The NBA opened the season with a bang!!! On opening day last 22 December, Kawhi’s Clippers nailed Lebron’s Lakers in the continuing saga that is the Battle for LA. And Brooklyn’s newly-minted Kevin-Kyrie show upended a weary Warriors team that appears miles removed from the proud dynasty it was a few years ago. This was followed shortly by a barrage of skirmishes all over the NBA landscape, ushering in the new season.
And even as we found some answers to the many intriguing pre-season questions, it seems that there are more follow-on queries popping up in the ongoing NBA on-and-offcourt drama.
The LA Clippers, enduring the off-season bashing and hating after that humiliating loss to the Denver Nuggets in last season’s playoffs, played no-nonsense ball against the Lakers and showed us a glimpse of the new-look team under their new coach, Ty Lue. Some would argue that the Lakers didn’t show up for the game; while the Clippers were playing with a chip on their shoulders. Some would say they needed to show they were not a team to be ridiculed. Still, the way the Clippers played, it appears that the team chemistry issue is finally being addressed. The Clippers exhibited this in bundling off the Nuggets in a redemption of sorts in their second game of the season. Questions now are: Can they sustain this razor focus till the playoffs? Is the point guard position secure with Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams alternating? Will they be able to carry the team deep into the playoffs? Will the team chemistry hold now?
The LA Lakers, on the other hand, were the clear winners in the off-season; upgrading their championship team with better, younger players. But obviously, they did not play up to their full potential in their opening game. Plus there was the slight shudder as Lebron suffered a minor twisted ankle. Lebron followed up the loss to the Clippers with an emphatic win over Luka’s Mavericks on Christmas Day. Questions here: With the off-season overhaul, will they encounter problems with their new roster? Will Lebron, now close to 36 years old and considered more injury-prone, continue to play at MVP level?
The Brooklyn Nets played beautiful music with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving leading the pack. The blow-out win against the Boston Celtics signifies that they are now legit contenders in the East. Not only do they have that lethal double-K knockout punch, they also have a support cast of good young players ready to take over in the years to come. Question is: do they gamble on taking in a ball-dominant James Harden? This could take them to the championship, if the chemistry is right. Or it could go down ruin the team real fast, if that right chemistry isn’t achieved.
The Milwaukee Bucks rejoiced as Giannis re-signed for another 5 years. They brought in Jrue Holiday to bolster the team’s chances for the playoffs. However, their opening day loss to Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics tells us that the addition of Jrue may not be enough to catapult the team over the hump. If the Bucks maintain the same offensive pattern they have employed the past years, it will definitely not work in the playoffs. Will coach Mike Budenholzer be able to create more options other than the spread-the-floor-for-Giannis iso offense?
The Denver Nuggets were the Bubble’s Cinderella team, overcoming 1-3 deficits twice to reach the Western Conference Finals before being upended by the Lakers. But then, do you praise them for overcoming those 1-3 deficits? How come they fell behind 1-3 in the first place? Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray are now established stars in the league. Will they be able to take the team to the next level this year, with Michael Porter Jr developing further? If their Game 1 cliffhanger loss is an indication, Porter will be a great addition in the offense, but may still need some work with his defense and his errors. What about Bol Bol? Will this project produce generous dividends in the future?
The Boston Celtics played superb ball on opening night, nipping the upgraded Bucks 122-121 despite the absence of Kemba Walker. They however were walloped by the Nets the next game, as Kyrie returned to the Garden to haunt his former team. The Celtics are a high IQ squad that has been able to do more with less. Question is: will their less be enough for the likes of the heavily reinforced Brooklyn, the defending Conference champs Miami Heat or the retooled Philadelphia Sixers?
Houston, we have a problem. The James Harden drama has the Rockets – and the entire league, for that matter – on pins and needles. Harden’s nonchalance amid the COVID health risks, together with his clearly unhappy demeanor with the team, are now hot issues. The Rockets’ season opener was postponed as they could not field enough players due to the COVID safety protocols. Will James return to play for the Rockets? Will he be traded? If he is, is there any team willing take a chance on him, now that he is building up a reputation full of negatives?
The Dallas Mavericks showed great offense last year, with Luka Doncic – all of only 20 years of age – leading the pack. Defensively however, the Mavs sucked. Bigtime. How will the Mavs be able to address this clear deficiency this year, especially with Kristaps Porzingis in and out of the injury list?
And then there’s the Heat. The Miami Heat, after dragging the eventual champs Lakers to a 6th game in the Finals last year, return with not much changes in their roster. The upside for the team is that they have enough salary cap to woo in another superstar this year or next year. Will they consider bringing in a superstar like James Harden, or will they preserve the beautiful chemistry they have achieved last season? What else can they do to upgrade the team, in the midst of the challenge posed by the likes of Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Boston in the East?
Phoenix was another darling in the Bubble games. During the off-season, they made a big move, acquiring top PG, Chris Paul, to add stability, experience and leadership to the young team. The Suns will definitely contend now. With prolific scorer Devin Booker, and DeAndre Ayton providing a strong presence in the middle, this team should be a force to reckon with in the West. Question is: with the intense competition in the west, does Phoenix have enough gas to zoom past the Lakers, the Clippers, the Nuggets; not to mention the Mavs, the Jazz and the Warriors, once they are finally healthy? At 35, can the diminutive Chris Paul still play major minutes and influence the game at high levels of play?
The Charlotte Hornets took in LaMelo Ball from the draft. Hyped heavily by the dad, many thought he would run away with the Rookie of the Year Award this year. His first game stats however was a huge downer, as he contributed zero points, 3 assists, 1 rebound, 2 steals and 3 turnovers, while showing weak defense in 16 minutes of play. But this is just 1 game, of course. Question is: will he be a boon or a bust for the Hornets? Terry Rozier, on the other hand, rose to the occasion, creating havoc in the offense with 42 points in a losing cause. Will Terrible Terry allow the rookie LaMelo to take over his place as the Hornets’ top honcho?
As the season continues to unfold, more and more answers become obvious to us. But even as we uncover more clues and answers to our questions, even more follow-on queries arise. The drama in the NBA is so much akin to the waves of the sea. It has its ebbs and flows. Like the waves that come and go; the drama confronts us, then releases its embrace ever so gently, then comes again in a slightly different form. Come and watch the action in the NBA. And feel the never-ending excitement. It’s just right there. On and off the court.
Cover Photo courtsy of USA Today. Other pics courtesy of YouTube and Sportskeeda.