This year’s NBA season is just 2 weeks old, and already we have the makings of 2 great rivalries on the hardcourt. On one hand, we have a face-off between the 2 superteams that stacked up grandly during the off-season; and on the other, a clash between 2 of the biggest, baddest dudes in the eastern conference. Watch these soap operas unfold, folks, they’re gonna bring more action and devastation than the ‘Game of Thrones’ and the Avengers’ ‘Infinity Wars’ combined.
The season opened with an initial salvo of the ‘Battle for El-ay’, where a King named Lebron James is now seriously challenged by a future king named Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi’s Clippers schooled Lebron’s Lakers 112-102 to send a clear message that it was time for the Clippers to own El- Ay. Out with the old, in with the new.
Lebron and Kawhi both have dazzling personal resumes. Lebron has had 3 NBA championships in 17 seasons of outstanding service, as opposed to Kawhi’s 2 championships in 9 seasons. ‘Greatest of All Time’ candidate Lebron has 4 season MVPs, 3 Finals MVPs, 15 All-Star appearances and a room-full of other awards. Wanna-be king Kawhi has 2 Finals MVPs, 3 All-Star appearances, 2 Defensive Player of the Year Awards and other small change. On paper, Lebron is clearly way ahead of Kawhi. On the court however, the wear-and-tear on Lebron’s body has slowly been catching up. It is like 2 magnificent pugilists meeting in the ring, one hoping he could snatch the crown from the other; the other wishing he had met this upstart during his younger days.
Lebron downplayed the opening day loss, saying 1 game doesn’t necessarily create a rivalry. But the fans know better. When you have 2 teams stay in the same town, play in the same arena, and flex super-stud muscles with 2 each of the top 10 players in the world, even without the media hype, the excitement and energy generated certainly makes it a riveting rivalry. This is – whether King James likes it or not – going to be the marquee rivalry in the NBA this year.
What’s scary with the Clippers’ win is that they nailed it without their number 2 guy, Paul George. Sure, Lebron missed the services of Kyle Kuzma as well, but Kyle simply cannot hold a candle to George at this point. Lebron has an understudy in Anthony Davis, arguably the best big man in the league (although the 2 scuffling dudes mentioned below may not agree), but their supporting cast is no match to the Clippers.
With a reserve force led by Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, both legit threats for the 6th Man of the Year Award, the Clippers have a tsunami-of-a-second-wave. This second unit simply outscored their Laker counterparts 60 to 19, underscoring what little difference there is between the Clippers’ first and second units. It is a clear testament to their bench depth.
But hope springs eternal. The Lakers are not done yet. They still have more than half the season to upgrade that weak bench. They still have time to tinker with their combinations. King Lebron himself is already getting comfortable sliding to the point guard role, which spells a big improvement in the height and heft side. They are just 1 savvy reserve away from going head-to-head with the Clippers. Now, if they can get an Iggy Igoudala, things could get more interesting.
Over in the east, the NBA suspended the Philly’s Joel Embiid and Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns for 2 games apiece after figuring in an abbreviated scuffle in the game between the 2 unbeaten teams. There appears to be bad blood between the 2, with the action escalating further in social media.
Joel and Kat both have All-Star experience, and are considered among the top centers in the league today. Their stats do not fall far apart. They used to be friends before the constant muscling and banging under the basket made them drift apart. In head-to-head battles, Joel has the upperhand 5 – 1, but then the Sixers have a clearly more superior line-up, giving the 76ers the edge.
After the scuffle, Joel went to social media to announce to the world that he owned Kat. Kat retorted with a picture of Joel crying after the playoff loss to Toronto last year. They’ve been going at it like unthinking young kids. It seems that the animosity between the two is not likely to go away in the near future.
And the NBA doesn’t seem to mind these two bad dudes going after each other. To some, the suspensions are considered light. And there’s the unabated social media back-and-forth. Bringing in the fight, the drama to social media is something new to the NBA. Guess the NBA wants to whet fan appetite with these theatrics.
Expect more action when the 2 teams collide once again next year, this time in Minnesota’s homecourt. Unless the NBA provides some sterner action, expect more wrestling, more verbal abuse, more social media innuendoes, more out-of-hardcourt circus stuff from hereon. As to the game itself, the Wolves have better be prepared with a more competitive line-up and a more creative defensive alignment, as Joel has the luxury of having Al Horford defending Kat, while Kat has to guard Joel himself.
Two weeks of action. Two rivalries in the making. This is it, folks. Welcome to the NBA!
Cover photo by: USA Today. Photos courtesy of: YouTube, Entertainment Weekly, NBA.com, Complex, New York Times, NBC Los Angeles, Orange County register, LA Daily News, Yahoo Sports, Sky Sports, Fox News and Houston Chronicle.