NBA - The Association's opening tilt is on tap tonight as the defending champion San Antonio Spurs host the Greg Oden-less Portland Trailblazers, and the drama-laden Lakers take on the Houston Rockets in an opening night double-header.
Ladies and gentlemen, the NBA is back.
After the summer long lull with nothing but the FIBA Tournament of the Americas to keep us entertained, basketball's feature presentation returns to center stage tonight.
This summer, unlike most in the Association, had its fair share of headlines and drama. And while it may be educational to recap said summer happenings, I'm not going to do that. Damn the referee scandals, trade demands, and even the actual trades - it's game time, and it's time to focus on what counts.
So briefly, I'll take a look at the two games scheduled for tonight's double-header on TNT.
San Antonio vs. Portland
This was meant to be a must-see TV event, the nationally televised debut of number one overall pick Greg Oden, against Tim Duncan and the defending champs, no less. Unfortunately microfracture knee surgery on Oden's right knee will keep him from making a debut until next season. That leaves us with a slightly watered down, but still interesting opening night match up.
I had predicted the Blazers would be a playoff team with Oden, minus the athletic seven footer, they aren't quite ready for a postseason birth, but they are still a talented young team. Brandon Roy, last season's rookie of the year, will be a player to watch, as will fellow sophomore LaMarcus Aldridge.
The real key in this game comes down to what the Blazers can get from Aldridge and their other young big man, former New York Knick, Channing Frye.
Obviously the attention will be on Brandon Roy against San Antonio's Bruce Bowen, the infamous defensive stopper. More than likely, Bowen puts the clamps on the young guard, but even if Roy does go for 20-25 points, that alone still isn't enough. Portland can't live off Roy's jumpshot all night.
At some point they will need some scoring down low, from either Aldridge or Frye. Finding room to score on the low blocks won't be easy with Tim Duncan around, but both Aldridge and Frye are agile athletic big men who could get Duncan in some foul trouble if they're able to utilize their quickness effectively.
The Spurs, an overwhelming favorite against the young Blazers, really just need to show up. They'll be receiving their championship rings from last season's title run, and the pageantry of the ring ceremony always has the potential to be distracting. So long as the Spurs can focus on the task at hand and stay focused, I see no reason why this shouldn't be a routine win for them.
Los Angeles vs. Houston
One of the primary concerns for the Lakers tonight should be stopping Yao Ming. With the sub-par cast of big man currently assembled in Los Angeles, Yao could be in for a big game. Kwame Brown, Chris Mihm, and Ronny Turiaf are all undersized for the job, which leaves inexperienced Andrew Bynum tasked with stopping Yao. Needless to say, the young big man going up against an All-Star center could be in for a long night.
Kobe Bryant will likely guard Tracy McGrady, as he often guards the other team's top scorer. While that match up will certainly draw attention, don't expect too much on either side. Kobe won't be shutting McGrady down, but he will ensure there's no outburst of scoring from T-Mac.
However, like any match up with the Lakers, it all begins and ends with the ability to slow down Kobe Bryant on the offensive end. When Kobe is on, the Lakers can compete with any team in the league, and if you can hinder Kobe, just about any team in the league can beat the Lakers.
Aside from the occasional zone defenses I expect primarily man-to-man coverage from the Rockets, with Shane Battier getting the nod against Bryant. Bonzi Wells and McGrady may each get short stints covering Kobe, but for the most part it will be Battier's responsibility. Battier is a tough nosed defender, with savvy and a good basketball I.Q. He isn't as highly rated as a Bowen or Artest, but he's effective nonetheless at guarding top scorers.
Tonight, however, I think will be Kobe's night. Say what you will about all the drama surrounding Kobe and the Lakers right now, but when the lights go on, Kobe is going to come to play. It's a nationally televised game, opening night, and Kobe knows the world is watching. He wants to come out and make a statement and remind people that why we pay so much attention to him is not because of what he says in the media, but what he does on the court. I expect Kobe to go off, and the Lakers to have a big night.
Also on tap...
The Golden State Warriors and the Utah Jazz tip of their seasons tonight in Oakland, in a rematch of the Western Conference Semis from last season. Apparently no one found them worthy of a nationally televised game, even though they had one of the most competitive and entertaining playoff series of the entire postseason.
For those of you who can watch this game (league pass, or local broadcast), I would recommend you switch between the Lakers-Rockets game and this one, as it should be pretty fun to watch. The Warriors will look to run and gun, per usual, and put up a lot of shots, but I've got Utah winning in a close one.