Photo by beancounter via flickr
The 2012-13 NBA season tipped off last night with three games, two of which were on TNT. Tonight, however, things get going for real, with the return of one of the most beloved traditions for basketball fans: the #LeaguePassAlert. There are nine games on tonight, most of which hold zero interest to national audiences. But it’s an NBA nerd’s dream—every game holds some level of intrigue, be it a playoff rematch, the debut of a hyped rookie or offseason acquisition, or just a game that promises to be fun. Here’s what’s on:
The Jonas Era: Pacers at Raptors (7:00pm EST)
Jonas Valanciunas has reached an almost mythical status among NBA fans. So few people have ever seen the Lithuanian big man play, yet he’s been hyped as a possible dark-horse Rookie of the Year candidate since he was drafted in 2011. Tonight, he makes his NBA debut with a newly retooled Raptors team. Toronto features two other new acquisitions: Landry Fields, the favorite player of Connor Huchton and basically nobody else, and Kyle Lowry, the favorite point guard of everyone who knows what #KLOE means. Indiana lost Darren Collison, but otherwise made no major offseason moves, and should be just as solid this year as they were last year. If you needed another reason to watch, Gerald Green and DeMar DeRozan are both playing in this game, so there’s a high probability of some sweet dunks.
The “Other” Teams From the Dwight Howard Trade: Nuggets at 76ers (7:00pm EST)
Nobody really knows what these two teams are yet. Everyone loves the Nuggets as a League Pass team, and some people are even picking them to make a deep playoff run in the west. But they’re not without question marks: shooting is a concern, as is the consistency of their frontline. The jury is out on the Sixers until Andrew Bynum plays, which nobody has any idea when that will happen. But this game should be entertaining—the media narrative will be focused on Andre Iguodala’s return to Philadelphia after his not-as-controversial-as-made-out-to-be comments about Doug Collins. But there are other, far more interesting subplots here. Will the Sixers’ Evan Turner and the Nuggets’ Danilo Gallinari have breakout years? Just how much better does Iguodala make Denver’s defense? In their first meeting since being traded from the Wizards, former teammates and generally weird dudes JaVale McGee and Nick Young will be expected to do something crazy or stupid. Speaking of which, JaVale McGee is playing in this game. #TEAMPIERRE
One of These Teams Might Have Made a Trade Over the Weekend: Rockets at Pistons (7:30pm EST)
The weekend’s James Harden was so monumental in its impact on the Western Conference that it makes the return of Linsanity a secondary storyline. Daryl Morey traded for Harden expecting to make him a franchise player, and he’ll get a max contract extension before tonight. All eyes will be on him, even more so than on Jeremy Lin, and the pressure on both of them is palpable. The world will also get to see just how good Omer Asik is (and he’s really, really, really good). If that’s not enough to convince you to watch, four of the most potentially interesting rookies will make their pro debuts in Detroit: the Rockets’ trio of blogosphere favorite Royce White, Jared Dubin favorite Terrence Jones, and Noam Schiller favorite Donatas Motiejunas; and the Pistons’ Andre Drummond. Drummond has had a fantastic preseason, silencing a lot of the doubters he had coming into the draft. Now he gets to prove people wrong when it counts.
Two Teams, Lots of Guards, No Direction: Kings at Bulls (8:00pm EST)
This Bulls team is just depressing. This game would be so good if Derrick Rose was healthy, but instead, they’re trotting out a patchwork of Nate Robinson, Kirk Hinrich, and Marco Belinelli. The Kings have the opposite problem, with too much backcourt talent that doesn’t fit together at all. Aaron Brooks is trying to prove he’s still a viable NBA player. Tyreke Evans is playing for a contract. Jimmer Fredette, if he gets in, is trying to prove he isn’t terrible. At least Marcus Thornton and Isaiah Tomas are awesome, even though their minutes and play will be hindered by this fustercluck of a guard rotation. But hey, we get to watch DeMarcus Cousins and Taj Gibson.
