December 23, 2020, 5:38 am
It’s finally here, the day we’ve all been waiting for since the end of the 2019-20 season, opening night. The NBA kicked off the 2020-21 season with an exciting double-header. In the first game, Kevin Durant and the Nets faced off against the forward’s former team, the Golden State Warriors. The second game saw a blockbuster encounter between the L.A. Clippers and defending champions, L.A. Lakers.
The Nets and newly minted coach Steve Nash came out guns blazing and smothered a returning Stephen Curry and the Warriors, trouncing them with extreme prejudice, 125-99. Both Durant and Kyrie Irving looked amazing, but more importantly, healthy, so much so that the dynamic duo look poised to each be in the MVP conversation. Yes, it’s early, I know, but wow, they were fantastic, that’s for sure. Coach Steve Nash guided his Nets in what looked like a basketball clinic as they easily picked apart the Warriors, making the game’s fourth quarter near-moot, making it consist mostly of garbage time.
Irving silenced his doubters from the get-go and dropped 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field with four rebounds, four assists and four triples. Durant was no slouch either, busting out a full line to go with his 27 points (7-of-16 FGs, 7-of-7 FTs), five rebounds, three assists, one 3-pointer, three steals and one block. Vintage Durant right there, folks! Caris LeVert came off the bench and emerged as the team’s third scoring option with 20 points on 6-of-17 shooting with three treys and one steal.
The Warriors were a complete mess, shooting a dismal 37.4% from the field, and were also unable to slow down the Nets on the other end of the floor. Curry was a lone bright spot for the team, producing 20 points,10 assists, two 3s and two steals.
Before the second game got underway, there was a ring awarding ceremony for the champions. It was a heartfelt event, which understandably stirred up some emotions.
Maybe. It might have been a bit too emotional because the Lakers didn’t look like champions and the Clippers got the best of them and the Clippers won this chapter of the “Battle of L.A.” to the tune of 116-109, with Paul George leading the way with 33 points and five 3-pointers. Kawhi Leonard struggled in the game at first, but eventually found his groove in the second quarter and began to show some of his old form, posting 26 points on 10-of-26 shooting, adding two rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Newcomer Nicolas Batum put up a mixed-bag performance with three points, six rebounds, six assists and two steals for the Clippers. Serge Ibaka had 15 points and six assists, adding two 3s and one block.
On the other side of the floor, the Lakers didn’t look quite like the defending champions that they are. Was it a complacency issue, or was it a matter of their stars still needing more rest after a grueling finals series vs. the Heat. Anthony Davis was not his usual stat-sheet-stuffing self, failing to record any threes, steals, or blocks. He was limited to a near-pedestrian 18 points, seven rebounds and two assists. LeBron James fared a bit better and contributed 22 points, five rebounds, five assists and three triples.
While the Clippers new additions had a relatively quiet night, the Lakers’ new additions were far more eye-popping. So they at least had that going. Dennis Schroder flirted with a triple-double ending the night with 14 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists and two 3s on 5-of-15 shooting. Former Clipper, Montrezl Harrell double-doubled 17 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and one block on 6-of-7 shooting.
Add(s) of the Night
With only two games on tap, there weren’t many performances that merited additions in standard leagues. However, there were still a couple of noteworthy performances that were eye-catching enough for 14-team leagues or deeper.
Patrick Beverley (13% rostered) – Pat Bev was mostly ignored in drafts coming into the season, but the veteran PG managed to put up a fantasy-viable line with 10 points, six rebounds, three assists and two threes in 22 minutes of action. Beverley is a player who delivers more in real-life than what can be translated on paper. That said, the stats he put up tonight were solid enough for an end-of-bench value in 14-team leagues or deeper.
Nicolas Batum (4% rostered) – Batum was a veritable no-show after appearing in just 22 unremarkable games for the Charlotte Hornets in 2019-20. He appears to have gotten a new lease on his fantasy life after signing with the Clippers. He won’t be much of a scorer, but as a perimeter defender, Batum might just be able to do the dirty work and chip in boards, assists, and steals with the occasional 3-pointer thrown into the mix.
