LOS ANGELES • Giannis Antetokounmpo, bloodied from a cruel elbow blow, finished with 25 points and Karl-Anthony Towns welcomed a respite from a Covid-19 family tragedy as 14 National Basketball Association (NBA) teams embarked on their first preseason games on Saturday.
Clubs are fine-tuning their rosters as veterans work on their roles and rookies seek to show they can contribute with the new NBA season starting on Tuesday next week.
Just under two months have passed since the Los Angeles Lakers won their 17th NBA title, making it the shortest off-season in league history for most teams.
But for the eight teams who did not make it to the "bubble" in Orlando, Florida, it has been the longest lay-off since the 1998 labour lockout.
The Minnesota Timberwolves were one of them and Towns, their All-Star centre, was in tears during the pre-games ceremonies after taking to the floor for the first time since losing seven relatives, including his mother, to Covid-19.
The NBA halted its season in March due to the pandemic and Towns' mother died a month later. As the players and coaches were introduced in the empty arena, he sat on the bench with his face buried in a towel and his teammates came over to comfort him as he wiped away tears.
Towns delivered 13 points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes and guard D'Angelo Russell also looked impressive with a team-high 14 points in a 107-105 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Anthony Edwards, the first overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, came off the bench to score five points in 26 minutes for Minnesota.
In the Bucks' pre-season opener, Antetokounmpo was bloodied by an accidental elbow to the face early in the game but it did not stop him from scoring a game-high 25 points in Milwaukee's 112-102 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
The two-time Most Valuable Player (MVP), who the Bucks hope to sign to a contract extension before next Monday's deadline, got stitched up before returning to the court.
"I got back to the locker room and the doctor checked my eye," said the "Greek Freak". "I didn't want to play just two minutes and sit the rest out."
Elsewhere, two-time MVP Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors also hit the floor for the first time since the March stoppage.
The league's premier shooter, who played just five games last term due to a broken hand, scored 10 points and had three assists as his team beat the Denver Nuggets 107-105.