By Joshua M Hicks (@jhicks042)
The Golden State Warriors are reigning over the NBA indefinitely as back-to-back champions, but the league around them has twisted and turned and tossed itself completely in order to compete with the current dynasty.
LeBron James made the boldest move possible in going to the West Coast to play for the legendary Los Angeles Lakers while Paul George shut down all Laker rumors involving him and shocked the league with his “I’m staying in OKC” announcement during a party featuring legendary rapper Nas and his now permanent running mate Russell Westbrook.
Meanwhile, the former third piece in that attempted Big 3 in Oklahoma City, Carmelo Anthony, gets himself involved in the Houston Rockets’ stockpiling of talent after their tragic loss to GSW in last year’s Western Conference Finals but the champs put the big joker down on everyone adding arguably the best big man in the game in DeMarcus Cousins.
And if all that wasn’t enough in more recent times Jimmy Butler has worked himself into a PR nightmare for the Timberwolves, tempting a possible move of his to another contender, but such a move has since stalled. Still, that gives us another story line to keep track of as far as the February trade deadline.
The NBA doesn’t give us much opportunity to miss it anymore but that doesn’t make Opening Night any less special as we approach it again today. To the contrary, the ever-busy off-season sort of makes tonight a rare climactic moment that will introduce a season full of them.
Featuring four of last year’s playoff teams, this opening night could also predict two match-ups to come in the upcoming postseason and should either happen a lot of NBA heads would be pleased.
NBA Opening Night
- Philadelphia at Boston — 7 pm CT (TNT)
- Oklahoma City at Golden State — 9:30 pm CT (TNT)
The first game pairs up arguably the best two teams in the Eastern Conference as well as rematches competitors in last season’s Eastern Conference semi-finals. The Sixers look to make a bold statement here that shows the hype of last season was no joke as they look to start this season revenge-minded against the squad that bounced them out of the postseason.
Philadelphia has taken some hits, in particular with its three-point shooting with the departures of Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli, but the team is still strong behind the leadership of reigning Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons and one of the top big men in the game, Joel Embiid. Simmons and Embiid are the fruit bared by the Sixers’ long “process” and now they stand as one of the most lethal dynamic duos in the NBA.
Philly did retain its best long-range threat in JJ Reddick and it features Chicago-native Robert Covington in their backcourt, leading the defensive efforts and shooting over 35 percent from three, should allow the Sixers to play the type of “3 and D” game many associate with winning today, but the difference maker this year could exist in the emergence of second-year player Markelle Fultz.
Fultz’s offensive talent is elite, but after being out all last season with his shoulder injuries and engaging for months in attempts to try to figure out how to shoot the ball again, it will be interesting to see right away how he responds now that he will be fully in the rotation and playing in games that count.
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The Celtics have been the next team up for a couple years and they nearly pushed the issue to a boiling point after going to the Eastern Conference Finals without their two established all-stars while using the emergence of rookie Jayson Tatum and second-year player Jaylen Brown to take LeBron and the Cavaliers to seven games.
Now with the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, the Celtics roster is deeper and stronger than its ever been with a potential starting lineup that is one of the very best lineups in the league. Under coach Brad Stevens, and with James now chasing a Western Conference title, the Cs have a legitimate chance now to not only win the East but also be a legit threat to the Warriors if they meet in the NBA Finals.
Taking it to the west and the current epicenter of the game, opening night closes up with the OKC Thunder trying to play the role of spoiler as the Warriors get their latest set of championship rings.
Losers in the first round of the playoffs last season, OKC responded to an all-around disappointing season by making a slew of fine off-season moves. Retaining George got the most attention but it was of the utmost importance that they got rid of Anthony and they did so without having to pay the remainder of his contract. With money still available, OKC went out and got disgruntled former Atlanta Hawk Dennis Schroder to be Russell Westbrook’s backup and provide a comparable level of offensive explosion to their second unit. With these improvements the Thunder could be as ready as they’ve been since Kevin Durant’s departure to compete in the always tough Western Conference.
The more things change around the defending champions the more things stay the same as they see another banner raise in Oracle Arena. Who we’ll see out on the court this evening is basically the same Warriors that we’ve seen throughout this four-year dynasty that’s produced three titles.
With the eventual mid-season reveal of Boogie Cousins in “The City” this team that’ll be pushing towards the ever difficult 3-peat status will allow itself to shift into another gear that it may need in order to fend off the likes of Houston, OKC, Utah and maybe even LeBron’s Lakers during the playoffs.
It will be interesting to see what the second unit can provide for GSW, it could be as thin and inexperienced as its been during this dynasty period and one of the key bench contributors, Patrick McCaw, is holding out due to a contract dispute. Players like Quinn Cook will have to step up and lead the second unit at times.
We are talking about a team with as many as five multi-time all-stars on it in the Warriors but their unheralded players have meant a lot to their winning. Issues like the McCaw holdout are certainly something that must not be overlooked and should be paid attention to.
Joshua M. Hicks is the lead columnist of WARR