Tonight marks the beginning of the 2017-2018 edition of the Association.
In years past, it almost felt like a redundant exercise to play a full slate of 82 games. What was the point when two teams were head and shoulders above the rest?
For this season, both the Warriors & Cavaliers seem poised to meet in the Finals for a fourth straight year — but it’s safe to say the road got substantially tougher for LeBron, Steph, and Co.
A large contingent of elite Eastern Conference talent — Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Paul Milsap, Jeff Teague to name a few — travelled west, some coming via trade, others via free agency. What we are left with is a Western Conference oozing with elite star power and an Eastern Conference lagging behind. Apart from a few notable additions (Gordon Hayward), and the Irving-Thomas deal, the East should provide much of the same from last season— although the prospect of a healthy Sixers squad could make for some interesting developments!
In the spirit of not looking too far ahead, — just stay with me! — let’s focus on the opening night double-header and save the IT’S ALL FOR NOT!! attitude for another time (like, say, two weeks from now?)
Game 1 – 8:00pm (ET)
Boston Celtics @ Cleveland Cavaliers
Well that didn’t take long…
Kyrie Irving makes his Celtics debut against his old team, a team he essentially abandoned this off-season. How will he handle the shower of boos awaiting him at Quicken Loans?
Isaiah Thomas is still a long way away from game action. LeBron James is a game-time decision (*SPOILER* – He’s going to play).
It’s been reported Brad Stevens will stroll out an Irving, Hayward, Brown, Tatum, Horford starting lineup. Ty Lue is expected to counter with Rose, Wade, James, Crowder, and Love.
Matchup wise, seeing how Love handles the defensive responsibilities that come with playing the 5 is intriguing. Horford provides a stiff initial test with his ability to score from a variety of areas — he’s also a capable defender in space.
Offensively, Love should give opposing team’s headaches most night’s with his shooting ability (and don’t forget his underrated post game which often gets lost in the Cavs system). For the most part, Kevin Love at centre is likely to be an exercise in taking the good with the bad.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Kyrie Irving should break Derrick Rose’s knees and ankles by half-time. Any other outcome would come as a surprise. I’m not wishing any ill-will on Derrick Rose, I’m simply pointing out that it’s a very realistic possibility. I don’t like that matchup for the Cavaliers — I’d love for them to stick LeBron on Kyrie every minute they share the floor.
Losing Irving is sure to hurt the Cavs’ offensive prospects, at least initially. It does free up some much needed shots for Love, but cashing in on his increased workload is far from certain when you consider his roller-coaster tenure with the Cavs.
The Celtics are primed to challenge the Cavaliers for an East title and could very well finish the season with home-court throughout the playoffs.
Tonight may only be 1 of 82, but will provide an early indication of how the East may shake out when all is said and done.
PREDICTION: Celtics 103 Cavaliers 109
Game 2 – 10:30pm (ET)
Houston Rockets @ Golden State Warriors
First to 200 points wins?
This has the potential to be an absolute shoot-out, pitting the top-2 offences from last season against each other. They both seemed to pick up where they left off this pre-season as well, assuming all standard PS cavaets.
Houston’s offence stands to change slightly with the addition of Chris Paul. Even with Paul in the equation, look for Harden to participate in ball handling duties and trigger various offensive sets.
Offensively, both the Rockets and Warriors can score at will — both averaged over 115 PPG in 2016-2017 regular season. Where the biggest gap exists is on the defensive side of the ball. Often lost in the Warriors offensive dominance is their ability to dominate equally, if not more so, on defence. In 2016-2017, the Warriors trailed only the Spurs in DefRtg (101.1) while the Rockets came in at #18 with a DefRtg of 106.4 — Mike D’Antoni personifies the belief that a good defence is simply a better offence.
Look for the Warriors to try and exploit Ryan Anderson — likely with Draymond Green in high P&R action.
The Rockets will surely opt to have Ariza shadow Durant as best he can, and don’t forget about free agent acquisition PJ Tucker. Tucker will surely be asked to lean and bang on KD when Ariza needs a breather.
In the backcourt, Chris Paul is going to spend a good portion of the evening chasing Steph Curry through and around screens which could impact his effectiveness on offence. Klay will draw the tough assignment of Harden, and vice versa.
The Rockets are a better team with Chris Paul complimenting James Harden. However, I simply don’t see them keeping up with a Warriors offence that has managed to get deeper heading into this season — Nick Young added to that second unit is bananas. A healthy Andre and it almost doesn’t seem fair.
Look for the Warriors to settle in on defence as the game progresses and wind up cruising to victory…their first of MANY.
PREDICITION: Rockets 108 Warriors 123
Cheers to hoops.