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Basketball Insiders Week in Review 5/4

Basketball Insiders looks at some of the articles from the past week in case you missed them the first time around.

Kyle Cape-Lindelin

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The West Gets Wilder

By Bill Ingram

The Eastern Conference playoffs are going about as expected. The Miami HEAT are manhandling the Charlotte Bobcats, the Indiana Pacers’ struggles have continued and the middle brackets have been very competitive. In the Western Conference, however, things have been hot, heavy and strongly contested across the board. Overtime is almost expected when two West teams take the court, and most games have been decided either by an extra period or by key plays down the stretch. Saturday’s games were no different, as late-game heroics were the order of the day.

The biggest shot of the day came from none other than Vince Carter, who is little more than a footnote in Dallas these days. He brings it every night, but the stars of the team are Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, meaning Carter does most of his work without much fanfare. But that certainly wasn’t the case on Saturday, as he drained a three-pointer as time expired to give the Mavericks a 109-108 win and a 2-1 series lead over the visiting San Antonio Spurs.

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How Far Can Wizards Advance?

By Alex Kennedy

Entering the first round of the NBA playoffs, the Washington Wizards were one of the biggest underdogs in the field. After winning just 44 games in the regular season and struggling with inconsistency throughout the year, the Wizards weren’t expected to defeat the Chicago Bulls in a seven-game series.

Now, four games into the first-round matchup, the Wizards lead the Bulls, 3-1. Washington has looked incredible early in the postseason, receiving huge contributions from a number of players.

The Wizards rely heavily on youngsters John Wall and Bradley Beal, but their backcourt duo is surrounded by experienced veterans such as Nene, Marcin Gortat, Trevor Ariza, Andre Miller, Al Harrington, Drew Gooden and Martell Webster among others. This balanced attack makes Washington very difficult to stop and has helped them overcome adversity throughout this series.

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Studs and Duds From Week 2 of the Playoffs

By Moke Hamilton

As the hunt for the Larry O’Brien Trophy continues, the Indiana Pacers vs. San Antonio Spurs Finals that looked to be probable back in December is officially in trouble. Each of those respective teams enter Week 3 of their drive toward the 2014 NBA Finals trailing in their respective playoff series, while the story in both Houston and Brooklyn is one of missed opportunity and frustrating futility. The Oklahoma City Thunder have their hands full with the Memphis Grizzlies, while the Chicago Bulls must attempt to climb out of a hole that has proven to be too deep for the majority of teams in NBA History.

But alas, there can only be 10 of whom are called out for their performances (or lack thereof) through these playoffs.

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Is The End For Donald Sterling Near?

By Steve Kyler

There are times in sports, especially as a sports writer and reporter where the stories we have to chase are not worth the effort. At Basketball Insiders we have made a pledge to stick to the news that affects the game. We do not chase DUI’s or altercations with girlfriends, we gladly concede the garbage to others. Not that covering those things are not important to some, but they simply are not what we care about. We care about basketball. We care about the things that materially affect basketball and how the game will be played. Over our years covering basketball we have taken some heat for not pouncing on a fringe story, but that’s simply not who we are as a group. We will gladly hand that off to those that are far better at digging in the garbage than we are.

So when news broke of a tape involving Clippers owner Donald Sterling spewing racially incentive comments that are downright demeaning and degrading, our initial response was that there wasn’t anything new here, mainly because of Sterling’s long track record of this sort of behavior. This wasn’t news so much as proof of what we’ve known for years. Water is wet, news at eleven.

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Western Conference All-Underrated Team

By Jesse Blancarte

Players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and the stars of the NBA are covered in depth and their accomplishments are micro-analyzed. This unfortunately leaves many other players under appreciated and unrecognized. Here are a few players in the Western Conference that have had a great season, but haven’t received the recognition they deserve. These players have been chosen for their overall impact, the amount of credit they receive relative to their team’s overall success and their value against the size of their contracts.