Here are a few players whom managers may want to consider dropping in favor of a hot pick-up within this first week of NBA action.
Wesley Matthews – Matthews has completely fallen off the fantasy cliff and has hit rock-bottom with his 11-minute run in his debut for the Lakers. It’s easy to picture a slight decline, but going scoreless with just one steal is simply untenable.
Eric Paschall – Paschall may have logged 22 minutes as a starter for the Warriors tonight, but he was not much to look at and was clearly a liability on the defensive end for the team. He will surely take a hit once Draymond Green eventually makes his return to the court.
Marquese Chriss – Coming into this game, there was an expectation that there would be some kind of timeshare situation among the big men on the Warriors. Unfortunately, for Chriss and Kevon Looney, rookie James Wiseman showed up with a huge debut performance and now has an inside track for the lion’s share of the minutes at center.
Nic Claxton was out for the Nets tonight with right knee tendinopathy.
Marcus Morris Sr. sat out this game for the Clippers as he deals with right knee soreness.
Draymond Green was unable to suit up for the Warriors due to right foot soreness.
The Warriors were also without Alen Smailagic, who is dealing with soreness in his right knee.
A Wiseman Cometh
Despite the drumming that the Warriors took at the hands of the Nets and their overall piss-poor shooting, the highlight for the Bay Area team was the debut of rookie James Wiseman. He was initially expected to play in short spurts in this game but wound up seeing a total of 24 minutes of action on the floor.
Wiseman posted 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field and 4-of-8 shooting at the free throw line, while also pulling down six rebounds and swiping two steals. The 7-footer even displayed his range, hitting a couple of long twos, and even went a perfect 1-for-1 from deep.
Don’t get me wrong, Wiseman is definitely going to see his fair share of ups and downs this season but the takeaway from tonight’s performance is the confirmation that the Warriors have someone special on their hands. While this is just a one-game sample size, Wiseman has displayed enough moves and plays to make him someone coach Steve Kerr may want to groom sooner rather than later as the heir apparent to Curry’s legacy.
The Warriors play positionless basketball. Heck, they popularized it when they won those NBA championships the first time around. That said, despite being a 7-footer with a 7-foot-6 wingspan, Wiseman has shown the speed and agility to run like a guard down the floor. He’s fleet of foot and has hops for days – definitely a worthy canvass with which Kerr can mold into a stretch five.
The next several games will be must-watch basketball, not just because the big guy is so fun to watch but also because of how his complete integration into their system can be a difference-maker for both the team and Wiseman’s career.
Kings of L.A.
What’s there to say? I totally expected the Lakers to win over the Clippers. That said, it was great to see Paul George, Kawhi, and the rest of their squad playing hard enough to upset their city rivals in exciting fashion.
This was a slap in the face, not the disrespectful taunting type, but more of the kind used to urgently wake someone up. In this case, the Lakers got a humbling wake-up call, that while they’re considered the unanimous favorites to repeat as champions, they will still have to put in the work.
On the side of the Clippers, they showed a fierce hunger, the kind that can serve as a catalyst for teams to win championships.
The boys got their championship rings, those that were part of last season’s win, while the newcomers looked in awe, fueling what should be motivation to win one for themselves. Overall, I think it was a good thing that the Lakers lost this one because of what it will do for their drive and desire to win.
LeBron James is a pure competitor and he’s not going to take this loss lightly. Expect him to be in his teammates’ ears and whip them back into shape, reminding them that they only have 72 games this season and it clearly will not be a cakewalk to get back into the playoffs and eventually, raise that 18th championship banner (beating the Celtics to it! Huzzah!).
At the end of the day, this statement game says that the Lakers are not infallible and can be taken down. Expect the reigning champs to be on their toes in the next one.
**Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter, where it’s easiest to ask me your fantasy hoops-related questions.**