We made it! After a shutdown, a pandemic, a break, a bubble, and the most abbreviated offseason in league history, the NBA is back to normal.
Well, kind of. As we embark on another season of wagering fun, the biggest challenge for betters will be trying to balance home court advantage with the total (or in select cities, near total) absence of fans. This is an unprecedented situation, and we’re going to need to pay attention to trends as they’re developing. In other words, buckle up.
We start with a two-game slate to kick things off, one featuring a notable reunion and the other featuring the defending champs facing off against their cross-hallway rivals.
This was supposed to be the season that both the Warriors and the Nets were back, and one of those things does indeed appear to be true.
No, the preseason doesn’t mean much, but when the guy who was the second best player in the league for the better part of a decade comes out and looks like himself for the first time in a long time, it matters. Kevin Durant had easily the most notable moments of the past few weeks, coming out and looking like the old KD. It has now been more than a full 18 months since he tore his Achilles – the high end of any reasonable recovery period – and in all likelihood could have played in the bubble if he so chose. He is, it would appear, very much back.
Brooklyn is also loaded. After the KD, Kyrie, DJ, Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie starting five, the have Caris LeVert leading a second unit that also features Jared Allen, Taurean Prince, Jeff Green and new addition Landry Shamet. If Durant remains healthy, they will be a problem.
There is far less certainty about the Warriors, who lost Klay Thompson in November to the same injury that befell his former teammate in the 2019 Finals. They are now left to integrate several new pieces, including Kelly Oubre Jr, Kent Bazemore, Brad Wanamaker and second overall pick James Wiseman, who missed the entire preseason.
Throw in the fact that Draymond Green is doubtful for the opener, and the Warriors may be relying on a big man rotation Kevon Looney, Eric Paschall and Marquese Chriss. Eek.
In short, if Steph Curry was taken off this roster and a replacement-level player were plugged in instead, Golden State would likely be picked to finish dead last in the Western Conference. That’s a lot to put on the diminutive guard, who was healthy for the beginning of last season and still watched his team struggle immensely. Throw in the fact that this is a cross-country game, and even with no fans, it’s tough to see Brooklyn not pulling away at some point.
The pick: Brooklyn Nets -6 @ -110
A tale of two cities? It feels that way after the last three months, a time period that couldn’t be more different for these franchises.
The Clippers – presumptive title favorites by many heading into both last season and the playoffs - not only lost in the second round to the Denver Nuggets after being up 3-1, but then had to deal with an offseason in which they parted ways with their coach and found themselves the topic of much unwanted notoriety for how unabashedly they catered to the teams two stars. It wasn’t what anyone envisioned less than a year after the Kawhi Leonard / Paul George coup. They also just completed the preseason with zero wins and a minus 17.4 net rating that ranked dead last in the league.
This wouldn’t be a big deal except for the fact that both Kawhi Leonard (54) and Paul George (57) each played a healthy numbers of minutes in the preseason, and the Clippers were outscored when each was on the court. That could be because this team is integrating several new pieces themselves, including Serge Ibaka, Luke Kennard and Nicolas Batum. They’ve also been without Marcus Morris, who is questionable for the opener with a knee issue.
Two of their preseason losses came at the hands of the team they’re facing Wednesday night, who have had themselves quite a different last few months. After winning the title in impressive fashion, the Lakers went 4-0 in the preliminary games and saw the emergence of Talen Horton-Tucker, the second-year pro who scored more points in the preseason than any player besides Devin Booker. Kyle Kuzma also enters his fourth season with some added peace of mind, having agreed to a 3-year, $40 million extension on Sunday night.
The Lakers also made several additions, including Wesley Matthews (taking the place of Danny Green), Marc Gasol (replacing Dwight Howard), Dennis Schroder (playing the part of Rajon Rondo, but who may miss the opener after he tweaked his ankle last week) and most importantly for the purposes of this game, Montrezl Harrell. Last season’s 6th Man of the Year Award winner plays with perhaps more emotion than any player in basketball, and he will be on a mission to prove his former team wrong for not making more of an effort to bring him back.
Even if Lebron and AD ramp up their chase for a repeat slowly, both of these guys crave and appreciate the big moment, and they will be ready to put on a show at home on Wednesday in front of a national audience. James in particular, facing off against his former coach, is never one to miss a chance to remind the public who the real king still is.
Schroder or no Schroder, this one feels like a coronation for one team and a comeuppance for the other.
The pick: Los Angeles Lakers -2.5 @ -110
NBA Expert Picks
Brooklyn Nets -6 @ -110
Los Angeles Lakers -2.5 @ -110
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