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2019-20 NBA Preview: Raptors Begin Long, Sad Title Defense; The Battle for Los Angeles Heats Up

With the most tumultuous off-season in NBA history behind us and players and coaches having been brought to heel by their Chine$e overlords, it’s finally time to play some basketball that counts. To that end, the scheduling gods have delivered two intriguing matchups on Tuesday’s Opening Day. First there’s the New Orleans Pelicans against the defending champion Toronto Raptors, then it’s the Los Angeles Lakers facing the reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers. Let’s run down the week’s lineup:

Tuesday, October 22, on TNT
New Orleans Pelicans vs Toronto Raptors at 8pm
The Pelicans could be the most fun team of the year, what with Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Derrick Favors, JJ Reddick, stud rookie Zion Williamson and a mountain of draft picks. Williamson recently underwent knee surgery and will be out 6-8 weeks so this might take a little longer for this team to mesh. The Raptors, on the other hand, could end up as one of the most depressing title defenders in league history with the defection of reining Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Toronto could end up as the second-worst defending champ in league history, trailing only the post-Jordan Bulls who went 13-37. If you ask anyone on the streets of Toronto though, they’ll tell you it was all worth it.

Los Angeles Lakers vs Los Angeles Clippers at 10:30pm
This crosstown rivalry is finally worth watching. The two best tandems in the NBA both reside in the City of Angels, with LeBron James joined by Anthony Davis for the Lakers, while Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have joined forces for the Clips. It would hardly come as a surprise if all seven games of the Western Conference Finals were played in one arena.

Wednesday, October 23, on ESPN
Boston Celtics vs Philadelphia 76ers at 7:30pm
It’s the dawn of a new day in Boston, one crazy summer the most frustrating season in franchise history. Kyrie Irving left for Brooklyn while Al Horford went to the Sixers, but the Celtic’s signed Kemba Walker and hopefully Gordon Hayward will be fully recovered from the injury that wiped out his 2017-18 season. The Sixers are going for it, having added Horford, one of the league’s best defenders and intangibles guys to a young roster brimming with talent. If Joel Embiid tackles his condition with the gusto that he tackles Twitter, this team will be a lock for the Eastern Conference Finals.

Denver Nuggets vs Portland Trailblazers at 10pm
A rematch of the best series of last season’s playoffs, it went seven games, featured a quadruple overtime heart-stopper and introduced casual fans to Damian Lillard. The Nuggets basically stood pat, adding just 7-foot-2 rookie Bol Bol, son of Manute Bol, averaged 20-10 as a freshman at Oregon last season, while draining 52 percent of his 3’s. The Blazers went out and traded for Hassan Whiteside, the double-double machine who’s coming off a hip injury from last spring.

Thursday, October 24, on TNT
Milwaukee Bucks at Houston Rockets at 8pm
Despite being the NBA’s only 60-win team, the Bucks were busy this off-season, though they didn’t do anything too splashy, as they now lead the league in brothers. They brought back Brook Lopez, George Hill and Khris Middleton, brought in Robin Lopez, Wesley Matthews, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, and Kyle Korver. The team traded away Malcolm Brogdon for draft picks. As long as they have Giannis, they’ll make the playoffs. The Rockets had a quiet off-seas—wait, no, their off-season was a fiasco. GM Daryl Morey touched off an international incident by tweeting his support for protesters in Hong Kong, inspiring players and execs from across the land to film hostage videos in support of the Chinese government. But before all that, they traded away Chris Paul to the Thunder to reunite Russell Westbrook with James Harden.

Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors at 10:30pm
The Clips made the scheduling gods angry. How else to explain opening their season with the Lakers and Warriors in the first three days of the season? For the first time in recent memory, the Warriors are not headed into the season as the presumptive favorite. Klay Thompson is dealing with a torn ACL, Kevin Durant decamped for Brooklyn, Andre Iguodala was traded for sophomore Julian Washburn, and they signed free agent Willie Cauley-Stein. They’ll be good, but not that good.

Friday, October 25, on ESPN
Dallas Mavericks at New Orleans Pelicans at 8pm
The Mavs biggest splash was trading for Kristaps Porzingis to ride shotgun for Luka Dončić, the reigning Rookie of the Year, who last year joined Oscar Robertson as the only rookies ever to average 20-7-6. The Mavs now have players from Slovenia, Latvia, Canada, Puerto Rico, Australia, Germany, and Serbia.

Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Lakers at 10:30pm
The Jazz won 50 games before getting bounced in the first round of last year’s playoffs, so they went out and got Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanović and Jeff Green to help out Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, but they had to bid farewell to Rickey Rubio, Jae Crowder and Derrick Favors. Will it be enough for a title run? Doesn’t quite feel like it.

Sunday, October 27, on NBA League Pass Golden State Warriors at Oklahoma City Thunder

Sunday, October 27, on NBA League Pass
Golden State Warriors at Oklahoma City Thunder at 3:30pm

Even though it was revealed on Opening Day that Klay Thompson will likely miss the entire season, this Warriors team will still be compelling to watch. They are the greatest team certainly of the decade and arguably all time. They’re worthwhile alone to watch how far Steph Curry can carry this team. Our bet is pretty far. The addition of D’Angelo Russell won’t replace Durant but he has improved his game considerably since coming over from Brooklyn that will make departures a little easier to bear.

This may be the worst Oklahoma City Thunder team ever assembled with Russell Westbrook and Paul George headed to the Rockets and Clippers respectively but they still have a future hall-of-famer in Chris Paul. If they have a considerable fall off by Christmas will Paul, Steven Adams and Danilo Gallinari stick around? Sunday we will see the Thunder’s first real test.

Stats courtesy Basketball-Reference.com

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