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Owners, Players Applaud Silver

By Yannis Koutroupis

The collective NBA world held their breath today while awaiting Commissioner Adam Silver’s press conference and his announcement over what the punishment would be for Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s damning tapes in which his racist views were exposed more vividly than ever. There was concern that Silver didn’t have the power to levy the kind of punishment everyone was calling for, that he would simply slap him on the wrist with an indefinite suspension and a fine that would barely make him blink. But, within seconds of his press conference beginning, Silver made it clear that nobody was more furious than he was over the matter.

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An Open Letter To Donald Sterling

By Jabari Davis

Dear Donald Tokowitz (legally changed to Sterling):

Today’s judgment from NBA commissioner Adam Silver must have come as quite a surprise to you, just as it did to many of us. A $2.5 million fine may go relatively unnoticed by a billionaire such as yourself, but Silver’s decision to also impose a lifetime ban from the NBA would almost certainly grab the attention of even the most self-absorbed and detached individual imaginable.

While we can only praise and commend newly-appointed Commissioner Silver for possessing the courage to do what some of his predecessors and contemporaries failed to do in the past, it is not without consideration of how you might actually feel about the situation. Aside from any understandable bewilderment you may have surrounding how and why your “girlfriend” would allegedly turn the audio tapes over to a media outlet, it must have been equally as confusing to have the league finally react to one of the reprehensible acts you’ve managed to make a thing of commonplace throughout the years.

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Pivotal Crossroad For Chicago Bulls

By Lang Greene

The Chicago Bulls entered this year’s playoffs as heavy favorites in their first round matchup versus the emerging Washington Wizards, but were unexpectedly dismantled in just five games.   All things considered, despite the playoff flameout, the Bulls had a very solid season. Chicago managed  to flirt with 50 wins even though former MVP Derrick Rose spent the majority of the campaign in designer suits and former All-Star forward Luol Deng was traded to Cleveland earlier in the season. Center Joakim Noah took home Defensive Player of the Year honors and others stepped up around him.

On the surface it would appear the team’s future is filled with promise. However, the summer of 2014 will be a pivotal time for the organization if it wants to be mentioned among the league’s elite and contend for a title in the years to come.

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Examining the NBA’s Formerly Secret Constitution

By Nate Duncan

The Donald Sterling fiasco has shined an unexpectedly severe spotlight on a document most had never heard of until a few days ago.  The NBA Constitution and By-Laws were secret league documents that suddenly captured the nation’s fascination since they governed the potential punishment of Sterling.  These documents were kept so close to the vest that not even the players’ association appeared to know their full contents, as one of Kevin Johnson’s talking points on Sunday afternoon was a need to understand the full extent of the punishment the league could levy.

But as part of dealing with the Sterling situation and perhaps as part of a new era of transparency under Adam Silver, the league unexpectedly decided to release the entire Constitution and By-Laws on Tuesday.  This was Christmas in April for CBA nerds for all the information it provided completely unrelated to the Sterling situation.  Over the past 24 hours I conducted a quick review of the Constitution, and found a number of interesting provisions.

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What’s Wrong With Kevin Durant?

By Susan Bible

An unexpected event is perilously close to making its way into the NBA history books in the very near future. If indeed Kevin Durant is named the league’s Most Valuable Player for the 2013-14 NBA season as projected, his Oklahoma City Thunder may have already been eliminated from the playoffs.

This has occurred only one other time since the league adopted its current playoff format 30 years ago. Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks was named the league’s 2006-07 MVP on May 15, 2007; Dallas was eliminated in the first round by the Golden State Warriors (4-2) on May 3rd.

The Thunder are in a wild first-round battle with the Memphis Grizzlies, with four of the five contests going into overtime. The Grizzlies have come away with three wins and may end the Thunder’s season in the next meeting.

To say this is surprising is an understatement of considerable proportions. The Thunder were projected to at least make it to the Western Conference Finals, and maybe even best the Miami HEAT to capture the NBA title this season. All the pieces were in place with a healthy roster, tons of playoff experience, veteran leadership and a superstar in Durant at the helm.

So what’s happening?

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Proved You Wrong: Wizards Postseason Success Not a Fluke

By Jessica Camerato

A 23-year-old leader who had never been to the playoffs, a second-year standout who wasn’t old enough to drive the last time the team made it out of the first round, a 12th-year big man who suffered a sprained MCL this season and a point guard two years shy of 40.

