NBA opening lines provide early indicators

NEW YORK • All the National Basketball Association teams have played their openers. An 82-game season is a long one, but sometimes you can pick up trends from just one game.

Here are the things we may have already learnt about this season.

WESTBROOK HAS TO DO IT ALL

The Oklahoma City Thunder took the Golden State Warriors to seven games in the play-offs last season. But Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka are gone.

That leaves only Russell Westbrook to star for them, and he obliged on Wednesday, leading the team to a win over the Philadelphia 76ers, who nearly set an NBA futility record last season. Given their loss by only six points to the Thunder, surely the Sixers will win more than 10 games this year.

DAVIS NEEDS SUPPORT

Want another one-man team? Take a look at the New Orleans Pelicans. Anthony Davis tallied 50 points, 16 rebounds and seven steals against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, yet the Pelicans lost at home.

He could rely more on his team-mates. But, with a supporting cast of Tim Frazier, E'Twaun Moore, Solomon Hill and Omer Asik, depending on Davis still seems like the Pelicans' best bet.

THE HEAT HAVE NOT GONE COLD

No team was expected to have a bigger fall than the Miami Heat, who lost Dwyane Wade to free agency and Chris Bosh to health issues. But Justise Winslow and Hassan Whiteside dominated in the paint to win a tricky road game against the Orlando Magic. No one expects a championship, but predictions of a complete collapse may have been premature.

NEW-LOOK LAKERS

Kobe Bryant's retirement tour sucked up all the energy (and an awful lot of the shots) last season, and the Los Angeles Lakers staggered to 17 wins.

The post-Bryant era began against the Houston Rockets, with 25 points off the bench for Jordan Clarkson and 9-for-11 shooting by Julius Randle. Throw in 20 from D'Angelo Russell and you have got a team worth watching for something other than an ageing star's last hurrah.

WOLVES MAY FALL SHORT OF EXPECTATIONS

Just about every fortune-teller was expecting a big leap forward from the Minnesota Timberwolves, who have not made the play-offs since 2004.

Their opener, on the road against the Memphis Grizzlies, a consistent play-off team, seemed like a good test. And when the Wolves went up 16-1, visions of a huge season appeared a possibility. But then they gave almost the entire lead back before the first quarter ended and eventually lost the game.

Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are a great one-two punch, but they were pretty good last season, too, and the Wolves won just 29 games.

SPURS WILL GIVE WARRIORS A FIGHT

The Warriors won their first 24 games last season and lost only twice at home. Yet in their home opener, they were blown away by the San Antonio Spurs 129-100. Kevin Durant seemed to fit in all right, but Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Zaza Pachulia were poor.

The surprising result also reflects on the Spurs' chances this season. The retirement of Tim Duncan and the ageing of Manu Ginobili, 39, and Tony Parker, 34, had many thinking San Antonio were in for a down season. No chance. Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Jonathon Simmons stepped up.

The Spurs did not seize Western favouritism from the Warriors in one game, but they closed the gap.

CAVS BEGIN WHERE THEY LEFT OFF

Will the Cleveland Cavaliers suffer a hangover after their stirring comeback in last season's NBA Finals? It sure does not look like it, following their defeat of the New York Knicks.

Fans were expecting a big improvement in the Knicks this season. And there were some signs of hope. But the team shot poorly and did not do much on defence. You cannot really fault a team for losing to the champions on the road, but those expecting the Knicks to vault into contention may have overreached.

NY TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2016, with the headline 'NBA opening lines provide early indicators'. Print Edition | Subscribe