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It’s official: the NBA is back.That means that fans worldwide will be attending and tuning into the two opening-night games for the 2019-20 regular season on Tuesday with aplomb.Luckily for them, the league office made sure that the slate of scheduled games won’t disappoint.
The first game of the action-packed double-header features the New Orleans Pelicans and the Toronto Raptors.Unfortunately, Zion Williamson, this year’s No. 1 overall pick, won’t be in action due to the successful arthroscopic surgery he underwent to repair the torn lateral meniscus in his right knee.
So fans will have to wait six to eight weeks to see the most exciting rookie to enter the league since LeBron James take the court.
Despite the diminished star power, the Pelicans vs. Raptors game should still be interesting.
But the marquee matchup, of course, is the battle of Los Angeles between the Clippers and the Lakers.Thanks to this summer’s roster moves, excitement for both teams has reached a fever pitch.
The Lakers completed the trade for Anthony Davis and the Clippers landed Paul George via trade and Kawhi Leonard via free agency, so it was originally billed as dynamic duo (King James and AD) versus dynamic duo (PG-13 and Fun Guy).
George won’t be available since he’s recovering from shoulder surgery, so it will be Leonard facing off against James and Davis.
Which team will win first-night bragging rights?
For the fans that want to tune in and see which teams take home the win, here’s the TV and live-stream schedule, along with predictions for Tuesday night’s contests:
Schedule for Tuesday, October 22
New Orleans Pelicans at Toronto Raptors: 8 p.m. ET, TNT | Livestream: fuboTV. For tickets to this game, go to StubHub.
Los Angeles Lakers at Los Angeles Clippers: 10:30 p.m. ET, TNT | Livestream: fuboTV. For tickets to this game, go to StubHub.
New Orleans Pelicans at Toronto Raptors
SAN ANTONIO, TX – OCTOBER 13: Lonzo Ball #2 of the New Orleans Pelicans handles the ball against the San Antonio Spurs during a pre-season game on October 13, 2019 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agr
Joe Murphy/Getty Images
No Zion and No Kawhi?
The Pelicans are down their newest franchise cornerstone and the Raptors lost theirs to free agency, but the show must go on.
For New Orleans, that means betting on their newfound youth and athleticism.
Lonzo Ball, who averaged 9.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game, will be free to roam and run the point. With his uncanny ability to get the ball into the right hands, Ingram can create off the bounce, JJ Redick will pour in three-pointers and Jrue Holiday will steady the ship with his veteran leadership.
Ingram told Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times:
“I think everybody is just having fun. I don’t think anybody has an ego. I think everybody is just trying to find the best shot for the team, just trying to get better each and every day. It’s just fun. It’s fun with the way we’re playing, swinging the basketball, getting the best shot for everybody. And so everybody’s just having fun and waiting on their opportunity.”
The Pelicans will be all kinds of energetic, but in the end, they won’t be a match for the Raptors’ synergy and poise.
While it’s widely known that Leonard was responsible for putting Toronto on his back and powering them to the championship, it was Kyle Lowry’s inspired play down the stretch and Pascal Siakam’s All-Star level performance throughout the season that doesn’t get enough credit.
With the exodus of Leonard, it’s all up to role players like Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanFleet to complement Lowry and, most importantly, Siakam, who will need to carry the torch for the reigning champs.
No one expects the Raptors to be able to defend their title, but they’ll fare much better than expected this season—especially on opening night after the ring ceremony.
The torch has officially been passed to the 2019 Most Improved Player, so look for him to come out fast and strong to validate the four-year, $130 million max extension he signed on Monday.
Spicy P posted averages of 16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists per outing last season and is expected to carry the bulk of the scoring load this year.
Lowry will also be out to prove that his postseason wasn’t a fluke and that his team is still a competitive force.
“I’m ready for the challenge again,” Lowry told Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star. “Got to do what’s best for the team and get back to the promised land.”
New Orleans will go on runs and get out in transition, but by the end of the night, it will be Toronto that starts the year off on the right foot.
Prediction: Raptors 101, Pelicans 96
While we never have all the answers after one game, we do know one thing – the rivalry between the two teams in LA is alive and well.
In the first meeting between Kawhi Leonard in a Clippers uniform and LeBron James and Anthony Davis at the Lakers, the game lived up to the hype, spurred by a series of runs from both teams that kept it close right up until the end.
The Clippers’ superior depth, though, shone through and they were able to take it out 112-102 after scores were all square at three-quarter-time.
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We’re here for LeBron v Kawhi.
We’re here for LeBron v Kawhi.
KAWHI BETTER THAN LEBRON
It’s as if he never left the court. After dominating the Golden State Warriors on his way to winning the 2019 NBA finals MVP and leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first title, Leonard was at it again in Clippers colours. 30 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists showed off his all court game. With apologies to LeBron, who is 34 and on the downward spiral of his career, Leonard, 28 and in his prime, is now the better player.
We got our first look at James and Davis and how they might work together. It was dynamic in the first half, but LeBron really fell away after that and late runs were keyed more by unheralded players and Davis than the ageing legend. The worry is Danny Green had a 28-point 7 three-pointer explosion – and they still lost.
It’s always been there, the Clippers bench depth. In fact, it’s been a staple. But now it has a Kawhi to go with it. Leonard was the only starter in double digits, but the five bench players who took the floor on the night combined for 60 points – 8 more than the starters.
Fred vanVleet goes to work for the Raptors.
Fred vanVleet goes to work for the Raptors.
RAPTORS ROLL PELS ON BANNER DAY
Form is temporary, class is permanent.
And so it was as the Toronto Raptors were pushed all the way to overtime by the New Orleans Pelicans, but prevailed with superior offensive finishing and choking defence in the extra period.
Unveiling their 2019 NBA title banner – the first in franchise history – the Raptors players were rewarded with enormous championship rings.
Without Zion Williamson, the Pelicans weren’t really expected to challenge, but a sluggish Raptors outfit allowed them to dictate much of the play.
Toronto relied on runs, rather than consistent play and, when the regulation buzzer rang, the scores were locked at 117.
But it was all Toronto in the extra period, finishing with an eight-point win, 130-122.
Kawhi who? After winning the Most Improved Player award last season, Siakam, in his fourth NBA season, was the natural candidate to step up after Leonard departed with the finals MVP. And boy, did he do it. 34 points, laced with 18 rebounds and 5 assists was a remarkable performance. The only blemish was he fouled out before the end of the game, leaving his teammates to shore up the win.
Early doors, it looks like nuggety guard Fred vanVleet is going to be the biggest beneficiary of Kawhi Leonard’s departure. Aggressive and fearless, vanVleet poured in a career-high 34 points to go with 7 assists and 5 rebounds, the last of his five three-pointers icing the game in overtime.
With Zion Williamson out for up to two months, the popular belief is Lonzo Ball will get a ton of run and a chance to orchestrate his own team. Alvin Gentry appears to have other ideas. Ball hardly played in the second half, finishing with just the 8 points, with 5 rebounds and 5 assists in 25 minutes. Watch this space.