Their stars were too young and inexperienced, their veterans were too old. At least that’s how they looked on paper.

The Washington Wizards erased all judgments of age and experience with their attention-grabbing 4-1 first round upset over the Chicago Bulls. Aside from the Miami HEAT’s sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats, they were only the team in the NBA to wrap up their series in five games.

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Eastern Conference All-Underrated Team

By John Zitzler

The Eastern Conference may have been down this year, but there was still a nice crop of players outside of the usual suspects that had impressive seasons. These All-Underrated players were chosen based off their team’s overall success, their total contribution to that success and their personal performance throughout the regular season. While some of the players listed may be known commodities around the league, they still may not be receiving all the credit they deserve when measured against the impact they had for their teams.

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Kevin Durant Delivers in Game 6

By Tommy Beer

This is how the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “reliable:” able to be trusted to do or provide what is needed; able to be relied on. Giving the same result on successive trials…

Kevin Durant has started 447 games (out a possible 453) for the Oklahoma City Thunder over the past five years, and has averaged over 29 points per game in those contests – the highest scoring average in the entire league over this stretch. Earlier this season, From January 5-April 6, Durant went on a historical scoring binge. He surpassed Michael Jordan’s modern day record by scoring 25 or more points in 41 consecutive games. The multi-dimensional Durant also stuffed the stat sheet only a daily basis. In fact, Durant joined Jordan, Wilt Chamberlin and Elgin Baylor as just the fourth player in NBA history to average at least 32 points, 7 rebounds, and five assists per game over the course of a full season. Durant also remained incredibly efficient. He joined Jordan as the only player since 1985 to average 32 points per game while also shooting above 50 percent from the floor.

And his remarkably consistent success certainly isn’t limited to the regular season. Over the Thunder’s last 50 playoff games, Durant is averaging 29.2 points, 8.2 assists, and four rebounds. He’s scored in double-figures in every postseason game he’s ever played in.

In many ways, Durant is the NBA epitome of “reliable,” which is why it was laughable to see the headline “Mr. Unreliable” plastered above a picture of Durant on the cover of The Oklahoman Thursday morning.

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The Biggest Playoff Upsets in NBA History

By Joel Brigham

If the Atlanta Hawks and/or Dallas Mavericks win their series this weekend, they’ll be among a small handful of eight-seeds to topple one-seeds in the history of the NBA playoffs.

If Atlanta complete the series win over the once-mighty Pacers, for example, it will have to be considered one of the best playoff upsets ever considering Atlanta entered the postseason with only 38 regular seasons wins—the only team to make the final 16 not to have at least a .500 record.

San Antonio, meanwhile, is only a few years removed from losing a playoff series as a one-seed, and since it’s only happened four times before this season, they’d be the only team to ever get upset by an eight-seed twice.

Whatever happens, both eight-seeds have put up strong fights, and if they do beat the Pacers and Spurs, they’ll join this list of the great upsets in league history:

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Kyle Cape-Lindelin is based out of Portland, OR covering the NBA while being one of the newsline editors and contributor to "Out of Bounds."

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A Few Good Free Agents Left

David Yapkowitz looks at several free agents still remaining on the market ahead of the season.

David Yapkowitz

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The start of the 2017-2018 NBA season is finally here, and teams are required to have their 15-man roster (plus two possible two-way contacts) finalized. Every year there are players that are left off a roster. Some are younger guys who maybe haven’t proven they belong in the league just yet. Some are older veterans looking for that one final hurrah.

A few of these players might take open gigs in the G-League or overseas in hopes of attracting the attention of NBA front offices as the year goes on. Others remain at home, working out and waiting for that call that might never come. And sometimes, the waiting and anticipating pays off as playoff teams come looking for veteran help and tanking teams are on the hunt for unrealized potential.

For most of the veteran guys, their opportunities will likely come later in the season when teams gear up for the playoffs. Here’s a look at a few of the top veteran free agents left that could certainly help a team at some point during this season.

