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Opening Night Communications

As Opening Night of the 2020-21 NBA season tipped off, Sam Johnson and Joe Tevelowitz engaged in an email back-and-forth to discuss the games, the league and the presentation. What follows is that conversation…

Sam Johnson writes:

It. Is. Here. Does it feel too soon? On one hand we just had a Finals game barely over two months ago, but on the other hand teams like the Warriors haven’t played in nine months (feels like nine years). Are you ready for another season that has barreled upon us after the shortest/longest offseason ever?

What are you most excited about on opening night? The Durant return? LA vs LA? The beginning of the Wayoff P redemption tour? The Ring ceremony? Steph Curry’s return? The Nets “others” being showcased for Houston? NBA Twitter? James Wiseman debut? Have I given you enough options? (What’s the record for the most questions asked consecutively?) For me, I want to see Curry vs Durant. Last year was a complete lost cause for both of them, so the last they were really seen was the 2019 Finals where the GS dynasty exploded into the medicinal unit. Does Curry still have the 47 point put-the-team-on-my-back upside that he showed in G3 of those Finals? Is KD still a top 3 player? For the betterment of the league, I am hoping yes to both. The other thing I will be watching early is Andrew Wiggins. He’s in year 7 but I think we are well into double digits for the number of times the “he has really turned a corner and is focusing on defense and shot selection” chatter.

PS: Shaq is wearing a Santa costume and Charles Barkley thinks he can still get 12 and 6.

Joe Tevelowitz writes:

WHAT TIME IS IT??? GAME TIME!!!

Too soon? Can Hannukah come too soon? The answer is never! And instead of eight crazy nights we get seven crazy months! I’m beyond ready for this. 

As for what I’m most excited about, it’s gotta be KD and these new look Nets. It’s not every season that we open with a brand new title contender, but before ever seeing a regular season minute, that’s what these Nets feel like. And yes, that’s even without another trade. Surrounding Durant with Kyrie, Joe Harris, Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen isn’t the best supporting cast he’s had, but it’s one of the most interesting. Plus, this is Kevin Durant, one of the greatest scorers in league history. I’ll be watching to see how he reacts to game speed and if there’s any hesitation in his step, aside from his hesi-step. 

You would be watching Wiggins. I guess you can take the top pick out of the Wolves but you can’t take the Wolf out of the top pick. I’m more interested in seeing James Wiseman start, particularly going against DeAndre Jordan on the front line. This is going to be a good match-up, even if the Nets eventually run the score up a bit on a Draymond-less Warriors squad. What’s your prediction for the game? How about for both these team’s seasons?

And yes Barkley can get 12 and 6 — 12 donuts and 6 orders of fries. 

Sam:

If the first six minutes is indicative of the entire year (and when isn’t it?) Thee Kevin Durant is back. He looks as incredible as ever on the offensive end, effortlessly draining jumpers like he was born to do. As exciting as it is, I think the true test of his full return is things like his 3rd game in 5 nights or his defensive intensity in the 3rd/4th quarters. Agreed on this Brooklyn team being extremely interesting. I think they are my Finals pick – even though I don’t foresee them dominating the regular season. I can see them in the 3-5 seed range, but having the playoff ceiling with their deep rotation and elite bucket getters in KD and Irving.


What I really meant about Wiggins was I was looking for his newest hairdo – it is sort of like a snowflake (do Cali people understand snow references?) in that no two years are alike. The Wiseman pick still has me puzzled. I know it was a weak draft but he is SO raw and I hate spending huge draft capital on a center unless he is generational. His athleticism does seem impressive already though. It’s just one game but can GS return to the playoffs/relevance? They seem very shaky to me with Wiseman, Wiggins, Oubre all playing prominent roles. I have them right on the 8/9 line.


Only one quarter in and this game may be over. Kyrie doesn’t even have 8 postups yet and they are still crushing. IG Live is going to be lit tonight.

Joe:

Californians know about snow the way Kyrie knows about the earth being round — we’ve heard the science, but don’t necessarily buy the hype. Nets might be my Finals pick too, and a LeBron/AD vs Kyrie/KD matchup at the highest level of the game would be pretty sick. Both conferences have lots of obstacles on the way there though. The Clippers won’t want to be embarrassed again, the Nuggets have WCF experience now, the Blazers filled a lot of holes, and the Jazz are a surprisingly complete squad. In the East, Giannis has a new running mate in Jrue Holiday, the Sixers have a new coach and some new shooters, and the Heat are bringing a lot of swag into the season. It’s gonna be a tough road, but this Nets team looks equipped already. 

The Warriors, on the other hand, look like they’re going to be a lottery team again. Even with Draymond back, I don’t see this squad developing the consistency needed to make a playoff push. Yes, I know, it’s early, but is it too early to say that Andrew Wiggins isn’t helping anyone reach the playoffs? Hopeful Curry still has some big games along the way, but not expecting a lot from the team as a whole. Wiseman might have been a reach and LaMelo would have been fun to watch on this team, but I bet the Warriors make something of their young big man. 

Warriors trailing at the half, but they’ve kept things from getting too far out of hand, and for that we thank them. 

Sam:

I enjoyed your brief contender breakdown. I like the Jazz and Nuggets more than most, but am a little too embarrassed to say Utah or Denver could make the Finals out loud, even if I believe it. Thank goodness for email.

I am indeed writing off the Warriors – they probably make a play-in game but not sure that really counts for relevance, at least not for their lofty standards. Is there ANY chance Curry gets a wandering eye? Another lost season without Klay likely pending, and he will turn 33 this year (wasn’t he just raining 3s at Davidson like last week?). Especially if Draymond continues to have health issues or looks pseudo-washed?

