NBA basketball is back! Although this was the shortest off-season in league history, we’ve all had enough of 2020 and are ready to move on to another season of great basketball.
Games started back on Tuesday night with a stacked double-header. The Brooklyn Nets vs. the Golden State Warriors and the Battle of LA featuring the champion Lakers and Clippers.
What was expected to be a great matchup between former teammates Kevin Durant and Steph Curry turned into a blowout, with the Nets steamrolling to a 125-99 win. The Battle of LA was more competitive, with the Clippers building an early lead to stave off a Lakers comeback, pulling away to a 116-109 finish.
While these games might not have been Game 7 levels of exciting, there are still a lot of takeaways to start the season. Here’s what stood out to me the most:
Stars Make Their Return
Love them or hate them, it was amazing as a fan of basketball to see some of the modern greats return to the hardwood after extended injuries. In particular, it was refreshing to see the aforementioned Durant and Curry show us why they are former MVPs and champions again. They’re generational talents that are must-see TV, and to see even shades of their former selves was exciting.
Durant had a solid debut in his first game as a Brooklyn Net. He scored 22 points in just 25 minutes while adding 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals. All-Star running mate Kyrie Irving also missed much of last season with injury problems, and added 26 points on 10/16 shooting.
Curry struggled shooting, rather ironically as the greatest shooter of all time, only managing to sink 2 of his 10 attempts from three. However, he still showed some crafty finishes and drives en route to 20 points and 10 assists.
Fan Experience is Still Intact
As was witnessed in the bubble, the NBA fan experience from home has not taken a hit despite the empty arenas. The level of play is just as good and the broadcasting is on point. Teams are even adding crowd noise to the games, replacing the virtual fans that covered the walls in the Orlando Bubble.
Only time will tell if the absence of fans will lead to some more breakout performances. In the bubble, we were treated to an incredible first round match-up between Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell who exchanged 30 point bombs for the duration of the series. TJ Warren and the entire Phoenix Suns roster also got a boost in the bubble.
Empty arenas make it easier for players to focus on the game in front of them. This focus might be particularly helpful for young players who aren’t used to playing in front of massive NBA crowds. However, there are other factors to consider, like the increased ability to hear trash talk from the bench. If fans aren’t getting into your head, Draymond Green will.
Benches Are Making an Impact
With stars making returns and new acquisitions getting used to a new system, there will be a lot of development to be seen in the league still. However, these first two games make one thing clear; bench play is extremely important in today’s NBA.
In the first game, the Brooklyn Nets’ bench outscored the Warriors’ reserves 54-35. The momentum the bench provided when Durant and Kyrie rested allowed the team to cruise to an easy victory. Caris Levert led the charge with 20 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals in reserve minutes. If the budding star sticks to this role, he could easily elevate his team to another level. He was seen talking with Kevin Durant throughout the game, and that mentorship could unlock Levert’s potential that has been slowed by injuries of his own.
The Battle of LA is Still Entertaining
A lot of fans might be sick of the LA superduos going at it already, but the fact is they play fantastic basketball and are a great match-up. On paper the Lakers look like they upgraded when they stole Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell from the Clippers along with the acquisitions of Dennis Schroder and Marc Gasol. The Clippers on the other hand looked worse than before, seemingly overpaying an unproven Luke Kennard and picking up Nicolas Batum (although Serge Ibaka was certainly a solid replacement for Harrell). Regardless, the Clippers came on top this round, setting the stage for even better matchups in the future.
The Clippers should be especially happy with the performance of Paul George, who recently signed a massive extension to ensure the franchise has some future if Kawhi Leonard leaves in free agency. He scored 33 points on 13/18 shooting including 5/8 from three, putting the playoff jokes to rest for the time being.
LeBron Can Be an All-Star for Two Decades
Believe it or not, LeBron wasn’t an All-Star his rookie year. Since then, however, he’s made 16 consecutive All-Star games and STILL shows no sign of slowing down. If he simply maintains his current form, he could be an All-Star for 20 seasons straight.
In the first game of the 2020-2021 regular season he posted 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. While these certainly aren’t his best numbers, they’re still a solid foundation for him to get back into rhythm. As a reminder, the Lakers had the least amount of time to prepare for the season after clinching their championship just two months prior.
LeBron signed an extension with the Lakers that will keep him there until his son, Bronny Jr., is projected to enter the league. It’s assumed that he plans on teaming up with his son on whatever team drafts him before calling it a career. Until then, you can bet he’ll be giving his all night in and night out.
This is just opening day! As strange as this season might be due to COVID-19, it’s still exciting to have NBA basketball back. It only gets better from here.
Picture Source: USATSI
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