David Lee

Since being traded from the Golden State Warriors to the Boston Celtics three year ago, Lee has adapted to his new role as a veteran big man helping to anchor second units. He is no longer the automatic double-double machine and borderline All-Star he once was, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything left in the tank.

He didn’t really fit quite right in Boston, but in his stops with the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, he still showed he can be a solid contributor off the bench. In 25 games with Mavericks in the 2015-2016 season, Lee put up 8.5 points per game on 63.6 percent shooting while pulling down seven rebounds per. With the Spurs last year, he averaged 7.3 points on 59 percent shooting to go along with 5.6 rebounds. For a playoff team that needs a little big man depth, he is a solid option.

Deron Williams

Much was made about Williams’ disappearing act in the Finals last year, and rightfully so, but lost in all the chatter was the actual solid job he did with the Cleveland Cavaliers leading up to that point. Once in the conversation for best point guard in the league, injuries and poor play in Brooklyn sort of made Williams a forgotten man. The Nets bought out his contract and he joined his hometown Dallas Mavericks.

After a so-so first year in Dallas, Williams looked rejuvenated last year to the point that he actually drew some interest around the trade deadline. With the Mavericks looking to get younger and head closer to that rebuilding path, they cut Williams and allowed him to join a contending team. Over the final 24 games of last season, including four starts, he averaged 7.5 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting, 41.5 percent from the three-point line, and 3.6 assists. Of course, his Finals performance is all anyone cares to remember, but if a team needs a veteran backup point guard, they could do a lot worse.

Monta Ellis

Last season in Indiana, Ellis posted some of the lowest numbers of his career since his rookie season. Heading into a rebuilding year, the Pacers waived Ellis and his name barely came up in free agent rumors during the summer. At his best, Ellis was a borderline All-Star talent who could put up points in a hurry. Despite his reputation as a gunner, Ellis was a bit of an underrated playmaker and was never as bad defensively as most made him out to be.

He never really seemed to find his groove in Indiana. In his first year with the Pacers during the 2015-2016 season, he posted 13.8 points per game, down from 18.9 the previous year in Dallas, and his shooting dropped from 44.5 percent from the field to 42.7 percent. His playoff numbers with the Pacers were down even more than his regular season numbers, despite exploding in the postseason a few years before with Dallas. His starting days are almost assuredly behind him, but as a sixth man type scorer bringing energy off the bench, he’s probably better than a lot of the players currently in that role.

Leandro Barbosa

The Brazilian Blur’s best days are behind him, but similar to Ellis, he can still help a team in need of additional scoring punch off the bench. It was only two years ago that he was a key contributor off the Warriors bench. Firmly on the rebuilding track, the Suns waived Barbosa during the summer. Despite still being a capable player, his name also rarely came up in the free agent rumor mill.

He didn’t play all that much last season for a Phoenix Suns team that is clearly rebuilding, but he still was able to average 6.3 points per game in only 14.4 minutes per. His role on a rebuilding team would be a veteran mentor, but for a playoff team, he’s not a bad option. He showed that he can still play at the NBA level despite losing a step or two. Perhaps later on in the season when teams start looking for playoff help is when he may find his phone starting to ring.

Derrick Williams

The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations that come with being drafted that high. He’s only averaged double figures (12.0) in scoring once in his career and that was during the 2012-2013 season. When he came into the league, he didn’t really have much of a set position. He was a tweener, somewhere in between small forward and power forward. That was prior to the changes occurring in today’s NBA with more of a premium on stretch big men.

During Williams’ time in Cleveland last season, he played in 25 games and averaged 6.2 points per game. What stood out most, however, was his shooting. He shot 50.5 percent from the field, including 40.4 percent from the three-point line, both career-highs. Shooting from long range was always a bit of a weakness for him and prior to last season, he had never shot higher than 33.2 percent from downtown. He also didn’t register much chatter by way of free agent rumors, but if he can reproduce shooting percentages like that, he fits right in with the direction of the league.

With league rosters pretty much set, there likely won’t be much roster movement, if any at all, for the next few months. Teams are looking to see how their new summer acquisitions work out. But after a few months of real game action, other roster needs start to become more apparent. Don’t be surprised if come the new year, teams start knocking on a few of these player’s doorsteps.

