The start of the NBA season is the gift that keeps on giving. Opening night is the spectacular gala for which we all wait with bated breath, but the second night of the season offers a veritable cornucopia of basketball. 14 games tonight, so get those remote controls ready.
Brooklyn Nets at Cleveland Cavaliers (7:00 PM, NBATV)
On the surface, the Nets and Cavaliers have little in common. One team fancies itself a title contender; the other’s just hoping to make the playoffs. When you dig a little deeper, though…
…both teams are still pretty dissimilar. I mean, come on; the Nets have a handful of future Hall of Famers. The Cavaliers have Earl Clark. It’s not really a fair matchup. But both teams are bound by the limits of the corporeal form, dependent on the health of their key players to take them where they want to go. For Brooklyn, that health is a longitudinal matter. As the ravages of age slowly drag the celestial forms of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce back to terra firma, the Nets hope to buoy their stars with plentiful rest and a solid-if-unspectacular bench that can adequately fill in when their names are called. For Cleveland, their pas de deux with injuries comes alive at the most inopportune times, taking away Kyrie Irving just as he’s lighting the league on fire or smiting Anderson Varejao for daring to dream of a world where he corrals every offensive rebound.
It’s fitting, then, that these two teams should open their seasons against one another. Tonight, they’re opponents. But in the long run, they’re both waging war against degeneration.
Miami Heat at Philadelphia 76ers (7:00 PM)
Okay, what joker decided that this would be a good idea? The favorites for the 2014 NBA title against the favorites for the first overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft? This has to be a practical joke.
If you’re going to do something, it’s worth doing right, though, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better representation of Philadelphia’s dedication to tanking than an opening night game against the Heat. This isn’t a case of a plucky team of no-names being capable of an upset win like the Lakers pulled off last night; it’s Ash Williams against a horde of championship-craving zombies, with Thaddeus Young playing the role of Ash. Unfortunately for Thad, he doesn’t have a chainsaw hand or his boomstick.
Tank Smart, Sixers. Tank S-Mart.
Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors (7:00 PM)
Not the greatest game in history, right? But this is an intriguing matchup nonetheless. The Celtics have been rather coy with their plans for this season, saying that they’re not tanking. Instead, they claim, they’re trying to develop the talent that they already have on hand. It’s not about being bad in order to acquire new pieces, they swear; if they happen to be bad as their young guys grow, then that’s just a product of the growth curve. But I’m not really sure how much talent is here for Boston to actually develop. Kelly Olynyk has looked good in the preseason, and Avery Bradley’s angling for his next contract. Beyond that, though, the cupboards are rather bare for the Celtics. So while they might not be tanking, they’re absolutely in the running for a top pick in the coming draft, whether that’s their stated goal or not.
The Raptors, conversely, are striving for the playoffs. They have the pieces in place to contend for the eighth seed, but they’ll need those players — Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Jonas Valanciunas, in particular — to play up to their abilities, not down to their circumstance. If Toronto’s able to craft a viable offense and a pliable defense around their young-ish players, then they’ll have a chance at making it to the postseason. If not, they might lose more games to the likes of the Celtics than they ever thought possible.
Washington Wizards at Detroit Pistons (7:30 PM)
It’s the battle of spacing! Both teams fancy themselves as playoff contenders, but they’re taking rather different paths to the same goal. The Wizards are counting on the burgeoning synergy between John Wall and Bradley Beal to space the floor for Nene and the newly-acquired Marcin Gortat by launching a barrage of corner 3s. And Wall finally has a solid pick-and-roll partner in Gortat, which adds another layer of depth to Washington’s offensive attack. But the absence of Emeka Okafor threatens to wreak havoc on the Wizards’ defensive schemes and counteract any gains they see on offense.
Detroit thinks spacing issues are best left to NASA. They’re rolling out a lineup that’s severely wanting in perimeter shooting but loaded with talent. Tonight’s our first real glimpse into how well Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith can play together. All three are borderline All-Stars, and the Pistons’ passing ability is probably being understated due to concerns that teams will be able to pack the paint against them and deprive Detroit of high efficiency attempts at the rim. They’re certainly an unorthodox team in the modern NBA, but unorthodox isn’t necessarily awful. And defensively, the Pistons have quite an assembly of long-limbed, world-devouring monsters to throw at an opponent. Detroit might not get off very many decent looks from anywhere other than the mid-range, but their opponents might be so limited as well.
