NBA Preview 2016-17

The 2016-17 NBA Season has officially kicked into high gear this past week, starting with a slew of big matchups early on. While the Finals are more than six months away, it’s never too early to throw some predictions around as to who’ll be contending for the title come April. Some high profile moves in the offseason promise a year of surprises, plus more bloated super teams trying to rediscover their identities.

Will the Cavs and the Warriors return for an unprecedented third straight Finals faceoff? Will the Spurs sputter without Tim Duncan grabbing boards? Will the Clippers overcome past injury woes? Will the Thunder find their way with Russell Westbrook at the helm and Kevin Durant lacing up in Oakland? Many questions loom as the season moves into full swing, but no matter what 2016 promises a level of excitement that’s become characteristic of the league in recent years.

The season began on Tuesday, October 25 with the reigning champion Cleveland Cavaliers facing the New York Knicks at Quicken Loans Arena. Following a touching ring ceremony, in which Cleveland got to hoist its championship banner before a packed home crowd, LeBron and company routed the Knicks, who snagged Derrick Rose via trade and Joakim Noah via free agency in the offseason.

Those additions, however, did little to curb the powerhouse Cavs, as James earned his 43rd career triple-double, Kyrie Irving scored 29, and Kevin Love nabbed 23 points on the way to a 117-88 win. Despite the false start, the Knicks are hoping for big things this year after missing the playoffs three years in a row. The Cavaliers, on the other hand, looked in as good a form as ever. Look for James to post another MVP season and the Cavs to earn a number one seed in the East when the postseason rolls around.

Wednesday’s other heavyweight fight found the Golden State Warriors playing the San Antonio Spurs in what was expected to be quite the party in Oakland. Unfortunately, someone forgot to spike the punch as the Spurs rolled the Warriors on their way to a massive 129-100 blowout.

With the exception of offseason acquisition Kevin Durant, who posted 27 points and 10 rebounds, the Warriors looked more than out of step. Star guard Steph Curry went 9-18 from the field, missing seven of his ten 3-point attempts and turning the ball over four times.

While he claims it’s only one game and not a big deal… that didn’t stop Durant from doing some extra shooting/self-motivation while prepping for their next game:

Defensively, Draymond Green carried the weight with five steals. He also grabbed a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds, seven of which came in the backcourt. Other than that, the Warriors failed to stop the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard, who scored 35 points, and LaMarcus Aldridge, scoring 26 and dominating the boards with 14 rebounds. Not to mention Jonathan Simmons who came off the bench with a surprising 20 points.

At this rate, the Spurs look to make their 20th consecutive playoff appearance. In this day and age of super teams being defined by how many superstars they have, we forget the power of depth on a roster. And with Simmons coming off the bench as he did against the Warriors, and Leonard posting consistent numbers throughout the season, it seems we might have to start calling San Antonio the Super Spurs.

As for the Warriors, they clearly have some kinks to work out if they wish to approach their record-breaking 74-9 season in 2015. After starting with 24 straight wins last year and not once giving up 129 points, it’s hard to imagine Golden State conjuring similar magic this season. Andrew Bogut-replacement Zaza Pachulia looked paltry, getting bullied in the paint throughout the game. While in 2015 the Warriors found their strength on the fast break, they got dominated in that regard this game, getting outscored 24-20 and out-rebounded 55-35. Durant called the outcome “a slap in the face,” and no doubt they got slapped around. While he and Curry will find their way, the supporting cast, which looks much different than last year, will need to evolve. Simply put, this season opener raised too many questions to predict another title run for Golden State.

As for teams not named the Cavaliers or the Warriors, there’s room at the front of the pack for some teams to stake their claim on a playoff run. Wednesday evening, the Indiana Pacers came out and performed in fine fashion, beating the Dallas Mavericks in overtime. Second year Myles Turner looked downright nasty, dropping 30 points, 16 rebounds, and 4 blocks in 37 minutes of play. He also sank a 3-pointer in overtime to spark a decisive 8-0 run. Though he outshined fellow forward Paul George, George’s performance was nothing to sneeze at, as he scored 25 points—going 4 for 5 from 3 point land—grabbed 8 rebounds, and dished out six assists. Guard Jeff Teague also posted 20 points and 8 assists. In fact, every player in the Pacers’ starting five reached double digits Wednesday night. If they can keep this up, Indiana might find themselves staring down LeBron and company in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals this spring. Whatever the case, they’re sure to be a team to watch this season.

Some honorable mentions include the Toronto Raptors, who tore into the Detroit Pistons with a 109-91 win at home, and the Portland Trail Blazers, who ousted the stacked Utah Jazz, 113-104. Look for Toronto and Portland to cause teams some real fits in 2016 as they both vie for top seeds in the postseason. And in the West, we shouldn’t forget the Los Angeles Clippers. If they can overcome the bad luck that haunted them late last season, we might just see Chris Paul and Blake Griffin lighting things up when April rolls around.

In any case, buying an NBA League Pass may prove a fruitful purchase in 2016 as the league finds itself in a true golden age of basketball. There are just so many teams to watch this season, so many young stars; it’s hard to imagine the excitement waning any time soon. So keep your eyes peeled for more high-scoring games and intense competition this year. It’s safe to say 2017 will be a wild one.