Our long, difficult summer comes to an end tonight as NBA basketball returns to our lives and our televisions. I thought we better have a game(s) thread for opening night so we can practice for the Wolves, who open tomorrow in San Antonio.
Two reasonably good match ups tonight, starting in Boston where two of the expected Eastern Conference contenders meet. The Celtics are probably the favorites in the East, and are an incredibly deep and well coached team. Kyrie Irving is their big scoring star, but the signature of this team is depth. They welcome back Gordon Hayward, signed as a free agent in 2017 but injured and lost for the season in his first game as a Celtic. It will be interesting to see how he integrates into an already deep group of wings that features talents like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart. Look for the Celtics to play three wing players much of the time. Al Horford, quietly one of the most effective big men in the league last year, anchors them up front.
The Sixers of course emerged from years in the doldrums last season, headlined by young stars Joel Embiid, who was finally healthy all year, and Ben Simmons. Embiid is a shockingly talented and impressive big man on both sides of the ball, and can hopefully remain healthy for a good long stretch after suffering through foot problems early in his career. Simmons is the do-everything (except shoot) point-forward whose passing, rebounding, and scoring chops were jaw-droppingly good for a rookie last season. Those two are surrounded by a group of shooters and defenders, and the Sixers will look to dominate the boards, push the pace, and find their shooters.
In the nightcap, the Thunder are in Oakland, but will be without superstar Russell Westbrook, which takes a lot of shine away from this match up. I admire the Thunder for continuing to try to put together a contender in the wake of Kevin Durant’s departure. They were successful in re-signing Paul George, and they were able to move Carmelo Anthony off the books. Their three top players—Westbook, George, and Steven Adams—are an impressive group, but are also getting paid roughly $90M this season. As a result, the Thunder are deep in the luxury tax without much depth behind those three guys. Andre Roberson, a vital part of the defense, remains out injured for the foreseeable future. They will win their share of games once Westbrook gets back on the court (he had his knee scoped in September and should be back soon,) but it’s hard to see them as a real threat in the West.
The Warriors are of course favored to win their third straight title, and fourth in five years. It’s been a terrific run for this group. The questions at this point are always about motivation, but there’s no question about the talent. They have the best shooting in the NBA, are terrific at moving the ball, and have developed into a very good defensive team. There are really very few weaknesses here, and while they might look vulnerable at times during the regular season, as long as they stay healthy they will be favorites once the post-season comes.
Enjoy the games. Chat here.