Milwaukee Bucks at New York Knicks (7:30 PM)
These aren’t last year’s Bucks and Knicks. On top of a coaching change, Milwaukee’s roster underwent a complete overhaul, with OJ Mayo and Brandon Knight taking the places of the departed Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. Caron Butler has returned hope to Milwaukee, but his status is uncertain tonight; twitter favorite Ekpe Udoh is also out. While the roster has shifted for the Bucks, they find themselves with a familiar forecast — struggling to cobble together a decent rotation and 40 wins.
The Knicks welcome Andrea Bargnani and Metta World Peace to New York, but their rotation is in question as well. J.R. Smith will miss tonight and the next four games as he serves a suspension for violating the NBA’s drug policy, which might force coach Mike Woodson’s hand in playing Carmelo Anthony at the 4. The Knicks look to be a different team this year, less reliant on the 3 and likely shifting Melo to the nominal small forward position as the season progresses. They’ll likely get away with their lack of shooting tonight against a Bucks team in transition, but everything else is up in the air for New York.
Charlotte Bobcats at Houston Rockets (8:00 PM)
Patrick Beverley gets the start for Houston tonight over Jeremy Lin, and the Rockets will trot out their Dwight Howard/Omer Asik frontcourt combination. There are obviously questions about how well two bigs who can’t space the floor can play together, but Houston’s taking the right approach. If you’re going to have two behemoths clogging up the middle, you have to put guys who can knock down 3s around them.
And the Bobcats — well, they’re the Bobcats. The best case scenario for Charlotte is for their young wings to keep maturing, Kemba Walker to take a step forward this year and Al Jefferson to pump-fake opponents into submission from the block. At times, they’ll be a lot of fun to watch; the problem is convincing people that they should watch in the first place.
Orlando Magic at Minnesota Timberwolves (8:00 PM)
It is absolutely criminal that Magic coach Jacque Vaughn has elected to bring rookie Victor Oladipo off the bench. The Magic are bad. They’re astoundingly bad. To limit Oladio’s time on the court and his ability to develop and play with the ball in his hands demands a Congressional investigation into possible high crimes and misdemeanors committed against the sovereign nation of the NBA.
But hey, Andrew Nicholson looked really good in the first half against Indiana last night. Let’s concentrate on the positives for Orlando. There probably won’t be very many this season.
On the other side of the court, the Wolves are at full strength for what seems like the first time in roughly half a century. An appeal to the basketball gods seems in order:
If you take away Kevin Love, or Ricky Rubio, or hell, even Corey Brewer, we as your fair and noble worshippers will rise up against you. We will scale NBA Olympus, cast you into Hades, and rule this land with the tranquil peace that we deserve. Don’t try us. Just give us beautiful basketball.
Indiana Pacers at New Orleans Pelicans (8:00 PM)
Rest easy, Pacers fans — and fans of really, really tall people who are really, really good at jumping straight up — Roy Hibbert’s okay after his scary slip and fall last night against the Magic. He returned to the bench, and he was cleared to re-enter the game had it been necessary. He’s good to go tonight.
While his injury was probably the lowlight of the night for Indiana, the highlight was Lance Stephenson’s continued emergence on the wing. He looked fantastic both on and off the ball against Orlando; granted, it was against Orlando, but it was an immense amount of fun to watch Born Ready fly around the court to snag offensive rebounds, make his way over and through screens on both ends of the court and just generally dazzle with his reckless energy and enthusiasm. If this is the Stephenson that the Pacers can count on seeing more often than not, they’re path to another deep postseason run gets a little bit easier.
For the Pelicans, this game (and most of their games for the remainder of the season, injury gods willing) is about one thing. UNIBROW. Anthony Davis is ready to completely dominate the league. With the full slate of games, it might be easy to let this one slip through the cracks. But if you don’t tune in to see the Brow get his wingspan on at some point tonight, you’re doing yourself a great disservice.
Atlanta Hawks at Dallas Mavericks (8:30 PM)
With Josh Smith gone to Detroit, the Hawks are unquestionably Al Horford’s team. Somehow, Horford continues to fly under the radar, but I have a feeling that trend will end this season. Atlanta is set to surprise people who expect the same old Hawks; another playoff appearance seems to be in the cards.
Dallas has its eyes on getting back into the playoff hunt as well. The additions of Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon seem to bode well for Dirk Nowitzki, who’s a master practitioner of the pick-and-pop when coupled with a decent point guard. The issue is whether or not Monta Ellis wants to share the ball with others; given his declaration in the offseason that he was going to play Montaball this season, there’s every chance that he’ll simply climb into an inflatable mascot suit and launch 45-footers in an attempt to introduce us all to a new sport that none of us will ever understand.
Long live Montaball.
