10:30 PM EST, TNT – Line: Warriors -9, Over/Under: 213
After an Offseason ripe with signings, trades, and retirements (not to mention Olympic Gold) the NBA is back, and with all due respect to LeBron James and the Defending Champion Cleveland Cavaliers, all eyes will be on tonight’s contest between the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors, for one obvious reason. But before we get into the Dubs, the Spurs (67-15, 2nd in Western Conference last season) come into the 2016-17 campaign breaking brand new ground, for Tuesday Night’s Opener will be the first in nineteen years not to feature two-time MVP Tim Duncan. The sure-fire First Ballot Hall of Famer called it a career this Summer, brining to a close what has been arguably the most successful career of any athlete over the past twenty years; San Antonio never experienced a losing season with Duncan among their number, qualifying for the postseason in each of the Power Forward’s nineteen years in the league, including six trips to the NBA Finals, while hoisting five Larry O’Brien Trophies. Now it’s a new era for Gregg Popovich and his charges, as the vested Head Coach too will finally experience life without Duncan. However, don’t weep for Pop though, for the cupboard is far from barren in San Antonio; the franchise has done a wonderful job of slowly transitioning to younger players, particularly in the form of versatile wingman Kawhi Leonard, who really came of age last season earning a place on the All-NBA First Team. Leonard averaged career-highs across the board, including scoring (21.2), three-point percentage (44.3%), effective field goal percentage (56.5%), assists (2.6), and blocks (1.0), along with PER (26.0). The 24-year old looks like the next unassuming face of this franchise for years to come. Ah, but that doesn’t necessarily answer the question as to whom will be replacing Duncan. For the second Offseason in a row, the Spurs went out and acquired a highly-skilled big man; last year it was five-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, and this Summer it was two-time NBA Champion Pau Gasol. Even at 36-years of age, the towering Spaniard still has plenty left in the tank to offer a contender, as exhibited by last year’s performance with the Chicago Bulls, averaging 16.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 2.0 blocks a night. The 15-year veteran should benefit from San Antonio’s depth (along with Popovich’s tendency to rest his starters throughout the term), along with playing alongside Aldridge (18.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.1 blocks), another highly-skilled Big. While neither are overtly physical in the Paint, they’re excellent passers of the ball and should create a wealth of problems for opponents in High/Low Sets in the Halfcourt. And it’s with that said, that you can in all likelihood expect the Spurs to continue to plod their way through games, as they operated at the seventh-slowest Pace in the league last year, averaging 93.8 possessions per 48 minutes of play. This was a major reason for their stunning turn on the defensive end, where they yielded a league-low 92.9 points per game and a 47.7% effective field goal percentage (which factors in the importance of the three-pointer). Furthermore, with sharpshooting Two-Guard Danny Green (7.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 33.2% 3FG) on the shelf for approximately the next three weeks healing from a strained Quadriceps it’s probable that this group will play at even slower Pace in the early goings of the campaign.
Meanwhile, let’s cut to the chase and discuss the Warriors (73-9, 1st in Western Conference), who pulled off the biggest Free Agent heist in years (that didn’t include LeBron), adding former MVP Kevin Durant to their outrageously talented roster. 2015-16 was bittersweet for Steve Kerr and his charges, who broke the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ single season record for wins (73) only to blow a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, falling to James and the Cavs in a heartbreaking Game Seven defeat on their home floor. Dubious history indeed, for in one fell swoop they became the first team in NBA History to ever squander such a lead in the Finals and lose at home in a seventh decisive game. And it’s with that feeling that this season shall be labeled as the Warriors’ Redemption as the two-time Western Conference Champions set out to erase the memory of that collapse. And what better way to do so than by acquiring the services of Durant (28.2 points, 57.3% eFG, 8.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 28.2 PER)? Adding the four-time Scoring Champion to a young nucleus consisting of Olympians such as Stephen Curry (30.1 points, 63.0% eFG, 5.4 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 2.1 steals, 31.5 PER), Klay Thompson (22.1 points, 56.9% eFG, 3.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 18.6 PER), and Draymond Green (14.0 points, 55.1% eFG, 9.5 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.4 blocks, 19.3 PER) seems hardly fair, but credit Golden State’s Front Office for finding a way to absorb the seven-time All-Star’s contract into their books, creating what many have described as the next Super Team. Then again, in the eyes of many this was already a Super Team, but the aforementioned loss to Cleveland unearthed some cracks in their seemingly impregnable armor creating a desperation to get better. Again, credit the Front Office, for in a position where many teams would be complacent and stand pat, they felt the need to get better, and ultimately did so. There is no doubt that all eyes will be fixated on how this team comes together, which should create some absolutely compelling theater over the next seven months, in a way that should remind everyone of the Miami Heat trident from 2010 to 2014. Granted, there are some legitimate questions about their depth, particularly after losing the likes of Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli, who both departed for greener pastures in Free Agency, but with stalwarts such as Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala continuing to provide key minutes in a reserve role, there shouldn’t be too much of a drop-off when their stars need a respite. It was a no-brainer eschewing those guys to acquire Durant, whose skill-set should grant Kerr and his Staff a plethora of Lineups to terrorize opponents. Imagine a small-ball combination of Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, and Durant, with Green in the middle? That’s a combined fourteen All-Star selections, five scoring titles, and three MVP awards between them. Look out NBA, here comes the Death Lineup 2.0…
Predicted Outcome: Warriors 109, Spurs 97