After a historically short offseason, the NBA is set to kick off the 2020-21 season on Dec. 22 with a two-game slate. The first game of the season will be between the Brooklyn Nets and the Golden State Warriors, and the second will feature Los Angeles’ two teams — the Lakers and Clippers. Given those games, there will be no shortage of storylines on opening night. Here’s a look at five of the most intriguing.
1. Kevin Durant makes Nets debut against his former franchise
After missing the entirety of the 2019-20 NBA season due to the Achilles injury that he suffered in the 2019 Finals, Kevin Durant will finally make his debut as a member of the Brooklyn Nets on opening night. Durant was a reigning two-time Finals MVP at the peak of his powers at the time that the injury occurred, so it will be extremely interesting to see what he looks like back out on the court for the first time in well over a year. The fact that Durant’s first game as a Net comes against his former franchise adds a layer of intrigue to the matchup.
Durant walked away from the Warriors after just three seasons, and afterwards he said that he never felt fully accepted in Golden State.
“I came in there wanting to be part of a group, wanting to be part of a family, and definitely felt accepted,” Durant said. “But I’ll never be one of those guys. I didn’t get drafted there… Steph Curry, obviously drafted there. Andre Iguodala, won the first Finals, first championship. Klay Thompson, drafted there. Draymond Green, drafted there. And the rest of the guys kind of rehabilitated their careers there… As time went on, I started to realize I’m just different from the rest of the guys. It’s not a bad thing. Just my circumstances and how I came up in the league. And on top of that, the media always looked at it like K.D. and the Warriors. So it’s like nobody could get a full acceptance of me there.”
Given this background, it’s only fitting that the first game in the next chapter of his career comes against the Warriors.
2. First look at Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving as a duo
In addition to the game between Golden State and Brooklyn being Durant’s debut with the Nets, it will also be the debut of Durant and Kyrie Irving as a duo. Both players signed with Brooklyn in free agency in 2019 but dealt with injury issues throughout last season. Durant missed the entire campaign, while Irving was limited to just 20 games.
On paper, the combination of Durant and Irving projects to be one of the most dynamic duos in the entire league, however chemistry could be a concern, given Irving’s history. Plus, like we have seen time and again, throwing star players together doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. If it did, the Rockets would have won a title over the past couple of years, and the Clippers wouldn’t have lost in the Western Conference semifinals last season. Only so much can be learned from one game, but it will be great to finally get to see Durant and Irving out on the floor together.
3. James Wiseman will make his NBA debut for the Warriors
James Wiseman was one of the most highly-hyped prospects heading into the 2020 NBA Draft, and he will get to make his pro debut against the Nets on opening night. The Warriors selected Wiseman with the second overall pick in November’s draft, and he projects to play a role on a Warriors team that will be looking to climb back into contention in the Western Conference after a down season due to a multitude of injury issues. It’s not every day that a rookie will have an opportunity to come in and immediately contribute to a contender, but that could very well be the case with Wiseman. Wiseman could play limited minutes early on as he gets acclimated to the NBA, but it will be interesting to get a first look at him in the league nonetheless.
4. The battle of L.A.
It’s safe to say that the NBA views contests between L.A.’s two teams as marquee matchups. The Lakers and Clippers played against each other on opening night last season, and then again on Christmas Day, and now here they are opening up the season playing against each other again. Many expected the two teams to meet in the Western Conference finals last season, but that didn’t happen as the Clippers fell to the Denver Nuggets in the conference semifinals. Both teams tweaked their rosters over the offseason, and heading into the 2020-21 season, both are again expected to be at the top of the conference. This game will be a nice early barometer to see how L.A.’s two teams stack up against each other at the beginning of the season.
5. Same city, different jersey for Montrezl Harrell
After spending the last three years of his career with the Clippers, and blossoming into the reigning Sixth Man of the Year with the team, forward Montrezl Harrell defected to the Lakers in free agency. While Harrell doesn’t hold any ill will toward the Clippers, it’s clear to him that the Clippers didn’t want him back, and that’s not something he’ll likely forget.
“When I was playing for the Clippers, I gave it everything I had every night when I laced up my sneakers,” Harrell said. And now that I’m here with the Los Angeles Lakers, that’s the same thing I’m gonna do here,” he said. “This is my job, and I’m blessed to be on a team that was strong enough and deep enough and have the talent enough to win the championship last year… But like I said, as far as [if] they wanted me back, obviously it doesn’t seem that way, does it?”
Harrell obviously won’t have to wait long to face his former franchise. It will be interesting to see if he comes out looking to send a message.