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NBA PM: The Wizards Are “More Than Ready” For A Big Year

Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal says his team is “more than ready” for the start of the NBA season.

Buddy Grizzard

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With several teams in the Eastern Conference taking a step back, the Washington Wizards will be one of the beneficiaries due to roster continuity. Shooting guard Bradley Beal, one of several key Wizards signed to a long-term contract, said the team is “more than ready” for the season and has large expectations.

“This is going to be a big year for us,” said Beal after a Monday practice. “We’re healthy. There’s no excuse for us [not to] get off to a good start.”

Beal added that, while health is a key for the entire roster, it’s especially important for him after struggling with injuries in the past.

“It’s really a confidence booster, realizing my potential, what I can be, the type of player I can be when I had a healthy season,” said Beal of last year’s campaign. “That’s probably what I was more proud of than anything, playing 70-plus games and then playing in the playoffs every game.”

In Basketball Insiders’ season preview for the Wizards, we noted that Beal was Washington’s most efficient ball handler in the pick and roll last season. Beal said that creating for teammates is something he’s worked on in the offseason and will continue to be a point of emphasis.

“That was great for me and the strides I made throughout the year, working on my ball handling, working on creating for other guys and getting my own shot,” said Beal. “Those are the primary things I’m focused on … being able to create better, getting guys easier shots than before, getting more assists and improve everywhere.”

Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Friday’s preseason finale in New York that he’s been encouraged by the ball movement he has seen since the start of camp.

“I thought a lot of good things happened in training camp,” said Brooks. “The ball movement was outstanding. Guys were sacrificing for one another on the offensive end.”

One thing that should help the ball movement of the second unit is the arrival of backup point guard Tim Frazier, who missed most of the preseason due to a strained groin. Frazier had nine assists and no turnovers in his preseason debut against the Miami HEAT.

“I feel very comfortable with Tim,” said Brooks. “He finds corner threes, which we like.”

Beal added that one area he hopes to improve, both individually and as a team, is rebounding.

“I think I only had like three rebounds [per game] last year,” said Beal. “I obviously love scoring the ball. That’s something I never worry about. I want to continue to fill up the stat sheet a little bit more and contribute to the game in different areas. I think rebounding was something that hurt us a little bit last year.”

The Wizards host the Philadelphia 76ers to open the season Wednesday, and Brooks said it will take a team effort to defend emerging star Joel Embiid.

“He’s a problem,” said Brooks after Sunday’s practice. “His athleticism is off the charts. We’re going to have to do a good job of staying in front of him. You’re talking about a guy that can put the ball on the floor, that can get to spaces and spots that normally a 6-10 guy doesn’t.”

With a revamped bench, roster continuity and good health entering the season, the Wizards look like a team that could challenge the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors for supremacy in the East. Beal certainly seems to think so.

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NBA Opening Night Storylines

Hours before the 2017-18 season gets set to tip off, here are some storylines to follow for Tuesday’s games.

Dennis Chambers

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The long summer is over. We finally made it. NBA opening night is upon us.

Rejoice, hoop heads.

Because the NBA is a perfect concoction of chaos at all times, Tuesday’s opening night slate has some can’t-miss built in headlines that the entire league is going to be glued to.

With a new year set to begin, everyone is on the same page. Whether that page includes the likes of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry or Doug McDermott and Tim Hardaway Jr. is a different story. But still, Tuesday marks day one for all teams and as it stands they’re all equal.

As we get set to sit down and dissect these opening game matchups on Tuesday, let’s highlight the most intriguing storylines that will be followed for the rest of the season. There’s nothing like watching a story grown in the NBA from its inception, right?

Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers — 8 p.m. ET (TNT)

This is the game we’ve all been waiting for since late June, when Kyrie Irving let it be known to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert that he wanted out from under LeBron’s shadow.

Three years of NBA Finals appearances, the greatest comeback in basketball history, and a ring to show for was all Irving wanted to walk away from. For him, he felt it was his time to shine.