Speaking of California – LAC/LAL is now our only chance at a competitive game. I’m feeling very robbed that Dwight Javale and JR aren’t part of the ring ceremony tonight. Feels like a big miss in terms of entertainment value. What do you make of the Lakers revamped squad – are they prohibitive title favorites or just one of the best? Do you lend any credence to the idea that the Bubble-Laker title was extraordinarily easy? I really don’t – people were hyped for DameTime Blazers, the Rockets had some mild upset buzz going, and Denver is just plain good. Miami crushed the Bucks and just were unfortunate to run into some Finals injuries. That being said, I think they are very beatable, but have to be slight favorites at the moment.

Joe:

Based on the improvements they’ve made and the championship confidence they enter the season with, I’ll put the Lakers as title favorites. I’ll also place my own hope for the season as the field over the Lakers. As a Jordan fan, I don’t really think I can deal with 5 LeBron titles across three franchises. The Bronsexuals will be unbearable. 

Don’t lend any credence to those discounting the Lakers last title. It would have been cool if they had to have gone through the other LA team, but they did their part and deserve the gold. That was just a solid team, well coached and well played. 

Hoping for the best from this upcoming Battle of LA. The season opener was low on drama, but the nightcap should have the added fire of a Clippers team having to watch their arena-mates get rings. I’m gonna go out on a limb and predict a Clippers win. I think Kawhi will get some good looks and am interested in seeing this big Clippers starting lineup with Ivica Zubac and Serge Ibaka both starting. I think the Clips could cause real problems for the Purple and Gold Patrol. How about you? You backing the champs? Or expecting big things from LA’s little brother?

Sam:

The field over the Lakers is a safe bet. A lot of firepower to go around and throw in LeBron’s age and the fact that Davis gets injured once a week, I would definitely favor the field.

I twisted myself into knots thinking about how these teams would align their lineups. Ibaka-Zubac only makes sense if AD is playing the 4, which he prefers to do in the regular season. However, the Gasol-Davis pairing is just a vastly superior big man duo IMO, so I think the Clippers should try to force LAL into playing smaller.  Two of Lou/Bev/Kennard plus their stars and Ibaka gives them more shooting and versatility. The Lakers just have so many looks they can use though, LBJ-KCP-Kuzma/Matthews-AD-Gasol/Harrell can probably match up just fine with any Clipper unit. AD is just a cheat code on defense as he really can guard virtually anyone outside of the quickest of point guards. 

Ultimately, it will come down to how effective Kawhi and PG are when attacking KCP, Kuzma and the wing-defender types. In crunch time Davis and LeBron can survive on them for short bursts, but that’s too taxing to do for an entire game. I definitely want to see this in a 7-game series but tonight I will side with you and lean Clippers. 

Joe:

So I missed a big chunk of the first quarter on account of a crying baby, but came back with Clippers up 14 and then proceeded to watch them stretch that to 22. I’ll guess the Clippers offense was just operating on all cylinders while the Lakers worked through ring fatigue. What’d you think of the ring ceremony? Were you like me, imagining your family presenting you with a ring? And did you see the size of those dandies???

Clips starting the second quarter up 20, but this still feels like it will end up being a battle more than a blowout. And we know the Clips have a recent history of blowing big leads. I’m looking for LeBron to power the team to some easy baskets to end the second quarter and cut into this lead heading into the half. But so far looking like our Clips pick might turn out well. Insert smiling/nodding Jack Nicholson from The Departed gif here. 

What are you going to be looking for going forward from both teams? And anything I missed in the first quarter that was particularly telling about the new editions on both sides?

Sam:

Q1 was just LAL looking a bit flat, jumpers not falling, and some sloppiness. Nowadays a 20 point lead feels like 10-12 points a decade ago. No game feels out of reach in the first half. 

The ring ceremony was solid but not quite the same without roaring fans. As for me, a suffering Wolves fan, I was sort of just in a blurry fog during the ceremony. It was hard to understand what they were doing and the magnitude of what a ring is. Postseason awards, or games for that matter, are foreign to me. Anyway, those RANGZ looked impeccable. Heaviest and most expensive in NBA history. Mamba snake and each player’s number on them. .95 Carats of Amethyst representing the 95 days they spent in the bubble. My dream job is officially to be a future NBA ring designer.

Checking in on the newcomers: Marc Gasol is not going to send this game to Springfield, 5 fouls, a lot of meh – he’s not washed is he? Schroder has been looking solid. The face after every Harrell basket reveals how much he wants to stick it to his old team after the disrespect he was shown. Looking forward to a tight finish

Joe:

Well Clippers just crossed 100 so if Lawler’s Law holds, they should win this one. I don’t think Gasol is totally washed, but this isn’t the kind of debut that keeps you in the starting lineup. I could see them eventually starting Harrell in his place. 

20 point leads definitely aren’t what they used to be, though the Nets early 20 point lead felt decidedly insurmountable for a disjointed Warriors offense. I don’t know if any of this was game one mirages, but it looks to me that these two games featured three contenders and one squad that was straight out of luck. I’m sure Steph will shoot them into some games, but I don’t think the Warriors will be worth watching for much more than that this season. 

Clippers looking more alive on the boards with a two offensive rebound possession ending with a Kawhi fade-away to put the blue team up 15. I think I’m confident to call it here, though I’m sure LeBron will go anything but quietly. All in all, a good first night of basketball, mostly on that it was good to have basketball back and fun to discuss with you. Enjoy the Minnesota cold. I know the lack of playoff success is tough, but on the plus side, you have a really nice mall. What more can anyone ask for?

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