The Brow Has Landed: Spurs at Hornets (8:00pm EST, NBA TV)
As good and reliable as the Spurs are, all eyes will be on Anthony Davis tonight. He’s the top overall pick, the presumptive Rookie of the Year, and in his first regular-season game, he’s matched up with an aging all-time great in Tim Duncan. Manu Ginobili is out, but so is Eric Gordon (whose desire to go to Phoenix is pretty understandable now). These teams are pretty fascinating, but tonight is all about Davis.
The Two Weirdest Frontlines in the West: Mavericks at Jazz (9:00pm EST)
Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are playing for contracts, but Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter seem poised for breakout years. How Ty Corbin will juggle this rotation remains to be seen, but tonight we’ll start to find out. The Mavs, with Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman out, are running out a frontcourt of Elton Brand, Brandan Wright, and Eddy Curry. Dallas shocked the league last night by beating the Lakers in the opening of the Steve Nash/Dwight Howard era. The Mavs’ mix-and-match free-agent additions, such as OJ Mayo and Darren Collison, all looked great. And then there’s Jae Crowder, who already has potential to be this draft class’ cult figure, someone whose jersey everyone on Twitter will start shopping for soon, while those who saw him at Marquette and in Summer League will jealously contend that they were there first.
The Post-Nash Era Begins: Warriors at Suns (10:00pm EST)
Stephen Curry just signed a four-year, $44 million extension, a figure that would definitely be higher if his ankles weren’t made of graham crackers. He should play tonight, although Andrew Bogut still isn’t ready. There are still plenty of intriguing pieces on this Warriors team, including No. 7 pick Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson, already one of the best shooters in the league going into his second year. The Suns begin figuring out how they’ll cope with life after Steve Nash, with his former backup Goran Dragic returning from Houston on a big contract. Their roster is kind of a mishmash, having picked up the inexplicably amnestied Luis Scola, who’s looked great in the preseason, as well as two former Timberwolves (Wes Johnson and Michael Beasley) out to prove they’re actually valuable players. Plus, there’s always the chance Kendall Marshall will drop a “btb” in a post-game interview.
Lob City, Year 2: Grizzlies at Clippers (10:30pm EST)
This is probably the best game of the nigh, a rematch of the most entertaining first-round series of the 2012 playoffs. The Grizzlies mostly stood pat, although they did upgrade from O.J. Mayo to Jerryd Bayless. Most notably, Memphis now has a healthy Zach Randolph, something they didn’t have for most of last season. On the Clippers’ side, besides the second year of the Lob City Express, they’ve added Jamal Crawford and Grant Hill. DeAndre Jordan had a great preseason. Will Lamar Odom play? And if so, which version will he show up as? Both of these teams will be prominently in the mix for the playoffs, and this is our first chance to see what they look like.
Let’s Try This Again: Lakers at Trail Blazers (10:30pm EST, NBA TV)
That wasn’t the start the Lakers had in mind, huh? The first game of the Steve Nash/Dwight Howard era was a disappointment—the offense was disjointed, and the defense was just awful. Elton Brand gave Howard fits all night, and eventually forced him to foul out. There were flashes, though, of just how lethal this team will be once they figure out their offense. The ball movement was gorgeous, and the night served as a necessary reminder of just how skilled Pau Gasol is. The talent disparity tonight is pretty huge, but the Lakers always have trouble at the Rose Garden. Having just endured one of their worst seasons in recent memory, Blazers fans will be out for blood. The good news for the Lakers is that Portland’s starting center is J.J. Hickson, who is not the defender Brand is, to put it kindly. He should be exactly what Howard needs to bounce back from last night. Damian Lillard makes his debut, and he’s the Rookie of the Year pick of everyone who doesn’t think it will be Davis. So far, he’s had difficulty at the beginnings of games and been terrific down the stretch. If he comes out aggressive from the get-go, Portland has a chance here. Otherwise, it’ll be pretty ugly.