Tonight marks the return of the NBA for its 77th season all-time. Expectations are high this season. Many notable players will make their anticipated return (Kawhi Leonard, Jamal Murray, John Wall), certain teams garner newfound expectations (Clippers, Timberwolves, Hawks), while others come in as clear title contenders (Warriors, Bucks, Celtics).
Though the majority of the NBA tips off tonight, four teams had the pleasure of playing a night early on TNT. The first of two games featured the NBA Finals runner-up Boston Celtics hosting the always controversial Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers are in their second season of the James Harden experiment, who they traded for last season to form a dynamic duo with perhaps the best center in the NBA, Joel Embid. The Celtics boasted one of the best defensive units in the entire NBA last season, carrying them past teams like the Nets and Bucks in the playoffs. While they appeared to be a serious threat to win the title, Steph Curry and the Warriors proved to have too much experience, besting Boston in six games.
The first half showed us extremely competitive basketball, as the matchup looked like one we could imagine in the eastern conference finals. Both offenses shot tremendously in the second quarter, giving us a tie game at halftime. A storyline that is being quickly forgotten is the suspension of Boston head coach last season, Ime Udoka. Udoka was responsible for the immense turnaround Boston saw this past season, especially on defense. While Philly hung around for as long as they could, the Boston offense lead by Tatum and Brown proved to be too much, propelling Boston to a 1-0 start with a 126-117 victory.
The second game of the night featured the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors, who received their rings pregame, against the biggest letdown of last season in the LA Lakers. Golden State comes into this season with repeat expectations, as they claim host to a plethora of young talent combined with their veteran stars. The Lakers, on the other hand, had a forgettable offseason to say the least. While their front office takes a liking to the young talent they drafted, the main news on the Lakers front will continue to be Russell Westbrook. After winning MVP with OKC in 2017, Westbrook’s career has seen a clear decline lately as he has failed to find a stable home since being traded from the Thunder. Although Westbrook averaged the second lowest point total in his NBA career last season, he was viewed as the scapegoat of the Lakers issues. Anyone who follows basketball knows there are issues Westbrook needs to deal with, but the fact is he played in more games than anyone on the Laker roster last season. No one can deny it wasn’t the best version of Westbrook we have seen, but at least he was a reliable player you could count on to suit up every night.
Though there are some who believe the Lakers could have a turnaround type season, last night’s game showed us just how far off the Lakers are from being true contenders. As GM Rob Pelinka spent most of the offseason negotiating potential Westbrook trades, his time would have been better suited looking for long-range shooters. In their 123-109 defeat at the hands of the Dubs, LA shot a measly 3-21 from three point distance. The Lakers defense also surrendered 32+ points in 3/4 quarters last night. Poor outside shooting mixed with lackluster defense is a recipe for disaster.
Tonight there is a much larger slate, consisting of 12 action packed games. While there are reasons to be excited about every game tonight, a few games peak the interest above the rest. Starting at 6:30, the Pelicans and the Nets will tip off from Barclays arena in Brooklyn. There are interesting developments on both sides of this game, as we see the return of former #1 pick Zion Williamson. Zion was spotted in the infamous Michael Jordan “I’m back” T-shirt yesterday. On the Nets side of things, it will be our first look at Ben Simmons alongside KD and Kyrie. Remember, the Nets had intense offseason drama of their own, when KD requested a trade mid-summer but eventually recommitted to the team.
Cavs-Raptors tip off in Toronto at 6:30 as well. After their offseason acquisitions, the Cavaliers now claim one of the best starting units in the NBA (Garland, Mitchell, LeVert, Mobley, Allen). The Thunder open their season in Minneapolis where they will visit a championship-minded Timberwolves team. Minnesota acquired all-defensive center Rudy Gobert from the Jazz, who will play alongside all-star center Karl Anthony-Towns. This will be one of the more interesting fits to keep an eye on. Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander plans to play in the season opener after being considered questionable earlier this week.
The night will end with the Mavericks visiting the Suns, which is a rematch of last season’s playoff bout in which Dallas got the better hand. A bright spot for Dallas in the playoffs last season was Jalen Brunson, who provided the spark they needed to overcome a Phoenix team that went to the finals in 2021. Brunson took advantage of his unexpected postseason, inking a four year, 104 million dollar deal from the New York Knicks. While there are whispers this loss could hurt the Mavericks, their front office seems content with moving Spencer Dinwiddie to the starting lineup with Luka.
As the 82 game grind begins tonight, expect another highly competitive season across the board in the NBA. With so many teams choosing to go all-in on this season’s championship, the headlines will write themselves. Basketball is back.