NBA's second Opening Night filled with stars and storylines
There are reasons to tune in to every game as teams make their season debuts.
(Editor’s Note: Tonight’s game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets has been postponed in accordance with the league’s health and safety protocols.)
Opening Night gave the people what they wanted, showcasing the return of popular stars in the early Golden State-Brooklyn game followed by the Lakers’ ring ceremony and hallway rivalry with the Clippers in Los Angeles.
But many savvy fans know that, just as with baseball’s Opening Day, it’s the second day that draws the hardcore enthusiasts. The sheer number of games available will require a deft touch on the remote to catch as many as possible stretching across six hours or so.
The games on the Wednesday schedule represent the 2020-21 season openers for all of these teams. That means plenty of hooks and angles, enough to put you in a multi-device stupor if you’re not careful. It also means NBA League Pass is back (and free all week).
🚨 13 GAMES. 🚨
— NBA (@NBA) December 23, 2020
From old faces in new places to upstart teams confident they’re ready for their close-ups, here are reasons to watch every game on the NBA’s second Opening Night:
Hornets vs. Cavaliers (7 ET, League Pass)
It’s encouraging to see that Gordon Hayward, the biggest and most surprising free-agent acquisition, is going to try to play at Cleveland despite the fractured finger on his right hand. But the real reason to check out Hornets vs. Cavaliers is to witness LaMelo Ball’s debut. Cleveland is happy with rookie wing Isaac Okoro, but as coach J.B. Bickerstaff sorts through his imperfect backup options, he and the rest of the Cavs might gnash some teeth knowing they were two picks away from snagging Ball last month.Check out the best moments from LaMelo Ball in the preseason.
Knicks vs. Pacers (7 ET, League Pass)
The prospect of getting our first glimpse at a popular choice for Kia Rookie of the Year means catching Knicks forward Obi Toppin for as long as he’s on the floor at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, not watching new Pacers coach Nate Bjorkgren work the sideline. Unlike New York, Indiana is banking on a pat hand with its starting lineup, hoping Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner finally click sharing the frontcourt and crossing its fingers that Victor Oladipo again is a productive force.
Heat vs. Magic (7 ET, League Pass)
As much as we’d like to bill Heat vs. Magic as a battle of Florida, the sunny hard facts are that these teams will be working opposite ends of the Eastern Conference playoff standings. The lure here isn’t just an early look at what matinee idol Tyler Herro has to offer as a theoretical Sophomore of the Year candidate but how maximally paid Bam Adebayo gets back to work as a force in the paint and Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Wizards vs. 76ers (7 ET, League Pass)
There are big changes and expectations in Philadelphia, where the Sixers play host to the Wizards with Daryl Morey, Doc Rivers, an allegedly recommitted Joel Embiid and better shooters on board. But the intrigue Wednesday night is simpler: Ben Simmons and new Washington addition Russell Westbrook are two of the league’s top “unicorn” players, representing potentially the night’s best matchup.
Bucks vs. Celtics (7:30 ET, TNT)
What we see in Milwaukee at Boston could boil down to who’s new vs. who’s missing. The Bucks’ big intended enhancement is guard Jrue Holiday, an upgrade from Eric Bledsoe and considered a persuasive acquisition toward Giannis Antetokounmpo’s decision to re-sign. This might not qualify as a great first test, though, with the Celtics starting without injured point guard Kemba Walker, an early absence that may compound the loss of free agent Gordon Hayward. But there’s history between these teams that should set a tone for their season-long battles in the East.Are the Bucks still the top team in the East?
Pelicans vs. Raptors (7:30 ET, League Pass)
It’s probably going to require some exterior shots and descriptions from the broadcast crews to get any sense of place when New Orleans faces Toronto in Tampa, Fla. The Raptors and the league have done everything possible to make Tampa’s Amelie Arena feel like We The North, including hanging the 2019 NBA championship banner in the rafters. Of greater interest on the court will be seeing the Pelicans’ Zion Williamson ready and available for a full schedule (no jinx). Oh, and the return to the sideline – in casual attire no less – of New Orleans coach Stan Van Gundy.
