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NBA Opening Night: Seven Storylines to Watch

From Kyrie Irving's return to the debut of Chris Paul and James Harden as teammates, The Crossover breaks down the seven biggest storylines to watch on NBA opening night.

The wait is over! No more listening to NBA writers drone on about national parks on their podcasts. No more waiting for Charles Barkley to forsake teams who rely on three-pointers. And no more wondering if Mike D’Antoni is going to bring back the Pringles mustache. (Unfortunately, he's not.) The 2017–18 NBA season is finally here, and opening night is filled with exciting storylines sure to result in at least one passive-aggressive Instagram post. 

We know the NBA season is starting a little earlier this year, and it’s hardly feeling like fall around much of the country. So if you’re not fully ready for the start of the season—or you just a little reminder of what’s going on—here’s what to watch for on opening night. (Reminder: Cavs-Celtics tips at 8 p.m. ET followed by Warriors-Rockets at 10:30 p.m.)


1. The Kyrie Reaction

What kind of reception will Kyrie Irving get in Cleveland? Irving hit the biggest shot in Cavaliers history with his series-clinching three-pointer in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals. He destroyed much of that goodwill this summer when he a) requested a trade and then b) decided to not-so-subtly trash both the Cavs and the city of Cleveland after being sent to Boston. Cleveland, of course, has a bit of a sordid history with homecomings, like when some fans threw batteries at LeBron James in his first game at Cleveland as a member of the Heat in 2010. Irving won’t draw the anywhere near the same level of vitriol, and you have to imagine the Cavs will at least give him the obligatory tribute video. (I like when they set these videos to a OneRepublic song but maybe that’s just me.) Watching how the fans as well as Irving’s former teammates react should provide the first juicy moment of the season, non-pregame-handshake division. I’m looking forward to everyone’s reactions being dissected like the Zapruder film on Twitter. 

2. Cleveland’s Crunch-Time Lineup

Instead of trying to fix their defensive issues from last season, the Cavs are leaning in to their best offensive tendencies to begin the year. Kevin Love will start at center, and Jae Crowder at forward, which means Cleveland will shoot threes early and often. Sure, Love won’t exactly protect the rim on defense, but Cleveland is betting that most nights, an offense led by LeBron James will be able to score more points than your favorite team. The issue? Starting guards Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade don’t exactly fit the 3-and-D criteria, so they may derail the Cavs’ bombs-away attack. If Boston and Cleveland are playing each other close in the fourth quarter, who the Cavs put on the court could reveal how much faith Ty Lue actually has in some of his new additions.

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3. Boston’s Chemistry

If anyone can overcome an overhaul of more than two-thirds of his roster, it’s boy genius Brad Stevens. The Celtics are going to look even more new than Cleveland this season. How will Irving get along with Gordon Hayward? Who gets the ball in clutch situations? How will Jayson and Jalen hold up against elite competition? While the Cavs are moreso mixing in role players to their current system, Stevens and the Celtics will be building a bit from scratch this season. Opening night will (hopefully) be the first real test of how the new parts respond to adversity. 

4. Will the Warriors Care?

Golden State has a habit of putzing around for two quarters, letting Zaza Pachulia play too much, and then turning on the jets in the third before burying opponents with ease. Will they get up for opening night? The Dubs will be hosting the revamped Rockets, who won a game at Oracle last season. Will the addition of Chris Paul give Golden State any kind of trouble? The Warriors love disrespecting opponents, and a particularly savage way to do that would be to treat opening night like a January game against the Pacers—especially when they know Paul and James Harden will be giving 110%. In an ideal scenario, the Warriors will be locked in from the opening tip but the Rockets still manage to keep things close for 48 minutes. If Golden State runs a bunch of Pachulia and Shaun Livingston post-ups for two quarters and win by 20 any way, then Houston’s high-risk offseason could already start to feel like an unworthy gamble. 

5. How Fresh are Harden and Paul?

Perhaps the most important part of the Harden-Paul pairing—besides bringing together two of the best seven players in the NBA—is what it could do for each of them at the end of games. Both Paul and Harden’s most recent playoff defeats were marked by ineffectiveness down the stretch, largely because each player was carrying a ridiculous burden for their team. Now, Harden and Paul can hand the keys of the offense off to each other instead of having to create every single second of every possession. Again, this will be dependent on a close game, but keep an eye on how Harden and Paul look in the last few minutes of the fourth. If both have extra energy, both could be in a position to improve their efficiency in the clutch. 

6. Stephen Curry

Remember Curry, the NBA’s first unanimous MVP? Curry’s been overshadowed by Kevin Durant since the Finals, from KD winning Finals MVP, to Steve Kerr forgetting to thank Curry at the parade, to KD getting wall-to-wall coverage (rightfully so) for his Twitter antics. Though Durant is thought of as the NBA’s biggest challenger to LeBron, Curry is still the most important player on the Warriors. I can’t state this enough: Curry’s shooting ability is the single most devastating skill in the NBA, and it’s a skill so great that it’s changed the landscape of the NBA. Opening night could be the start of Curry’s third MVP campaign, and it’s time to start having serious discussions about Curry’s legacy and where he’ll ultimately fall in the league’s pantheon of greats. 

7. Dunks

Seriously. Dunks are awesome! I hope we see lots of them tonight.