The NBA is finally set to tip off on Christmas Day in the US after a long layoff due to the lockout. As most of the personnel chips have fallen as a result of the compacted free agency and pre-season period, let’s take a look at the Opening Night match-ups. Finally the NBA is back and it will be back with a bang come December 25th.
Merry Hoopin’ Christmas!
Boston @ New York
Before some of the “newer school” rivalries renew, we get to see an older rivalry continue. The New York Knicks are being hyped considerably this season with the inclusion of Tyson Chandler and Baron Davis among others. The Knicks will be fired up for a good start to show the NBA public that the hype is warranted. Boston have made some changes of their own and will suit up a number of new players including Brandon Bass and Keyon Dooling to name a couple. While a lot of people see Boston giving the dice one more roll, this isn’t an excuse to sleep on the Celtics. Any team with Garnett, Pierce, Allen and most importantly Rondo will be there when the season starts to get serious.
There will be very few nights off for even the high ranked teams during this shortened, 66 game season with every win becoming that little bit more important. This match-up presents both teams with an opportunity to pinch one early from a Divisional rival. Add to this the fact that both these teams will finish a long way ahead of their Divisional pals New Jersey, Toronto and Philadelphia. This game immediately gives one team a 0.5 game head start for the Atlantic title and a minimum third seed in the Playoffs.
Prediction: New York by 10.
Miami @ Dallas
Every Miami/LeBron hater out there loves the scheduling work performed here by the NBA. Not only do the Heat travel (no crab-dribble comments please) but Miami get to fly into Dallas to watch Dirk and his Mavericks receive one of the “not 4, not 5, not 6” Championship rings that Heat fans had penciled in before last season. Now before you rush to put all your Christmas gift money on the Mavs by 11+ cast your mind back to Opening Night, season 2006/07. Alonzo Mourning addressed the crowd as the recently ring-gifted Miami Heat opened up their championship defense against the Chicago Bulls. Mourning got a little carried away with his appreciation speech and channeled his inner-Pat Riley, speaking casually about bringing home another one. The Heat went on to get blown out by 40+ that night and while Miami crowds are known for dressing up as white seats, it was apparent by half time that most had gone to get a stiff drink.
While these two teams only play twice this season, both need to get off to a strong start. Miami, while in my opinion live in a weak division this season have a point to prove to the NBA and themselves that they have what it takes to get back to the Finals. For the Mavericks it’s diabolical as every team in their division bar San Antonio got better during the off-season. I have a feeling it will take a 50-win season to top the Midwest this time around. High stakes for both teams and I think Riley and Spoelstra will have plenty to motivate their guys regarding 2006/07.
Prediction: Miami by 5.
Chicago @ Los Angeles Lakers
Well, well, well. What have we here? This game could go anywhere, and I mean anywhere. On one side we have the young, hungry Chicago Bulls who are eager to continue their evolution. They are healthy (for now) and have brought in a quality veteran player in Rip Hamilton to help them get over the hump and likely feel as though their time is now. Facing them we have a Los Angeles team who for the first time maybe ever are being considered by some to be the second hottest basketball ticket in town. Kobe Bryant has a sprained wrist that may or may not bother him for the next 66 games minimum. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are allegedly on the trading block if Dwight Howard is attainable. The Lakers have a new coach in Mike Brown and without delving too much deeper into tales of Laker woe, this season is an “anyone’s guess” when it comes to the forum blue and gold.
In a lot of cases I would give this match-up to the home team but something tells me the Bulls are going to fire a warning shot to the rest of the League on Opening Night. I won’t go as far to predict any individual performances but I will remind you that the Lakers haven’t been able to stop lightning quick, scoring guards for over a decade and in their first game of this campaign, they’re dealing with arguably the best in show.
You know Kobe will come out shooting but I think it’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen here.
Prediction: Chicago by 15.
Orlando @ Oklahoma City
This match-up to me looks very similar to the Bulls @ Lakers contest that we just covered, except the better team is at home in this game. Oklahoma City are on the steady improve and figure to be a top-four seed this season. Orlando’s best is behind them and their franchise player wants to move on, not ideal conditions for a team that went to the Finals as recently as 2009. On a sidenote, I can’t wait to see the crowd’s reaction in Orlando during February’s All-Star Weekend. There’s every chance they’ll give Dwight a standing ovation and wear Superman t-shirts in his new team colours. No backbone, no clue… welcome to Orlando, we are the Magic.
Now that I’ve got my customary Orlando bashing out the way, let’s talk about the game.
For as long as I remember watching Orlando in the Dwight Howard era, he isn’t used nearly enough in offense. In this game, even if he gets the ball (unlikely) he will have Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins waiting for him. Unless Howard has grown a man-sized set of marbles this season, it will be “free throw Chernobyl” again for hoops fans unfortunately. Meanwhile, over in Oklahoma the Thunder have made little change to their already solid squad giving them every right to feel a top-four spot is there’s to lose. Kevin Durant is fresh from playing approximately 4,000 hours of basketball during the off-season and will likely tear up the Magic on Opening Night.
Prediction: Oklahoma City by 12.
Los Angeles Clippers @ Golden State Warriors
I’m going to start off by predicting that both teams score over 120 points in this one. The Golden State Warriors are renowned for being WAY better at scoring than defending but with new head coach Mark “I said stupid things on ESPN for cash” Jackson’s arrival perhaps there’s change on the horizon? The personnel changes Golden State made however (Hello Kwame Brown!) suggest that if Jackson wants to improve defensively, he will have a hard time doing so.
The Los Angeles Clippers got even more interesting REAL quick when they traded for Chris Paul. Arguably giving up too much in the way of assets, the Clippers now find themselves with a ton of point guards and not enough big men in my opinion. While “Lob City” is as catchy as it is popular, I can’t see teams falling for backdoor alley-oop plays for 66 straight games. The key to their season is the development of Blake Griffin, DeAndre “Paid In Full” Jordan and the health of one-time “stat-sheet stuffer” Caron Butler. If the Clippers can get maximum results from these three players, Chris Paul may just take them to the Western Conference Finals.
Like all teams mentioned earlier, these two teams will be very keen to get off to a winning start in their season opener. I really cannot split these two so I will go with the home court advantage in what most (including sportsbet.com.au with any luck) will consider an upset. A big night to be seen from Griffin as expected but a little more time required for the Clippers to get organised.
Prediction: Golden State by 3.
Well, there you have it, my Opening Night preview and predictions.
If you choose to gamble on these games, please do it responsibly and remember I am not responsible for your lost Christmas money!
It’s time for the NBA season to begin! Hoorah!
Thanks for reading.
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