NBA: Opening Night in the Association

After a little over four months, the wait is finally over; the NBA is back and ready for a full lockout-free season.

The Association opens up tonight with just three games, but what’s better than getting a little taste  on the first night and then a full slate of games the rest of the year, right? Let’s take a look at what’s on the docket this evening and what to expect from all six teams.

Washington Wizards AT Cleveland Cavaliers

This is a matchup between two of the younger teams in the league and don’t expect it to be anything much more than that. Two point guards just a year apart from each other, both with no ceiling for potential, but both looking to prove their worth in a “superstars” game. John Wall is going into his third year now after being the number one overall pick in the 2010 draft, and if he wants to be seen as a top guard he is going to have to improve upon his play, though consistent through his first two years, isn’t at the level a player of his draft-status needs to be. Directly squaring off against him will be second-year point guard, and reigning Rookie of the Year, Kyrie Irving. Being pretty much the only talent on his team a year ago, Irving ran away with the award and will try to avoid that dreaded “sophomore slump”. It’ll also be interesting to get our first look at the two rookie shooting guards that each team took a shot at in the draft. Bradley Beal and Dion Waiters went 3rd and 4th in the draft, respectively, but both are straight ballers and will continue to put the ball in the hoop at the next level. Beal should be starting tonight for the Wizards, but Waiters will have to show discipline under coach Byron Scott, but I see him breaking through to the starting line be the All-Star break this year.

The difference in this game will be the big men though, and Washington gets the advantage there having Nene and Emeka Okafor.

Washington 92 Cleveland 85

Dallas Mavericks AT Los Angeles Lakers

This is the late game for the night, but not the most important. This game can be thought of as the opposite of the one above as this is the battle of the salty veterans Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki and their bands of merry men. Unfortuantely, Nowitzki will not be playing in the game tonight and Bryant is also healing from a foot injury and no one is sure how ready he is; knowing Kobe though he will do whatever it takes to get out there. Of course, the Lakers became the biggest noise maker in the offseason by going and trading for both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. Many think that these moves automatically put the Lakers in the championship conversation, and though it does make them a contender, I’m not throwing them them Larry O’Brien trophy just yet; there are still many strong teams in the league and if Dirk stays healthy one of those can be the Mavs, too. Mark Cuban didn’t get any of the top-tier free agents he was looking for but he again found great value in the players that were available to him. Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo will both be important to the team, especially without the scoring abilities of Nowitzki. Mayo will have a big first game in his new colors, but not much else will shine for the Mavericks.

The pick and roll abilities of Nash with Howard and Pau Gasol will drive the slow-footed big men of Dallas crazy and leave Kobe open for some automatic shots.

Los Angeles 110 Dallas 91
Boston Celtics AT Miami Heat

The game everyone has been waiting for. The Heat’s big three finally gets to see their banner raised to the rafters and the Celtics look to avenge their Eastern Conference Finals loss from last summer. There has been bad blood between these two since LeBron James moved down to Miami and carried the rivalry he made with Boston while in Cleveland with him. The reigning league and finals MVP will have a big opener tonight to prove that his first NBA Championship wasn’t a one-hit-wonder. James’ side-kicks Dwayne Wade  and Chris Bosh are both back and healthy which will only make LeBron even more dangerous and tougher to cover. The Celtics still have one of the top 5 point guards in the league with Rajon Rondo and the “grumpy old men”, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. They’re missing their third cog from the original Boston Three Party because Ray Allen changed sides and is now a member of the Heat. Though Celtics fans have a vendetta against Allen, he shouldn’t be a large part in this game, I wouldn’t be surprised if he hit one or two threes  near the end of the game though. The Celtics did a good job of keeping all of their supporting pieces younger while their core is getting older, I give respect to Danny Ainge for that, but it won’t matter much tonight as LeBron’s confidence is soaring right now.

I expect LeBron to get up near 3o-35 points and get close to a triple-double as the Heat are welcomed home as champions.

Miami 104 Boston 95