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Thursday, October 24, 2019
PACERS VS PISTONS
Venue: Bankers Life Fieldhouse | Start: 10:00am AEDT
Both Detroit and Indiana have their sights set on making the Eastern Conference playoffs once again as they prepare for the season opener in Indianapolis. Detroit finished 41-41 last season and earned the No. 8 seed, while Indiana posted a 48-34 record and claimed the No. 5 seed. Yet the fate was the same for both organizations as they were swept out of the first round of the playoffs, with the Milwaukee Bucks eliminating Detroit and the Boston Celtics sweeping Indiana. Now comes a new season and a new hope for the Pacers, who added Malcolm Brogdon to go along with an established roster that includes Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner and Jeremy Lamb. The Pistons also feature a mix of talent, but they will be without power forward Blake Griffin, who is dealing with injuries to his hamstring and his knee. The team hopes that he can return in early November. Detroit likely will learn on big man Andre Drummond to take on a bigger role in Griffin’s absence, and Derrick Rose is set to make his team debut alongside Reggie Jackson in the backcourt.
MAGIC VS CAVALIERS
Venue: Amway Center | Start: 10:00am AEDT
Do you believe in (the) Magic? Expectations have increased in Orlando, where fans gratefully watched their team go 42-40 last season and earn the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Magic enter this season with a terrific big man, Nikola Vucevic, to go along with a solid backcourt in D.J. Augustin and Evan Fournier, plus an athletic frontcourt in Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon. Terrence Ross could be one of the best sixth men in the league for Orlando. On the opposite bench, John Beilein will make his NBA head coaching debut for the Cavaliers. Beilein was a tremendous college coach who most recently built a consistent winner at Michigan, but he could have his hands full in Cleveland. The Cavaliers still have power forward Kevin Love, and Collin Sexton figures to take another step forward at shooting guard, but overall the team lacks the talent and depth of most of its competitors. Tristan Thompson is a decent big man who can provide frequent double-double production, but the franchise could get worse before it gets better as it navigates through a post-LeBron landscape.
HORNETS VS BULLS
Venue: Spectrum Center | Start: 10:00am AEDT
This season could mark a role reversal for the Bulls and Hornets. Chicago stumbled to a 22-60 record last season in hopes of landing a high draft pick — which it did, sort of, by attaining the No. 7 selection and choosing point guard Coby White out of North Carolina. Meanwhile, Charlotte just missed out on a playoff berth as it finished 39-43, which was good for ninth in the Eastern Conference. One year later, Chicago intends to challenge for a playoff spot, while Charlotte could end up as one of the worst teams in the NBA as it gears up for a high lottery pick. The Bulls improved with several veteran acquisitions including point guard Tomas Satoransky, power forward Thaddeus Young and forward-center Luke Kornet, not to mention last season’s pickup of Otto Porter from the Washington Wizards. Add that group to an impressive young core that includes Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., and it is easy to understand why some observers are so keen on the Bulls. The Hornets lost Kemba Walker and replaced him with Terry Rozier, which helps to illustrate why a steep drop-off could be in store.
76ERS VS CELTICS
Venue: Wells Fargo Center | Start: 10:30am AEDT
An attractive season-opening matchup pits two of the Eastern Conference’s better teams, and both will be hungry for success after getting bounced in the East semifinals last season. Philadelphia is coming off a 51-31 campaign and maintains a terrific roster despite the fact that Jimmy Butler bolted for the Miami Heat. Joel Embiid returns as a legitimate MVP candidate for the 76ers, while the addition of Al Horford could prove to be one of the more underrated moves of the offseason. Another key acquisition could be Josh Richardson, who could thrive in a supporting role in Philadelphia alongside bigger-name players such as Embiid and Ben Simmons. However, do not overlook Boston, which will see the team debut of Kemba Walker at point guard in place of Kyrie Irving, who left for the Brooklyn Nets. Both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum should continue to improve, and Gordon Hayward is now two years removed from the brutal leg injury he sustained in his Celtics debut. Boston rookie Carsen Edwards will be fun to watch whenever he gets hot. This game could be a preview of a playoff matchup late next spring.
