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Nine Takeaways From NBA Opening Night

The reigning champs took care of business against the Nets on ring night, while Stephen Curry overcame a cold shooting night to lift the Warriors over the Lakers.

Only two games to tip off the opening night of the NBA season, with the Bucks and Warriors notching wins over the Nets and Lakers, respectively. Of course, it would be incredibly irresponsible to overreact to either game. None of the teams playing Tuesday night were at full strength, and they will each morph in time for the playoffs when all of them will actually be judged. Still, there were some interesting quirks from both games. A few takeaways, starting with…


Bucks vs. Nets

  • Right off the bat, it feels like the Nets didn’t exactly take their first game incredibly seriously. It felt a little more experimental from Steve Nash, who will have to navigate the Kyrie Irving situation by figuring out his rotations. There was a surprising amount of two-big lineups from Brooklyn, and the early Paul Millsap returns were not promising. Milwaukee’s size probably skewed how the Nets wanted to play. It remains to be seen how Brooklyn will handle its frontcourt minutes among Nic Claxton, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, James Johnson, and Millsap. I would not expect two of them to share the floor in truly high leverage minutes. During the regular season, they’ll be necessary to lighten the load on Kevin Durant.
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo picked up right where he left off from the Finals. He scored 32 points in only 31 minutes, adding 14 rebounds and seven assists for good measure. Perhaps most notably, he debuted a new free-throw routine and shot seven of nine from the line. We already know Giannis can dominate. Seeing any marked improvement in his shooting is probably the only thing worth paying particularly close attention to when it comes to Antetokounmpo. His jumper didn’t get much action in Game 1, but if the new free-throw form is a sign of things to come, that legitimately changes the way teams will have to defend the Greek Freak.
  • Patty Mills may end up being one of the most impactful offseason signings from the summer. He was an outstanding pickup for Brooklyn, and that was before Irving was sent home due to his refusal to get vaccinated. Mills played 29 minutes and poured in 21 points, all of which came from three. He shot an absurd seven of seven from outside, and he kept Brooklyn afloat during an early offensive malaise. Mills is eventually going to close a lot of games for this team, particularly because of his two-way prowess. The Nets’ guard depth is going to be important in the absence of Irving. They could do a lot worse than someone like Mills playing off their two stars.
  • Do the Bucks have something in Jordan Nwora? Would we be asking this question if Nwora had this performance in Game 12 of the season on local television as opposed to opening night? The 23-year-old scored 15 points in 26 minutes against Brooklyn. He was a legitimate part of the rotation, and he could be an especially useful piece for the Bucks, who are lacking size when it comes to their depth on the wing. Who knows where it ends up with Nwora. I would really like to see him in some small-ball lineups with Giannis at center. Maybe he can help ease the loss of P.J. Tucker if he can turn into something 3-and-D-ish by the end of the season.

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Warriors vs. Lakers

  • A nightmare start for Russell Westbrook, who did nothing in his first game as a Laker to assuage concerns about his fit alongside LeBron James. Westbrook was a nonfactor, scoring a measly eight points in 35 minutes. The early answer on what Russ would look like down the stretch of a close game is ... not good enough, to be frank. With the Warriors pulling ahead in the fourth, Westbrook just roamed off the ball. He wasn’t setting screens. He wasn’t making dynamic cuts. Avery Bradley, signed to the team literally one day before the game, was more impactful in the fourth because of his shooting. Frank Vogel has time to figure this out. It was never going to click on Night one. Whether it’s playing Russ more with the second unit or heavily adjusting his role on offense, the Lakers need more from their third star.
  • The Jordan Poole hype train is only gaining more riders. Poole spearheaded Golden State’s second half comeback, hitting timely threes to juice the offense. Poole was not perfect, and his shot selection felt ... youthful, at times. But it was clear to see why Warriors fans are excited about what he could bring to the offense. If Klay Thompson returns looking anything close to Klay Thompson, all of a sudden the Warriors are going to have sneaky great guard depth thanks to Poole.
  • In terms of role players, the Warriors looked like the team with the better offseason. Otto Porter, Andre Iguodala, and Nemanja Bjelica all offered solid minutes. It should be noted Los Angeles was down Trevor Ariza and Kendrick Nunn, so Vogel appeared to be searching for closers in the fourth. He settled on Bradley and Kent Bazemore, two players known more for their defensive disposition. DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard didn’t do much except hold back the true potential of this team in their 26 combined minutes. Carmelo Anthony played a little too much one-on-one, and bafflingly dropped on a screen and let Steph Curry walk into a three during a key fourth quarter play. It truly could not be more early. And Vogel has been adept at getting the most out of his Laker rosters during his tenure. But opening night put a spotlight on the Lakers flaws. Fortunately they have the rest of the season to figure them out.
  • LeBron James and Anthony Davis were great. Davis mainly when he played center. As long as he is not playing that position full time, the Lakers’ ceiling will be lower. That’s the bottom line. AD, I am begging you, please play center.
  • Even an off night for Steph (21 points on five of 21 shooting) is still really fun to watch.

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