Memphis Grizzlies at San Antonio Spurs (8:30 PM)
Two teams who thrive on continuity. Two teams who have questions to answer about whether they can continue to be elite contenders for a championship. Obviously, these teams know each other extremely well, and they always put on a good show. Fans of the game being played “the right way,” whatever that means, would be hard-pressed to find a better pairing than the Grizzlies and the Spurs.
Plus, you know — awesome commercials.
KAWHI LEONARD: THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Utah Jazz (9:00 PM)
Holy Shammgod, there are more games?! This is the single greatest gift the universe could ever bestow upon us.
I mean, not this game, in particular, but all of the games taken in total. Never mind.
Anyway, the Thunder are once again without Russell Westbrook, whose recovery was complicated by the need for another surgery to fix a loose stitch from his first surgery that had caused swelling in his knee. It’s like Surgery-ception, minus the cool sound effects. And while the Thunder most assuredly need a healthy Westbrook to be the top-flight team that we’re used to seeing, there’s something kind of fun about watching Kevin Durant operate without his comrade-in-arms. With Oklahoma City reliant on Durant for the majority of its offense, there’s always the possibility that Durant will go off for 50, 60 or even 400 points.
…what? 400 points is totally reasonable.
The Jazz enter a new era in Utah basketball, with Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward as the centerpieces to their future. Favors has already secured his extension, but Hayward and the Jazz are reportedly still separated by a money-filled chasm in their pursuit of locking Hayward in as a member of the Jazz. Of course, Hayward’s probably not going anywhere. If he plays well enough this season to earn the amount of money he seems to be after, then Utah will see fit to back up the Brink’s truck. If not, the Jazz will likely sign him to a smaller deal and hope to reap the rewards of his continued development. Either way, the future in Utah is much brighter this year than it’s been since the departure of Deron Williams.
Portland Trailblazers at Phoenix Suns (10:00 PM)
It’s got to be fun to see the Phoenix Suns on your schedule. The Suns are pretty openly tanking, as most recently evidenced by their turning Marcin Gortat into a first round pick and an even larger expiring contract. But Phoenix is going about their rebuild in a way that still offers NBA fans sufficient entertainment bang for their buck. They’re going to get up and down the floor, play two point guards simultaneously and give extended playing time to exciting young players who can jump out of the arena.* They have some semblance of a defensive scheme in place, and coach Jeff Hornacek seems like a great choice to teach the young’ns the fundamentals they’ll need going forward.
*Which I’m pretty sure is at least a delay of game, if not a technical foul.
For the Blazers, shoring up their bench seemed like the biggest offseason priority, and they managed to check that task off their to-do list. Robin Lopez comes back to Phoenix after a year in New Orleans that saw him turn into something of a rim defender, and Damian Lillard looks to continue his offensive barrage that won him the Rookie of the Year award last year. Portland’s without first round pick CJ McCollum as he recuperates from surgery on a broken bone in his foot, which puts a little more pressure on Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and the other Blazers starters. But if Portland gets healthy, they’ll vie for one of the last slots in the playoffs out west. Look for tonight’s game to be a track meet.
Denver Nuggets at Sacramento Kings (10:00 PM)
Is it possible that the Kings are the more stable of the two franchises at this moment in time? It hurts my brain just to consider the possibility, but things in Denver have gotten downright weird since they were eliminated from the playoffs at the hands of the Golden State Warriors. On the other hand, if you’re a fan of bizarre basketball, the Nuggets are right up your alley. New coach Brian Shaw said yesterday that he plans on starting Randy Foye, Anthony Randolph, J.J. Hickson and JaVale McGee, along with Ty Lawson — assuming that Lawson is healthy and ready to go.
No, seriously, read that again. HICKSON! RANDOLPH! MCGEE! IT’S YOUR 2013-14 DENVER NUGGETS! Poor Manimal.
The best part of this game has already taken place, though. Regardless of what happens on the court, the Kings will open their season in Sacramento. That’s a win no matter how you slice it.
Los Angeles Lakers at Golden State Warriors (10:30 PM, NBATV)
NO WORDS. Simply 3-pointers everywhere. We know who the Warriors are; they’ll launch shots from the perimeter like Cape Canaveral. But what the Lakers showed us last night, even if it’s just a one-time fluke, deserves to be bottled and sent to the Smithsonian. Game tape from last night’s victory over the Clippers should be grooved into golden records and sent to the farthest reaches of space. Civilizations outside of our own need to know about the Swagtime Lakers. Their memory must be saved for all of eternity, and when the last lights of existence blink out in the cosmic heat death of the universe, the ultimate vibrations of the strings that make up our known world will play the lilting ballad of the Los Angeles Lakers. Sing the praises of this team, universe. Let the memories never fade.