Opening night of the NBA season is just a day away following an offseason in which the rich got richer. Only a handful of teams can say they have a legitimate shot of winning the title heading into the new year.
Golden State is once again the favorite and is looking for its third title in the last four seasons. Meanwhile, Cleveland and Boston are both considered to be the two best teams in the East.
Few would be surprised if the four teams playing in these two games are the last four remaining in the postseason.
Cleveland -3 vs. Boston – The Cavaliers got worse this offseason, while the Celtics got significantly better. No matter what anyone in Cleveland’s front office is going to tell you, the loss of Kyrie Irving to Boston hurts significantly, but the Celtics were able to give them a better package than anyone else for the disgruntled star.
The defending Eastern Conference champs are rolling the dice in the backcourt with Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose and Kyle Korver. Thomas was the star of the Celtics for most of the last few seasons, and he was the main piece in the trade that allowed Boston to pick up Irving. He is unable to play for the next few months, though, as he continues to recover from a hip injury that cut short his postseason. Thomas and Rose are both solid players when healthy, with Thomas a relative superstar, but both are big injury risks.
All three of these guards are a defensive liability, too. Thomas is just too small to ever be a solid on-the-ball defender, while Korver has never excelled at defense. Meanwhile, Rose is not the defender he once was. Anyone who thinks that the Cavaliers are getting the Rose of old needs to check out his defensive numbers from the last few years.
Boston’s additions might eventually prove to be the tipping point and stop LeBron James from getting to his seventh straight NBA Finals. The Celtics not only picked up Irving, possibly the best point guard in the East, but they added Gordon Hayward, too. Bringing in Hayward to a young, talented team with another good big man in Al Horford will make both him and the offense better. He had to create too much in Utah and should excel with more talent around him.
The big question for this team will be whether or not Irving buys in on defense. He has not been a good defender, but head coach Brad Stevens calls for his players to play quality defense more than other coaches. If Irving buys in, watch out.
It sounds like this is an impassioned plea to bet on Boston. However, the best player in the world is still wearing the Cavaliers colors and will be on his home court tomorrow night. LBJ will be amped up because he always has something to prove after he has a falling out with old teammates and friends. He has been relatively quiet this offseason, but he will explode with a huge performance to lead Cleveland to a victory in spite of an injured ankle.
Over 232 in Golden State vs. Houston – The Warriors didn’t do much this offseason, but why change a good thing?
Golden State added a few key veterans as role players and kept all of its core intact, so it could be even better this season as players become more accustomed to one another. This team had to work out some issues over how to allocate the ball with so many playmakers in 2016-17, seeming to just find a rhythm over the last half of the year.
The Splash Brothers want to keep raining threes on opponents, yet they might not be the most prolific scoring duo in the NBA this season. The addition of Chris Paul to Mike D’Antoni’s offense in Houston is going to make the Rockets very exciting to watch. Pairing Paul with a talent like James Harden should be great for both players as they bring out the best in each other and play to their strengths in this offense.
It should also mean it’s bombs away from three-point range. The Rockets attempted over 40 three-pointers per game last season, and that number will increase with Paul finding open teammates all over the floor.
Against Golden State, Houston might be able to shoot the lights out. Andre Iguodala is banged up with a back issue, and Draymond Green can’t cover all of the Rockets shooters. Paul should be able to get plenty of drive and kick penetration against Golden State’s backcourt, and Harden could have a big game.
The Warriors are going to want to play Houston’s up-tempo style in the opener, both to get the lead and to prove they can beat one of their biggest threats in the West at their own game. They are the one team that can play that style better and will prove it on Tuesday night.
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