HEAT VS GRIZZLIES
Venue: American Airlines Arena | Start: 10:30am AEDT
Guard Dion Waiters was suspended for the opener for conduct detrimental to the team but the Miami Heat claim that won’t dampen the debut of their new-look squad. Jimmy Butler was the big fish for the Heat this offseason, a free-agent find who helps fill the role vacated when Dwyane Wade retired. Point guard Goran Dragic moves the bench — Wade’s primary role last season — and brings veteran scoring punch. Justise Winslow will start at point guard and get the first shot as the primary facilitator. Big things are expected from center Bam Adebayo, who joins the starting lineup after Hassan Whiteside was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers. Memphis started over in many ways this offseason by dealing Mike Conley to the Jazz and drafting Ja Morant with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 draft. Morant was scintillating in the preseason, doing a little bit of everything alongside last year’s lottery pick, Jaren Jackson Jr. The future is bright for the Grizzlies, but the team can expect to take some lumps in the process. Jonas Valanciunas will be limited Wednesday by a foot injury, which should create more minutes for rookie Brandon Clarke (Gonzaga).
NETS VS TIMBERWOLVES
Venue: Barclays Center | Start: 10:30am AEDT
Minutes were scarce for big-ticket point guard Kyrie Irving this month but the Brooklyn Nets expect the Broadway version of the All-Star on Wednesday when the team opens the season against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Irving, who suffered facial fractures in training camp, was barely on the court with his new teammates in exhibition games and admitted this week he’s still getting up to speed. Expectations are sky-high for the Nets, but there will be a get-to-know-you adjustment period for a roster with so many new faces. Irving and former Clippers-Mavericks-Knicks center DeAndre Jordan might be the most recognizable names on the updated roster, but the Nets are deep and athletic with the likes of Caris LaVert and Taurean Prince ready to develop from smaller roles to become vital pieces of the rotation. The rotation is a bit of a mystery for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who have just one playoff appearance since 2004. Ryan Saunders was named head coach in the offseason and players responded to his team concept built around Karl-Anthony Towns. With the addition of scoring wing Jarrett Culver and a motivated Andrew Wiggins, the Timberwolves are in building mode but dangerous because of their ability to defend and score.
SPURS VS KNICKS
Venue: AT&T Center | Start: 11:30am AEDT
The season-opening matchup between the San Antonio Spurs and visiting New York Knicks on Wednesday will give Knicks forward Marcus Morris the early chance to meet head on with what haunts him. Morris agreed to a two-year deal with the Spurs this summer, San Antonio traded Davis Bertans to clear roster space and Morris did an about face and signed a one-year deal with the Kincks. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called the entire drama “unprofessional,” and if it means anything to Spurs fans – it won’t – Morris understands if they are upset. “No hard feelings. No disrespect toward them. If I was them, I’d boo me too,” Morris said. Popovich’s team is coming off a 48-34 season, one game better than 2017-18, but 19 games worse than the coach’s best regular-season record in 2015-16. While the league has continued its trend of stretching offenses with preference for 3-pointers over inside play, the Spurs have gone their own route, addressing defensive needs this winter over long-range shooting. The Knicks did add Morris, but have not seemed to address much of anything in recent years. Topping a 17-win season from 2018-19 is a goal, albeit a modest one. Do the Knicks have enough “talent” to do it? Elfrid Payton could end up as the Knicks’ starting point guard, reportedly because he was promised the role during free agency. That’s so Knicks.
