What to Watch for on the NBA's Opening Night
It’s been over four long months since we’ve seen an NBA game that counts, and the NBA has rewarded us with three exciting matchups to start off the 2014-15 campaign.
While Wednesday night has a much bigger slate of games, opening night will give us a glimpse into some of the most pressing questions of the NBA season.
Can the Spurs overcome the injury bug early in the season and defend their title?
Can a young team like the Pelicans survive the gauntlet of the Western Conference?
Will the Lakers be relevant this year in that tough Western Conference?
Let’s take a look at the three games below and see which storylines and players we should keep an eye on during this three-game night to kick off the new NBA year.
Orlando Magic at New Orleans Pelicans
When the Magic take on the Pelicans, they will be two of the seven youngest teams in the league. The Magic kept their perpetual rebuilding alive and drafted Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton, giving them even more youth than they had last year. Gordon will be coming off the bench to start out the season, but Payton is primed for a big role in the starting rotation, especially while Victor Oladipo is sidelined with a facial fracture.
However, as Bryan Mears mentioned in the Magic’s preview, the poor shooting of the Magic could be hard for them to overcome. numberFire’s NBA Power Rankings agree, projecting the Magic to have the second-worst offense in the NBA. That could add up to a blowout by the Pelicans – and a ton of rebounds for Anthony Davis.
The addition of Omer Asik could help the growth of Davis, and the two could form a tough duo in the paint, which could give them an edge in the Western Conference playoff race.
Seeing how they defend Nikola Vucevic will be telling for how much work they need to do together, but we could be salivating at the possibilities if Asik and Davis just dominate around the basket this season.
Dallas Mavericks at San Antonio Spurs
The last time we saw these two teams meet, it was Game 7 of the first round of the NBA playoffs as the Mavericks pushed the Spurs to the limit. The Mavericks went out and reset some of their team, but the Spurs stayed the course from their championship roster. But both teams could be facing some issues as they open the season again.
It will have to come down to chemistry for the Mavericks out of the gate. With new members of the starting rotation in place and the point guard battle still hanging in the air, it could be a rough start for the Mavericks this year.
Fortunately, they were able to bring back Tyson Chandler, the defensive anchor of their 2010-11 championship season, from the Knicks, but expecting the 2010-11 form of Chandler could be asking a lot.
Spreading the floor with Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons, and Monta Ellis could prove to be a difficult task for the Spurs to defend. Nowitzki and Parsons can spot up for a three-pointer from anywhere, which will allow Ellis to cut to the basket at will. There are similar type players from last year’s Mavericks team, but there have been significant upgrades at various spots at the same time, making it even more difficult for the Spurs this year.
The Spurs will already be dealing with some injuries, and as I mentioned in the preview for the Spurs, it could damage their frontcourt and backcourt rotations if Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter miss extended time.
Leonard's eye infection might only keep lingering for a day or two, so the Spurs should be able to manage Splitter's injury. Ginobili is the big question mark. He hasn't fully recovered from his offseason surgery and hasn't seen a sizable allotment of preseason minutes. With his recovery and age, Ginobili could take a little while to be ready. It may not matter for the opening tilt against the Mavericks, but missing an extended period of time could really upset this team's chemistry even though the Spurs have built their team to withstand injuries.
But while some stars are out, the Spurs will still have Tony Parker to lead the team and a bevvy of big men - led by the never-aging Tim Duncan - to go up against Chandler. This game may not be won in the paint considering each team's arsenal of sharpshooters. It may just come down to whose sharpshooters are shooting the hottest on opening night.
Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Lakers
Kobe Bryant is finally back to play a full season, and he’s coming back to a radically different roster. Four guys remain from last year, and they were mostly bench pieces on one of the deepest (but not necessarily in a good way) teams in the NBA . Pau Gasol was replaced with Carlos Boozer, and Jeremy Lin will be starting at point guard because Steve Nash got hurt again.
This team looks like a mess before it even steps on the court – it’s no wonder Carmelo Anthony, or anyone for that matter, didn't want to come join forces with Bryant. Bryant will be the ultimate definition of “the man” on a team, but battling back from injury, he will have a tall task trying to be the lead man on both offense and defense for this Lakers squad.
The first game won’t come easy either as the Lakers take on the Rockets, who rank fourth in offensive efficiency according to our NBA Power Rankings. And with Dwight Howard anchoring the defense, the team comes in at 13th in defensive efficiency. That should allow the Rockets to dominate Bryant’s Lakers on opening night.
Mix in a tenacious James Harden and sharpshooting Trevor Ariza and the Lakers will likely have a tough time just keeping up with this team. The Rockets should dominate from all aspects of the game as a good defense will keep the Lakers in check, and sharing the ball offensively will make the Rockets a tough out for the Lakers.