Hawks at Knicks (8pm ET Thursday, TNT)
The Atlanta Hawks finished the 2015 regular season as the #1 seed in the East, having won a franchise record 60 games. The recipe for their success included some lights-out shooting, a career year or two, solid defense and the weakest schedule in the NBA. They should again be a playoff team, thanks largely to being in the East, and the fact that they bring back the same team as last year, with the exception of swingman DeMarre Carroll. The Hawks are coming off an Opening Night 106-94 loss to the Detroit Pistons, in which they were out-rebounded 59-40 and only got to the free throw line 15 times.
Year One of the Phil Jackson Era at Madison Square Garden saw the New York Knicks win a franchise-low 17 games, earning themselves the #4 pick in the draft, which they used to select 7-foot-3, 240-pound Latvian Kristaps Porzingis. Not since Donovan McNabb had a draft selection caused such rancor, with rumors floating that Knicks star Carmelo Anthony felt “betrayed and hoodwinked by Phil Jackson.” But the Knicks PR machine quickly brought ‘Melo to heel, and since then Anthony has vowed to play “big brother” to the towering Latvian. If Porzingis’ play hasn’t won over his new teammates, the revelation that he once sported Carmelo-esque cornrows has.
While Anthony remains the Knicks’ best player, Porzingis is currently their most important – as he goes, they go. Head coach Derek Fisher has implied that Porzingis will be in the starting lineup, so brace yourself. The New York Knickerbockers’ season began with a 122-97 evisceration of the Milwaukee Bucks, as Porzingis scored 16 points with 5 rebounds in just 24 minutes, and the Knicks had seven players were in double figures. The Knicks have already won as many games as they did during the month of December last year, so the latest rebuilding almost has to be considered a success.
Mavericks at Clippers (10:30pm ET Thursday, TNT)
Coming off a fourth consecutive first-round exit from the playoffs, the Dallas Mavericks have largely retooled Dirk Nowitzki’s supporting cast. After the Brooklyn Nets bought out the last two years of Deron Williams’ contract (for a gag-inducing $27 million), the Mavs signed him as a “consolation prize” (Deron’s words, not ours) after they missed out on DeAndre Jordan. The Mavs also signed shooting Wesley Matthews, who is coming off a torn achilles tendon, to a four-year contract. The new-look Mavs had eight guys in double figures in a 111-95 defeat of the Phoenix Suns, and currently sit at 1-0.
The Los Angeles Clippers opened their season with a 111-104 victory over the Sacramento Kings, with Blake Griffin leading the way with 33 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists, as the Clips begin their quest to get rid of the stink left by a bitterly disappointing postseason. There may be no team in the league with more to prove than the Los Angeles Clippers: up 3 games to 1 against the Houston Rockets in the conference semis, they couldn’t close the deal, at one point blowing a 19-point lead late in the third quarter of Game 6. The head coach Doc Rivers angered the Warriors by saying they needed “luck” to win the West, and the Warriors called Doc “bitter,” and then Doc called the Warriors “sensitive”… Yawn.
The Clippers bring back Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, as well as the rest of the core that won 58 games last season, and they’ve added gun-for-hire Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson and small forward Wesley Johnson. Given that the Clips were within 15 minutes of the conference finals, and they’ve made their team a little better, you have to assume they’re poised to contend for a title. We’ll see, but the clock is ticking on Paul and Griffin to get over the hump. Given the grace with which those two handled the Donald Sterling mess, they should be able to handle playoff basketball.