Spurs at Thunder (8pm ET, ESPN)
After getting bounced in the first round of last year’s playoffs by a younger, more athletic Clippers team, the San Antonio Spurs went out and had the best offseason of any team in the NBA. Not only did they re-up reigning Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard to a team-friendly 5-year deal, they also brought in David West, and lured LaMarcus Aldridge away from Portland and the invaluable mentorship of Toni and Candace.
West and Aldridge will come in handy as coach Gregg Popovich looks to continue limiting Tim Duncan’s minutes, and Leonard, at just 24, has yet to hit his ceiling. The Spurs look like they’re poised to make a push for a sixth (!) Duncan-era title, and they were smart to reload when they did, because Father Time, who at press time was undefeated, is gonna catch up Duncan (39), Tony Parker (33) and Manu Ginobili (38) some day.
It’s too bad the NBA no longer hands out a Comeback Player of the Year Award, because Oklahoma City Thunderer Kevin Durant would be a lock to win this season. Foot and ankle trouble dogged Durant all last season, limiting him to just 27 games, though he still managed to average 25 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. And if that’s not motivation enough for Durant, he also becomes a free agent after this season, just as the league’s salary cap is about to jump thanks to a new TV contract.
If Durant’s preseason production is any indication, he’s good to go: Both Durant and teammate Russell Westbrook should thrive in the new offense being installed by head coach Billy Donovan, who preaches ball movement to create open looks. OKC ownership had better pray it all works, because if Durant decides the ship be sinking, it’s a good bet Westbrook will bail following the 2016-17 season, when he, too, hits free agency.
Timberwolves at Lakers (10:30pm ET, ESPN)
The Minnesota Timberwolves come into this game no doubt still reeling from the unexpected death of team president and head coach Flip Saunders, who had been diagnosed earlier this year with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Doctors had said it was highly treatable, but in September he took a turn for the worse, and on Sunday, just two days after it had been announced that he would not coach this season, he passed away.
Interim coach Sam Mitchell is at the helm for the ‘Wolves, taking over a team that endured a brutal 2014-15 campaign, as they won only 16 more NBA games than your rec league team. But for their sins they were awarded the top pick in the draft, selecting Karl-Anthony Towns out of Kentucky. Towns joins last year’s #1 overall pick and reigning Rookie of the Year, Andrew Wiggins, as well as future Hall-of-Famer Kevin Garnett.
Minnesota will be facing the team that rejected their hometown decades ago, the Los Angeles Lakers, who are in danger of missing the playoffs for the third season in a row, something they have never before done. The Lakers feature a trio of talented young players with loads of upside, in D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. Unfortunately, they also feature Kobe Bryant, one of the 10 greatest players in NBA history, coming off three consecutive season-ending injuries, and sporting a $25 million price tag.
This game is gonna feature a lot of young and talented dudes trying to make their bones while a pair of aging superstars try not to scream at them in disgust.