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NBA Daily: Opening Night Matchups To Watch

The NBA is finally back with two exciting matchups to start the season. Quinn Davis takes a look at some interesting subplots that could determine the outcome of each game.

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Opening Night is finally here. After a tumultuous offseason featuring player movement and foreign diplomacy, real NBA games will finally be played tonight.

The first contest of the two-game slate lost some of the usual buzz when it was announced that Zion Williamson would be out 6-to-8 weeks with a torn meniscus. That, combined with the Raptors not being considered a true contender this season after losing Kawhi Leonard, makes this game feel relatively mundane compared to opening night in years past. 

Luckily, the second game of the night has enough star power and storylines for all five hours of basketball as the revamped Clippers and Lakers will do battle in the Staples Center. 

Each game will be full of interesting matchups on the court. Here is a look at a few of these battles that could determine each game.

Jrue Holiday vs. Kyle Lowry

Game one features two of the league’s premier defensive point guards likely guarding each other for the majority of the contest.

Lowry, who recently signed an extension to stay with the Raptors through the 2020-21 season, should begin this season with a larger offensive role. While Lowry was relegated to mostly a spot-up shooter last season with Leonard in the fold, he should have more opportunities to handle the ball and run the pick-and-roll with Marc Gasol.

This will put a spotlight on Holiday’s defense, which has been spectacular throughout his career. Holiday has been particularly excellent guarding the pick and roll. He most notably displayed this skill when he shut down Damian Lillard and the Blazers in the first round of the 2018 playoffs.

Holiday will also need to stay focused off the ball, where Lowry’s incessant and intelligent movement can be tough to track.  

On the other end, Lowry must stop Holiday from getting into the paint. Holiday has a knack for getting to the rim as he attempted 40 percent of his shots there last season, putting him in the 84th percentile for his position per Cleaning the Glass.

The combined veteran savvy and craft that the two guards possess should make for an exciting chess match in the first game of the NBA season.

The Pelicans-Raptors Turnover Differential

The way each team manages to take care of the ball could largely determine the outcome of this matchup.  

On the Pelicans’ side, they may have trouble generating points against a stout Raptors defense in the half-court, so transition opportunities could be the path to an efficient offense in this game. The best way to generate transition opportunities is to force bad passes and create steals, so look for New Orleans to be aggressive on the defensive end.

Not having Williamson will somewhat diminish what should be a dangerous transition attack this season, but the Pelicans will still have Holiday and Lonzo Ball to push the ball and find big man running to the rim.

The Raptors will also need to force turnovers  — not just this game but all season — as they lack true playmakers or isolation scorers after the departure of Leonard. Generating steals would allow them to create open looks at the rim and beyond the arc.

Last season, the Pelicans allowed the fourth-most points in the league off of turnovers, so transition defense will be a key area for them to clean up this season.

The Lakers’ Points in the Paint

The second game of the night could be determined by the Clippers’ ability to defend the paint against a new-look Lakers team that does not lack rim punishers.

There is, of course, Lebron James, who throughout his career has been one of the premier finishers and attackers in the painted area. Last season he attempted 48 percent of his shots at the rim, and finished 70 percent of those attempts, per Cleaning the Glass. If Lebron is rejuvenated after a full offseason of rest, those numbers could even increase.

The Lakers also feature Anthony Davis, who has his own pedigree around the basket where he also finished 71 percent of his attempts last season.

The gold and purple also will employ Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee as rim-running big men that both excel at finishing lobs high above the basket. 

The Clippers were 23rd in the league for opponent points in the paint last season, so this is an area that has caused some concern in the past. Leonard should help remedy some of the issues, as he can guard the opponent’s best perimeter player and stop them from penetrating.

The area that may be the most thorny for the Clippers is in the pick and roll defense against opposing big men. The big man rotation of Montrezl Harrell and Ivica Zubac leave a little to be desired in the verticality department, so this is an area the Lakers may look to exploit.

The Clippers’ Success in the Pick And Roll

On the other end, the Clippers will need to create points out of the pick and roll game on offense. Last season, the Clippers ran the pick and roll on 22.8 percent of their possessions, the highest rate in the league per NBA.com.

This was predominantly due to Lou Williams, who developed a nice chemistry with Harrell in these sets over the course of the season. With those two still on the roster and Leonard now manning the wing, the Clippers should remain near the top of the league in pick and roll frequency.

One of the Lakers’ biggest weaknesses this season could be their perimeter defense. They added Danny Green, a solid on-ball defender who will probably be tasked with guarding the other team’s best perimeter player. Outside of Green, they will rely on aging veterans like Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley, plus a few wings like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Quinn Cook.

The Lakers will have the talents of Anthony Davis, who can use his ridiculous length to disrupt pick and rolls at the point of attack and recover to protect the rim.  It will be interesting to see how Davis impacts the Clippers’ gameplan and strategies during the very first game of the season.

The NBA is officially back and these first two games are an exciting start to what should be an incredible season. In an offseason of crazy swaps, signings and trades — the two Los Angeles-based teams underwent more change than most of the league combined. Tonight, albeit early on, two hopeful contender will take their first big swings of the campaign — so, at long last, let it begin.

Quinn Davis is a contributor for Basketball Insiders. He is a former collegiate track runner who currently resides in Philadelphia.

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