Hawks vs. Bulls (8 ET, League Pass)
Atlanta snagged early claim to being one of the NBA’s new “League Pass darlings” with assorted roster improvements – Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo, Kris Dunn, draft pick Onyeka Okongwu – to provide big boosts for Trae Young, John Collins, Clint Capela and the rest. So it’s the reconfigured Hawks’ contrast with the Bulls that provides the interest at United Center. Chicago has a new boss (Arturas Karnisovas) and a new coach (Billy Donovan) but will be running out familiar young faces in Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., and Coby White (potential breakout player) to hopefully make up for lost development pre-bubble last season. Bonus interest: Patrick Williams, the No. 4 pick who never started at Florida State, is penciled in to do so in his NBA rookie icebreaker.Atlanta was busy reshaping its roster during the offseason.
Spurs vs. Grizzlies (8 ET, League Pass)
Out of respect and curiosity, it might be worth tuning in to see Gregg Popovich grinding away to show us how the San Antonio sausage gets made. DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMarre Carroll are still around with their veteran resumes and bonus capital letters, but this team’s future depends on the kids, including Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker, Tre Jones and Devin Vassell (the No. 11 pick, highest for these guys since they landed Tim Duncan at No. 1 in 1997). For the Spurs’ clash at Memphis, we’re more excited about seeing what defensive ace Murray and his mates do against Ja Morant. The precocious 2020 Rookie of the Year won’t have Jaren Jackson Jr. or Justice Winslow to help Wednesday, but he does have Brandon Clarke, De’Anthony Melton and Tyus Jones in solid support for his electric, attacking game.
Pistons vs. Timberwolves (8 ET, League Pass)
Everything old is new again as Detroit plays at Minnesota, with Blake Griffin and Ricky Rubio back for the Pistons and the Timberwolves, respectively. There are other veterans, notably former Nugget Jerami Grant and sixth man Derrick Rose for Detroit and Karl-Anthony Towns and bud D’Angelo Russell for Minny, to pay attention to. But the appeal of both teams comes from their youngsters. That means Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey for the visitors, No. 1 pick Anthony Edwards and last year’s disappointing arrival Jarrett Culver for the Wolves.
24 Hours. pic.twitter.com/LAgxTFR9Zu
— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) December 23, 2020
Kings vs. Nuggets (9 ET, League Pass)
Sacramento has spent years rounding up young talent with little in terms of team results to show for it. That suggests a mismatch for the Kings in their opener against the Nuggets in Denver. How high are the hopes for Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and the rest who scratched their way back not once but twice (down 3-1 vs. the Jazz and the Clippers) in the bubble playoffs? There’s talk of Jokic as a Kia MVP candidate, Murray as All-NBA, Porter as Most Improved and the Nuggets as the team that might rack up the most regular-season victories in 2020-21. Obvious place to start is this one.
Jazz vs. Blazers (10 ET, League Pass)
Both Utah and Portland are Western Conference stalwarts, relatively speaking, good enough to push toward an upper seed and get their fans excited for the postseason but so far not good enough for a Finals payoff. We’ll settle for some individual matchups to get things going, with the Rudy Gobert-Jusuf Nurkic up front as the undercard to Donovan Mitchell-Damian Lillard on the ball.
Mavericks vs. Suns (10:30 ET, ESPN)
Night owls and West Coasters get a serious showcase of compelling, must-see teams when Dallas plays at Phoenix as the second national game. Mavericks’ MVP prospect Luka Doncic averaged 30.3 points against the Suns last season but will have to contend with newly added Chris Paul in that Phoenix backcourt. Suns guard Devin Booker slapped back with 26.8 ppg against Dallas last season. Both clubs have high hopes, with Phoenix adding a fleet of role players around Paul, Booker, Deandre Ayton, Cameron Johnson and Mikal Bridges. The Mavs need Doncic to click completely with Kristaps Porzingis, but he’ll be in street clothes into January as far as TV glimpses, owing to meniscus surgery on his right knee.Are the Suns a top-six team in the West?
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