And because the NBA is the perfect mix of beautiful insanity, it would only make sense that Irving would get dealt to the very team that is jostling for position to unseat the Cavs and King James.

The Irving-led Boston Celtics will have to wait a grand total of one second in the new NBA season to begin their matchup with their point guards old teammates and the team that stands in between them a Finals appearance. With Gordon Hayward and Irving together for the first time against meaningful competition, there’s no better way than to check their fit from the jump than by challenging the conference champions in their building.

But Irving’s homecoming isn’t the only storyline heading into the first game of the season. There are some changes on Cleveland’s end as well.

While the main return for Irving — Isaiah Thomas — won’t be suiting up for the Cavs anytime soon due to injury, there are still plenty of new faces to keep an eye on Tuesday night. First and foremost, Flash is in town. After having his contract bought out by the Chicago Bulls, Dwyane Wade joined forces with his buddy in The Land in hopes of recapturing some of the magic that led them to two championships in South Beach.

By teaming up once again, James and Wade provide some of the best chemistry in the league. Yes, Wade isn’t the player he once was when he and James were winning rings. But something is to be said for knowing exactly where someone will be on the court at all times, and that’s the trait exactly that Wade and James share.

Along with Wade, James and the Cavs are hoping to get some type of resurgence from Derrick Rose and Jeff Green off of the bench. Once Thomas returns to the court for Cleveland, this is arguably the deepest team James has ever been around in Cleveland.

Even with Irving and Hayward on board, Boston will be relying on some role players of their own — namely Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The back-to-back third overall picks will occupy most of the time at the forward spots opposite of Hayward. As the season moves on, the development of both of these wings will be crucial to how dangerous the Celtics can be past their two star players.

Tuesday night will be must-see television at Quicken Loans Arena. New eras for the Eastern Conference heavyweights are about to begin.

And as James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, “The Kid” will be just fine.

Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors — 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)

On the Western side of the basketball landscape Tuesday night, the potential conference finals matchup will see its first act when the revamped Rockets head to the Bay Area.

Last season at this time, the basketball world was bracing for what the Warriors would look like after adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team. And as expected, they dominated. Not even LeBron James could put a stop to them, managing just one win in their finals bout.

This year brings in more of the same questions. Can anyone stop the Warriors? Will Golden State just steamroll their way to another championship, effectively sucking the fun of competition out of the entire league?

Well, a few teams this offseason did their best to try and combat that narrative. One of them being the Rockets, who they added perennial all-star point guard Chris Paul to their backcourt.

Putting Paul in the same backcourt as superstar James Harden has the potential to create some of the biggest headaches for opposing teams. The constant ball movement and open looks the two star guards can provide are nearly endless.

While the league swoons over the Warriors’ ability to hit shots from well beyond the arc, it should be noted that it was Houston last year that led the NBA in three-point shooting, not Golden State. It’s certainly not wise to try and go toe-to-toe with the Warriors at their own game, but if there’s ever a team equipped to do it, it’s Houston. Tuesday night will provide a nice preview look at how things in the Western Conference could shake out in the coming months.

Aside from the barrage of scoring that will take place in this matchup, what would a big game be for the Warriors without a little Draymond Green trash talk?

After Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told ESPN that, “You’re not gonna stop them. It’s just not gonna happen. They’re not gonna stop us, either,” Green clapped back with a comment of his own, as he always does.

“I don’t know how serious they take defense with that comment,” Green said. “But they added some good defensive players.”

It’s true, the Rockets aren’t considered a defensive stalwart by any means. Last season, Houston was 26th in points allowed, compared to second in points scored. Green may be onto something when it comes to questioning how serious his opponents take defense.

That being said, last year’s Rockets didn’t feature Paul. Even at the age of 32, Paul is still one of the league’s best on-ball defenders. And no matter his age, he’ll always possess that competitive fire he’s been known for over the last 12 years.

Going up against the Warriors at Oracle is usually nothing short of impossible, but if there’s going to be a team to challenge their supremacy this season, we’ll get a good look at how they stack up on night one.

With all of this in mind, let’s not forget that the world’s best league is finally back in action. Give yourself a pat on the back, you made it. Now, go enjoy some basketball.

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