MAVERICKS VS WIZARDS
Venue: American Airlines Center | Start: 11:30am AEDT
Kristaps Porzingis debuts as the co-star to Luka Doncic with the Dallas Mavericks after sitting out all of last season, when the 7-foot-3 former All-Star was acquired from the New York Knicks. Porzingis and Doncic pair to give the Mavericks two premier scorers, and the matchup problems that come with this 1-2 punch are plentiful. The Washington Wizards worked all summer to get a deal done with Bradley Beal and finally locked in the All-Star shooting guard. The concern now is whether there is enough firepower to support Beal and make Washington a playoff contender in the Eastern Conference. Without John Wall (Achilles), the Wizards will be counting on an array of players to step into consistent roles. Isaiah Thomas (thumb) is not likely to play in the opener, the Wizards said Tuesday. However, C.J. Miles and Troy Brown Jr. were able to participate in portions of practice on Monday. If the Wizards are without both small forwards, rookie Rui Hachimura could slide into one of those spots. The first-round pick had a strong showing in the preseason.
JAZZ VS THUNDER
Venue: Vivint Smart Home Arena | Start: 12:00pm AEDT
While the Clippers and Lakers are awash in fanfare this season in Los Angeles, could the Utah Jazz be the team that sneaks up on both of them? There is plenty to like about the Jazz and the first clue of how good they can be will come Wednesday in their season opener against the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder. Three consecutive playoff appearances and a contract extension for head coach Quin Snyder is enough to show that it is the sleepy vibe of Salt Lake City that might have the Jazz underrated, not their play on the court. Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell will lead things from the backcourt, while two-time NBA defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert controls things in the middle. The Thunder used to know that kind of hype, but their roster was forever altered this summer when Paul George (Clippers) and Russell Westbrook (Rockets) were traded. Oklahoma City made the playoffs nine of the past 10 seasons, with much of the responsibility falling to guard Chris Paul in order to keep the success going. Paul and Steven Adams will lead the way now. Dennis Schroder and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander can help Paul run the point. Danilo Gallinari, Mike Muscala and Terrance Ferguson will supply points from distance. “The spirit has been right,” Paul said.
SUNS VS KINGS
Venue: Talking Stick Resort Arena | Start: 1:00pm AEDT
Perhaps after Wednesday’s game is complete, and the Phoenix Suns and visiting Sacramento Kings are done sizing up each other on the court, they can gather to discuss the reality of today’s NBA: That getting better on the court doesn’t always mean rising higher in the standings. The Suns should be better this season with another year of experience for Devon Booker and Deandre Ayton. The Kings should be better with De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield leading the way. But the Western Conference has witnessed a number of high-profile mergers and acquisitions, while the Suns and Kings have not welcomed the same level of reinforcements. The Suns are looking to improve on a 19-win season from a year ago, worst in the West. A 30-win season is not out of the question with Ricky Rubio running the point, fresh off a gold medal for Spain in the FIBA World Cup and the tournament’s MVP, while Team USA finished in seventh place. The Kings won 39 games last season and were one spot out of playoff eligibility, although there was a nine-game difference between the eighth and ninth spots. The Kings went 3-1 against the Suns last season, but Phoenix went 3-1 against the Kings in 2017-18.
TRAIL BLAZERS VS NUGGETS
Venue: Moda Center | Start: 1:00pm AEDT
While the rivalry at the center of the NBA’s attention is in Los Angeles between the Lakers and Clippers, the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers are doing just fine forming their own kind of static electricity. When the visiting Nuggets and Trail Blazers meet in the season opener for both Wednesday, there will not be many secrets between the teams. They faced each other twice in the preseason, and 11 times last season, including a classic Western Conference semifinal won by the Blazers in seven games. Despite roster improvements all around the conference, the Nuggets still figure to be a handful behind a superstar in Nikola Jokic, adding Michael Porter Jr. and Jerami Grant into the mix. At 54-28, the Nuggets finished second in the Western Conference last season. The Blazers will be led by the dynamic backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. And while there is talk that the 29-year old Lillard will be on a load-management schedule, the four-time All-Star already has said he is not interested in extra time off. Portland was 53-29 last season and entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in the West.