At last the 2011-12 NBA season is here and it is set to be a massive opening day on ESPN Australia with four back-to-back games on ESPN, ESPNHD, ESPN2 & ESPN2HD. Lets have a look at what to expect and who I think will start the season on the right foot with an opening day win.
Dallas Mavericks vs Miami Heat 6:30am-9am (AET) on ESPN & ESPN HD The first game to kick off on Boxing Day here in Australia on ESPN is the finals replay from last year between Dallas and the Miami. The Championship banner will be hoisted for the Mavs at their home the American Airlines Centre, which will definitely add to the hurt of last year’s loss for the Heat. This will be one of the most anticipated matchups over the Xmas weekend as it will provide an opportunity to see how hard Lebron James and Dwayne Wade have worked in the off season to gain some retribution for the loss to Dirk and the Mav’s in last year’s epic finals series. Last year they split their regular season matchup 1-1 with a win to each home team. All eyes will be on the new Dallas signings of Lamar Odom and Vince Carter to see how they cover the loss of Caron Butler and Tyson Chandler. Odom will be keen to impress after the fallout of his trade from the Lakers. In terms of personal the Heat haven’t had much movement they lose Mike Bibby to the Knicks and signed 9 year veteran Eddy Curry (Knicks) as a backup big man. Key matchups will include again how well the Mavs match up on Lebron with Marion and at times Carter seeing some time trying to stop him. I see Lebron trying to dominate this game and make a statement for the year ahead. The Heat will again switch Bosh and Haslem through the match up on Dirk, but with Carter and Odom on the floor look for Dirk to get some free shots. Jason Terry at home will look to get into a rhythm early and set the tone for the game. It will be interesting to see how the Mavs go without point guard J.J. Barea as he has moved onto Minnesota. He made a name for himself as being an energetic player who helped the Mavs offense at times during last year’s playoffs and as backup point guard to Jason Kidd. Free agent Delonte West (Celtics) has been bought in for some insurance at the point. Miami split their preseason games with Orlando 1-1 with James pouring in 27 points and Wade 21 in the second game loss. Dallas went down 0-2 in its games against the Thunder with lightly played Rodrigue Beaubois the 2nd year guard scoring 17 points in the 1st game while Dirk and Jason Kidd sat out. Will this matchup be redemption for Heat? I don’t think so, with a win to the Mavs at home in a close one similar to some of the finishes we watched last year. My tip: Dallas by 1
Los Angeles Lakers vs Chicago Bulls 9am-12pm (AET) on ESPN & ESPN HD Gone is Phil Jackson and his triangle offence, and most of the talk has been about Brown and if he can bring a new winning style while keeping Kobe happy at the Lakers. Most of the attention has been around the new Lakers Coach Mike Brown’s offence and what difference it will make for LA. The Lakers lose Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown and gain Josh McRoberts (Pacers) and Troy Murphy (Celtics) to fill the Odom void but it is the point position that is intriguing. The Lakers lack at the point guard position and with Derek Fisher not in great condition the botched Paul trade could come back to bite them even more as the season progresses. The Bulls don’t lose much but add RIP Hamilton who if he stays healthy could be a genius stroke as they needed some extra scoring power at the two guard and could greatly assist Rose deep in the fourth quarter of some key games. The key matchup will be if the Lakers can match Rose at the point, if he is allowed to drive and dish at his own will he may dominate. The Lakers will be looking for a huge night from Paul Gasol due to the suspension of Andrew Bynam from his last game attack on J.J. Barea in the Dallas playoff series. Between the suspension and Lamar Odom's departure, the Lakers are seriously short-handed in the frontcourt. If you see a player by the name of Metta World Peace, it’s the former Ron Artest. Not sure what the name change is about but look for him to continue shooting bricks from beyond the arc. Bulls look to slick at the point and Derrick Rose to start his quest for back to back MVP's. With an injury cloud over Kobe the Lakers may have a tough start to the season. My tip: Bulls by 6
Orlando Magic vs Oklahoma City Thunder 12pm-2:30pm (AET) on ESPN2 & ESPN HD Will the Orlando draft rumours upset the chemistry for the magic? They have lingered over the past month as the Nets and Lakers names continually get thrown up for a trade involving Howard. But as they say in a contract year as Howard is, the player in question usually has a standout year. Look for Howard to dominate early in the season and this season opener will be no different. Look for the Magic to go down low to Howard and try to exploit the Thunders size in the middle. With Kendrick Perkins apparently fit and healthy, the Thunder starting five looks solid. They had minimal movements in the off season and will be looking to build on their Western Conference final in the 2010/11 season. If their young list stays motivated and enthusiastic the Thunder are likely to be the best team out of the West. Over at the Magic they have added Glenn “Baby” Davis in a trade that sent Brandon Davis to the Celtics and have waived Gilbert Arenas who ended up being more of a liability last season that an asset. In this season opener look for Russell Westbrook to go head to head with Jameer Nelson and for the league’s best scorer Kevin Durant to provide the offensive spark for the Thunder. The Thunder will throw both Perkins and Nick Collinson to try and stop Howard and this is where the game may be won. Last year they split the regular season match-up 1-1. Looks like its Howard to show why he is the premier center in the league and get the Magic up at home. My tip: Magic by 4
Golden State Warriors vs Los Angeles Clippers 2:30pm-5pm (AET) on ESPN2 All eyes are on the Clippers as they head into the season with a new look roster. The 2 pre-season games had 2 wins for the Clippers against the Lakers and the crowds watched snippets of what is expected to be an exciting year with some alley oops between Chris Paul and the athletic Blake Griffin and De Andre Jordan. Much has been talked about the big trade that landed Chris Paul to the Clippers and the trading of Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Gordon and Chris Kaman to the Hornets. The Clippers also added Chauncey Billups (Knicks) and Caron Butler (Mavericks) to their list adding experience with a much needed floor general in Paul to help with the development of Jordan and Griffin. The Warriors have new coach Mark Jackson at the helm so it will be exciting to see the game style he runs. He has already been quoted on making the Warriors a more defensive minded team. The warriors added Kwame Brown (Charlotte) and Brandon Rush (Indiana) during the free agency period. Last year they split the regular season matchup 2-2 both teams losing on the road in this western Conference match up. The Warriors boast the two best dual shooting guards going around in Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry although Curry is under an injury cloud with an ankle injury. Will be interesting to see how the Clippers play Chauncey Billups and Mo Williams at the two guard and if they can play defence on the quick Monta Ellis. Another Key Matchup will be David Lee, not renowned for his defence on Blake Griffin. Griffin looked in fine form dropping 30 points in the final preseason game against the Lakers. This game will be closer than people think with the Warriors scoring power taking it to the new look Clippers. My tip: Clippers by 2
Which matchup are you most looking forward to and why?