NBA 2020-21: Los Angeles Lakers take on LA Clippers and Brooklyn Nets host Golden State Warriors on opening night
Will the Lakers get off to the perfect start? Is Stephen Curry back to full fitness and how will the new-look Brooklyn Nets fare? There are many questions to be answered on NBA opening night.
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LA Clippers @ Los Angeles Lakers – Wednesday 3am – SS Main Event and Mix
After the shortest offseason in league history, the Los Angeles Lakers open defence of their NBA title in the early hours of Wednesday morning as they host city rivals the Clippers.
“It has been a different training camp, to say the least, but for the time we have had, which hasn’t been that much, I feel like we have put in the work and gotten better,” said Lakers forward LeBron James.
“Obviously, we are not where we want to be long-term but that’s absolutely OK because it is a long season, it’s a long journey. But to the credit of the guys, we have gotten better as the days have gone on.”
Many believe the Lakers, who finished the preseason 4-0, improved during the offseason with the additions of reigning Sixth Man of the Year and former Clippers big man Montrezl Harrell, the Sixth Man runner-up Dennis Schroder, veteran center Marc Gasol and guard Wesley Matthews.
But the Lakers’ success primarily depends on the play of James and Anthony Davis. James, who won his fourth NBA title when the Lakers beat the Miami Heat to close out the 2020 Finals in six games, averaged 25.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and a league-high 10.2 assists per game during the 2019-20 regular season.
Davis averaged a team-high 26.1 points with 9.3 boards and finished third in the league in blocks at 2.3 per game.
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The Clippers, who went 0-3 in the preseason, including a pair of losses to the Lakers, are anxious to put last season’s crushing playoff collapse behind them.
By blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals, the Clippers not only prevented an anticipated showdown with the Lakers but also cost head coach Doc Rivers his job. Former assistant Tyronn Lue replaced him.
The Clippers’ fortunes again will ride with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Leonard scored a club-high 27.1 points and grabbed 7.1 rebounds per game during the 2019-20 regular season. George, who averaged 21.5 and 5.7 rebounds in the regular season but experienced an inconsistent postseason, seems more motivated by last season’s disappointing finish.
Live NBA: LA Clippers @ LA Lakers 22.12
“December 22 won’t be the test of defining who we are and where we are at playing the Lakers on their opening ring ceremony,” George told the Los Angeles Times.
“It’ll be a great ceremony for them. But it’s the start of what we are trying to do and that’s the only thing we got to look at is the start of the marathon and the race that we are running for this year. So, we have enough motivation going into this season regardless if we started this season off with someone else or the Lakers.”
Forward Marcus Morris Sr, guard Patrick Beverley and center Ivica Zubac are again expected to be key contributors. So is forward Serge Ibaka, who the Clippers signed as a free agent to fill the void left by Harrell. Ibaka averaged 15.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game last season with the Toronto Raptors.
Newcomers Nicolas Batum and Luke Kennard also will be relied upon for production. Lou Williams, one of the league’s top-scoring reserves, is again expected to provide a boost. Williams averaged 18.2 points and 5.6 assists during the regular season.
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Golden State Warriors @ Brooklyn Nets | Wednesday 12am | SS Main Event and SS Mix
Kevin Durant left the Golden State Warriors as a free agent after the 2018-19 season to join forces with Kyrie Irving on the Brooklyn Nets, but due to injuries, the partnership never unfolded in a unique season.
On opening night, the Nets will see the tandem in a meaningful game for the first time as Durant makes his Nets’ debut against the Warriors, who visit Brooklyn with Stephen Curry fully healthy.
Durant is playing his first regular-season game since rupturing his Achilles in Game Five of the 2019 NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors. He spent all of last season recovering and was among the Nets to contract coronavirus when the pandemic shut down the season for four months in March. But he has looked like his old self in the Nets’ two preseason games.
“I feel like each game is important to me,” Durant said after practice on Monday.
“It’s of no more importance because I’m playing against my old team-mates. I just feel like the game of basketball is going to have me on that level anyway and it’s going to be good to see some of my old team-mates, good to play against them, good to see some of the people I worked with in Golden State.”
Irving was spectacular in limited action in the 2019-20 season for the Nets, who saw him produce two 50-point games and average a career-high 27.4 points on 47.8 per cent shooting.
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Irving’s strong showings only occurred in 20 games due to shoulder injuries and he is playing a meaningful game for the first time since February 1, when he injured his shoulder in a collision with Washington’s Bradley Beal.
Without their stars, the Nets finished the regular season at 35-37 and were swept in the playoffs by Toronto. The Nets were without Spencer Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan in the bubble but got a spectacular performance from Caris LeVert, who averaged 25 points in the resumption and also scored 51 points shortly before the league went on pause.
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Besides incorporating Durant and Irving, the Nets are unveiling new coach Steve Nash, who worked with Durant in Golden State. Nash is Brooklyn’s third coach in the past nine months, taking over for Jacque Vaughn, who replaced Kenny Atkinson on March 7 – four days before the season was paused.
“It’s like the first day of school, everyone’s excited and ready to go,” Nash said. “There’s obviously some extra interest because of all of these firsts.”
Golden State struggled in the 2019-20 season and finished with a league-worst 15-50 record. Curry was limited to five games due to a broken left hand, and Klay Thompson missed the season with a torn left ACL suffered in the NBA Finals in June 2019. In November, he tore his right Achilles tendon and will sit out this season, as well.
In the five games Curry played, he averaged 20.8 points and he scored 29 points apiece in his final two exhibition games this season.
“He is one of the all-time greats and we have to pay a lot of attention to him especially this season I think with Klay being out,” Nash said. “He is going to shoot from everywhere, early and often and that’s the way it should be because he is the greatest shooter of all-time.”
Besides getting Curry back, the Warriors are also incorporating Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre Jr and rookie James Wiseman into the mix.
Live NBA: Golden State @ Brooklyn 22.12
Wiggins averaged 19.4 points on 45.7 per cent shooting in 12 games after being acquired from Minnesota, while Oubre averaged a career-high 18.7 points in 56 games for Phoenix last season. Wiseman was the second overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft after averaging 19.7 points over three games at Memphis; he is expected to be Golden State’s starting center.
“For what we have right now I love where we’re at,” Curry said during training camp. “I love the fact that we have enough pieces, enough talent, enough experience to surprise a lot of people this year and try to compete at the top of the West.”
While the Warriors are anticipating how three significant new pieces will fare along with a healthy Curry, they will be without Draymond Green, who is expected to miss the game with a strained muscle in his right foot.
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