The NBA season is finally upon us, with 30 teams battling, hoping to become NBA Champions. Let’s take a look at the two opening night games.
LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers will travel to face the defending NBA champions, the Denver Nuggets. Even with all the changes and acquisitions that occurred in the league, the Nuggets are still the favorites in the Western Conference.
Alongside the reigning Finals MVP Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets brought back their entire starting lineup. The depth may be a question early on, as key role player Bruce Brown, who shined in the playoffs, was rewarded with a massive contract from the Indiana Pacers. Veteran Jeff Green also joined a new team.
Many viable names may thrive with the opportunity. Christian Braun, a rookie last year, had many impressive moments during the playoffs and will look to pick up where he left off. Rookie Julian Strawther, drafted 29th from Gonzaga, impressed during the preseason, where he averaged over 17 PPG while shooting 45% from behind the arc. It will be interesting to see if Coach Michael Malone will give the rookie a chance on opening night against the tough Lakers team.
This is not the same Lakers team from a year ago. After a horrible start to the season last year, the Lakers tore apart their roster, and it worked. They became only the fourth team since 1981 to start 2-10 or worse and finish with a winning record. Their championship dreams were crushed, getting swept by their opening night opponents.
Along with their trade deadline moves, the Lakers had one of the most applauded off-seasons in the NBA. Not only were they able to re-sign playoff breakouts Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura, but they also signed Gabe Vincent to a multi-year contract after he was a key piece in Miami’s finals run. LA took flyers on players like Cam Reddish, Jaxson Hayes and Christian Wood, all of whom were acquired on cheap deals. Their depth has been vastly improved in hopes of one last championship run with LeBron James and Anthony Davis serving as the core.
The ceiling of this Lakers team will be determined by their health. James is now the oldest player in the NBA and has missed 27, 26 and 27 games over the past three years, respectively. Davis hasn’t played at least 60 games in the past three seasons. During the Lakers championship run in 2020, both James and Davis were healthy, and that will need to happen again if they truly hope to contend in a stacked Western Conference.
Bradley Beal makes his Phoenix Suns debut when they play the Golden State Warriors. The Suns acquired Beal, who spent his first 11 seasons with the Washington Wizards, in exchange for a trade package that included Chris Paul and multiple picks. He joins All-Stars Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, creating the potential for one of the most explosive offenses in the NBA.
The defense of this team leaves much to be desired. They do not have any lock-down perimeter defenders or strong rim protectors.
The Suns do say that “the best defense is a good offense,” and that may be Phoenix’s strategy this season.
The Warriors made a blockbuster move of their own, trading Jordan Poole for Chris Paul, who is returning to Phoenix. The veteran point guard is one of the greatest playmakers ever and still has some gas left in the tank. Paul, hopefully, can be the Warriors’ secondary ball handler to run the offense when Steph Curry is on the bench.
The Warriors were one of the older teams in the league, and adding Paul is not making them any younger. Paul, as part of the Warriors’ offensive, seems like a match made in heaven. He just has to stay healthy for them to reach their full potential. If Paul misses many games this season, it may be more of a negative.
Any team with Curry cannot be counted out. Curry seemingly has not lost a step and is still one of the most dynamic scorers in the NBA. Klay Thompson is still one of the league’s best shooters despite the regression since his injuries, and Draymond is still the heart and soul of the Warriors dynasty. With Thompson being in the last year of his contract, this may be the last season the Warriors’ “big three” play on the same team.