Day Three of the 2017-18 season offers a full slate of games and no shortage of storylines and tonight is all about the East, points and rookies.
The Eastern Conference continues to take shape after the injury of Gordon Hayward. While we have a little more defined timeline of how much time he’ll miss, we’re still trying to figure out who the top challenger to the Cavaliers will be.
Boston certainly looked the part on opening night, even without Hayward but lost on Wednesday to Milwaukee. Was the opener an example of the Celtics running on emotion and adrenaline, or is that sustainable as their young guys mature?
Washington seems like the favorite to meet and unseat Cleveland, boasting one of the most dynamic backcourts in the NBA. After losing in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in three of the last four seasons, with no conference finals appearances since 1979, is this the year the Wizards end the drought?
Philadelphia went to D.C. and nearly beat the Wizards on Wednesday. Maybe the timetable of “The Process” will be expedited if they remain healthy.
Celtics at 76ers – This is a tricky game for the Celtics. Not only is it their third game in four days with a roster that is limited due to injuries, but they’re visiting a 76ers squad that went toe-to-toe with a really good Wizards team Wednesday on the road. From a pure matchup standpoint, you have to be a little worried about Boston. The C’s have struggled to defend big, athletic wings. In their defense, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo are obviously two of the most indefensible players in the NBA, but after going for 18-10-5, Ben Simmons is quickly putting the league on notice that he may be in that same freak of nature mold.
You have to like Philadelphia to be extremely competitive at home with a chance to show fans exactly why they should continue to trust “The Process.”
Boston has played Kyrie Irving 39 minutes in each of its first two games, and he’s shot 15-for-42 from the field. Don’t be surprised to see his minutes scaled back. Young Celtics like Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier have played at an extremely high level, but it still hasn’t been enough.
As much as I want to think Philly can sneak a home-opening win, I just can’t see Boston starting 0-3; this feels like a get right game. Boston has won 11 of its last 12 in Philly, that becomes 12 of its last 13 after tonight.
Cavaliers at Bucks – If I told you that this was a preview of the Eastern Conference Finals, would you believe me? Maybe you should.
The Bucks and Cavs split last year’s two meetings in Milwaukee with the loss being a 114-108 overtime game. Antetokounmpo averaged 29.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, 3.5 steals and 2.5 blocks in those two contests. Part of the draw of adding Jae Crowder was to defend guys like the “Greek Freak,” Kevin Durant and other elite wings. This will be our first look at how that plays out.
Going into Boston and beating a reeling Celtics team is one thing. A win over the Cavs – regardless of how early it is in the season – would certainly add the Bucks to the small list of teams that can actually compete in the East. Vegas won’t crazy enough to favor Milwaukee, but this is a game to announce its arrival in the East and for Antetokounmpo to become the early season MVP favorite.
Milwaukee has won 10 of its last 15 at home against the Cavs. That number grows on Friday.
Pistons at Wizards – This is the other matchup of 1-0 teams from the East. Washington beating Philadelphia was no surprise, while Detroit christened Little Caesars Arena with a win over Charlotte. The Pistons win certainly showed some positives. Reggie Jackson played 27 minutes and appeared to be back to his old form, posting 13 points, eight assists and five rebounds. Ish Smith and Langston Galloway also played extremely well off the bench, as did last year’s lottery pick, Henry Ellenson.
This Detroit team is almost like the 2004 group; just a bunch of non-superstars with supreme understanding of their roles. That’s why people not named Stanley Johnson shot a combined 49 percent from the field.
But sometimes less is more. The Pistons contain Brad Beal and walk out of D.C. with a solid win.
Trail Blazers at Pacers – There is no doubt in my mind that Portland goes to Indiana and walks out with a win. The question is how high does the over/under have to be to play the under? In my estimation, it would need to be about 235.
The Pacers gave up 131 at home to a Nets team that doesn’t have much offensive firepower. The Blazers come in after putting up 124 on the Suns with elite scorer C.J. McCollum on the bench serving a one-game suspension.
McCollum will undoubtedly look to send a message in this one, embracing the challenge of the Victor Oladipo matchup. The Blazers are averaging 119 points against Indiana over the last two seasons.
Portland wins, both teams score 115-plus and daily fantasy owners that loaded up on these two teams rejoice.
Kings at Mavericks – Let’s just call this the “Diaper Bowl.” Dennis Smith Jr. is coming off a debut that saw him become just the fifth rookie in the last 30 years to start a career with a points-assists double-double, joining guys like Jason Kidd, Damon Stoudamire and Damian Lillard. The difference is that all of those guys were at least 21-years old; Smith is the youngest-ever to do it.
Defending him at some point with be No. 4 overall pick De’Aron Fox, who opened his career with 14 points; the most in a career debut for a Kings rookie guard since Jason Williams in 1999.
Both franchises are clearly in rebuild mode, and a win would go a long way for two teams that may not win many games this year. The Kings were surprisingly competitive with the Rockets at home on Wednesday night, but they’ll fall to 0-2 following a road loss in Dallas, a place where they’ve lost 23 of their last 25 games.