By Jalon Dixon, Columnist
After a long summer of big-time free agent signings, high stakes trades, and team retooling, the NBA is finally back. With the dominant Golden State Warriors losing both forward Kevin Durant and guard Klay Thompson for the season due to free agency and injury, the league has been gearing up for this moment as balance is finally restored. Teams have turned back time to the age of parody across the league and opening night features just a handful of contending teams.
The new-look New Orleans Pelicans and the defending champion Toronto Raptors kick things off Oct. 22 at 8 p.m. on TNT as both teams look to gain some early season success in pursuit of a team identity. For the Pelicans, they will, unfortunately, be missing their superstar rookie forward Zion Williamson who despite lighting it up in the preseason, is listed to be out for a few weeks while nursing a knee injury.
With the absence of Williamson, new additions in guard Lonzo Ball, forward Brandon Ingram and guard Josh Hart have the chance to make a great impression on the city of New Orleans as the foundation of a new young core following the departure of all-star forward Anthony Davis. Look for these three alongside veterans like guard Jrue Holiday, forward Derrick Favors and guard JJ Redick to help the young guys out in debuting the new future of the franchise.
For the Raptors, it is going to be a ring ceremony night as they come off the franchise’s first-ever NBA title. It is more than likely that the team will be amped up, but they also come into the season with a lot to prove. With the departure of forward Kawhi Leonard in free agency, the Raptors are forced to track their own success as the results of the season will probably determine the future direction of the team.
Although most look at players like guard Kyle Lowry, forward Serge Ibaka and center Marc Gasol as trade pieces for this team to start a rebuild. For now, the Raptors go into the season as the defending champs and look to do just that, defend. After agreeing to a four-year, $130 million max contract extension, young forward and last year’s Most Improved Player winner forward Pascal Siakam looks to give the home crowd in Canada some hope to cling onto as he looks to fill the void that Leonard left.
That game is followed up with one of the most anticipated games of the season, as the Los Angeles Lakers take on the Los Angeles Clippers. The “Battle for L.A.” starts off early with the first of four matchups between these two Western Conference powerhouses. For the Lakers, their blockbuster trade that brought Davis to the ‘City of Angels’ now can bring together two of the best players in the league together for some meaningful basketball. We have seen Davis and forward Lebron James in spurts during the preseason and on Instagram preparing to shoot Space Jam 2, but now we get to see one of the many dynamic duos that linked up over the summer in action.
To go along with the duo, the Lakers overhauled almost their entire roster bringing in players like former champions in small forward Danny Green and point guard Quinn Cook along with veterans like Avery Bradley and Dwight Howard. With the combination of a new head coach in Frank Vogel and a completely different roster from last season, look for the Lakers to try and establish some team chemistry while also heavily featuring their new superstar tandem.
For the Clippers, they now have the “Three-Peat Killer” that is Leonard. He is coming off an amazing playoff stretch that eventually led to him becoming a two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP. Off of an emotional high of the playoffs followed by the power move of the summer, convincing the Clippers to acquire all-star forward Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder, Leonard is sitting atop the NBA world.
Now added to a Clippers team that was 48 – 34 last season and took the Durant led Warriors to six games in the playoffs last year, this team looks dangerous and is looking to take the LA market away from the Lakers. The only downfall is that George will not be playing due to injury, but that means Leonard will probably be heavily featured early and often in his Clippers debut. Look for players like guard Patrick Beverly, sixth man Lou Williams and forward Montrezl Harrell to also have a big impact on the outcome of the game as well.
The NBA is definitely starting out hot as both matchups feature star talent, storylines, and teams with something to prove. Get your popcorn ready because NBA basketball is officially underway.