Three takeaways from opening night in the NBA
After the shortest offseason in league history, the NBA is officially back. And while there is still the remainder of a 72-game regular season yet to be played, teams only get one chance to make a first impression. Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the first night of action in the association.
Brooklyn Nets have a chance to be special
Heading into the season, the Brooklyn Nets were a popular choice as the team most likely to finish atop the Eastern Conference. During their first game of the season, they justified their burgeoning bandwagon. Kyrie Irving continued his tradition of opening night onslaughts, following last year’s 50-point performance by dropping 24 in the first half. Although Irving only scored 2 points in the second half, that was largely because his services were not required in the later stages of the blowout, as he finished the game playing just 25 minutes. As impressive as Irving was, it was Kevin Durant’s return and the fluidity in which he moved that has Brooklyn firmly in the championship discussion.
Kevin Durant is unguardable. pic.twitter.com/j0cyizGseq
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) December 23, 2020
There is no defense for a player who is nearly 7 feet tall and can dance with the basketball, then elevate into a picturesque pull-up jumper as depicted above. Coming off a devastating Achilles injury, Durant looked like his former self attacking the defense. While there was little doubt that the former four-time scoring champion would still be able to light it up offensively, there were some questions about how Durant would fare on the other side of the floor. Embracing the shift to power forward, Durant’s defensive impact was profound, as he limited Golden State shooters to 2-13 shooting as the primary defender.
The Nets have assembled a talented roster around their two superstars, with Caris LeVert spearheading a versatile bench unit. Even without Durant and Irving last season, Brooklyn still made the playoffs, with many of the team’s key contributors returning in reduced roles for this season. Although it was just one game, there is no denying that top to bottom, the Nets have assembled one of the most talented, cohesive rosters in the NBA.
The reigning champs are easing their way into the season
The Los Angeles Clippers spoiled ring night for their intracity rival Lakers, who were unquestionably feeling the lingering effects of a shortened offseason. While their first performance of the season did not live up to their championship standard, the roster’s current construction has the chance to be better than last year’s NBA Finals-winning-squad.
The Lakers lacked a dependable third scorer around the league’s most potent superstar duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, so this summer, they added two players more than capable of filling that void in the form of last season’s Sixth Man of the Year winner and runner-up. Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroder turned in solid performances in their Laker debuts, with Harrell scoring 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, as Schroder flirted with a triple-double putting up 14 points, 12 rebounds, and 8 assists.
Harrell delivers consummate energy, while Schroder’s playmaking prowess will be vital to keep the Lakers’ offense afloat when James rests. Last season the Lakers’ offensive net rating (points scored per 100 possessions) dropped from 112.1 with James on the court to 105.2 when he sat. For reference, that drop represents a top twelve offense plummeting to a pace that would have finished last in the NBA a season ago.
With James and Davis both having off nights compared to their otherworldly standards, the Clippers were able to seize the momentum early and hold off the Lakers’ comeback attempts. Throughout the entirety of his 18-year career, James has proved he can flip the switch when the time comes. Although Paul George was the player of the game in the opener, pouring in a game-high 33 points on a blistering 13-18 shooting, the Lakers can remain confident knowing they have James and Davis on their side come playoff time.
Warriors need more from Andrew Wiggins
After being selected first in the 2014 NBA draft, expectations were set high for Andrew Wiggins. Now, seven seasons into his career, Wiggins has yet to deliver on his tantalizing potential. Wiggins has shown glimpses over the years of the player many believe he can become, but he has yet to sustain that production over the course of an entire season. With Klay Thompson suffering a season-ending injury in the offseason, the Warriors playoff hopes are contingent on Wiggins drastically improving his play and putting the events of his disastrous first game behind him.
Wiggins scored 13 points against the Brooklyn Nets. However, he did so on an inefficient 4-16 effort from the field. After shooting a career-best 67 percent at the rim last season, the Nets interior defense stymied Wiggins’ drives to the basket, as he connected on just one of his five looks from within the restricted area. His post-up attempts seldom led to fruitful possessions for the Warriors, with the play below indicative of his success with his back to the basket.
WIGGINS POST-UP pic.twitter.com/GcGtBkgkAG
— TrashTalk (@TrashTalk_fr) December 23, 2020
Golden State will need Wiggins to become a dependable second option if they want their playoff aspirations to become a reality. While it was just one game, his career track record, unfortunately, suggests he is likely not up for the task.