The 2016-2017 NBA season begins with a bang, in the form of three games: The New York Knicks visiting the NBA champions Cleveland Cavaliers, the Utah Jazz playing at the Portland Trail Blazers, and the San Antonio Spurs getting the unfortunate delight of playing against the Golden State Warriors.
In short? A big market team hoping to finally make the playoffs getting to visit the big winners of last year’s NBA finals, two Western Conference teams hoping no one notices them as they try to make noise in the playoffs (for the Jazz making the playoffs is an achievement after their current drought) and the new villains of the NBA and the best team in the league based on their personnel, hosting their big regular season rivals from last season, only it seems that things aren’t as close as they were a season ago.
Knicks @ Cavs: The NBA badly wants the Knicks (and the Nets to a lesser degree) to be good again. And even when they’re one big question mark, that includes a declining Carmelo Anthony but a rising Kristaps Porzingis and an enigmatic, probably relieved Derrick Rose, they’re interesting. Especially when their visit to Cleveland is like a challenge, but not really. Because unless the Cavaliers kept on partying during the preseason, they’re a much better team. J.R. Smith is back, Tristan Thompson didn’t miss all the offseason, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love aren’t coming off serious injuries, and LeBron James didn’t play with the national team in the summer. While we may learn something about the Knicks in this game, it’s more likely to be about the Cavs being coronated, nothing more.
Jazz @ Blazers: Just when the Jazz finally seemed to assemble a team not just good enough to make the playoffs (they were one win away from that last season) but to probably go a bit further than the first round, Gordon Hayward goes and gets himself injured. It still won’t hurt them that badly. They’re deep, experienced and with a top 5 defense potentially. It might not show on opening night in Portland, a team blessed with perimeter talent that is a cap killer in a year or two, but for now, with Damian Lillard, a star and talented rapper on top of that, in the center of it all, they’re one of the more fun teams in the NBA.
Spurs @ Warriors: Maybe it’s the LaMarcus Aldridge rumors, but this season seems more about transition for the Spurs than anything else, less about a title challenge or winning 67 games again. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili (Especially him) are near the end. Pau Gasol is better than Tim Duncan offensively, but the impact on defense is going to take a hit. Kawhi Leonard is the quietest star on earth. And that’s about it for the Spurs, unless Danny Green bounces back, and Kyle Anderson is ready to take the next step. But they’re playing in front of a motivated, hungry Warriors team. With a kicking Draymond Green, a possibly more humble Klay Thompson, but most importantly the offensive combination of Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, which just thinking about it gives defensive assistant coaches headaches and nightmares.