the future, but we'll take 31 points every night."

New Orleans improved to 23-31 and sit 11th in the Western Conference.

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