• Kaunda Chama

Brace for another thrilling season

A lot has been said about the 2019-2020 season due to the fact that it was marred by the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw play get paused between March and July, followed by the Bubble which served as the centre stage for one of the most exciting post seasons in recent NBA history.

The Bubble, even without live fans, was nothing short of stupendous with some series having what some might call shocking results, like the Denver Nuggets coming back from back-to-back 3-1 deficits and laying rest to both the Utah Jazz and the much-fancied Los Angeles Clippers before meeting the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

In the East, the underdog Miami Heat shocked the Indiana Pacers, regular season MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, as well as the Boston Celtics on the road to making a surprise appearance in the NBA Finals.

Even with the numerous challenges that faced the 16 teams that made it to the Bubble playoffs, the standard of play and competitiveness was nothing short of breathtaking and spoke to the resilience of the players and their management, and training staff.

There are only eight days left to the tip off of the 2021-2022 season, fans have already been treated to three days of pre-season action, and if that is anything to go by, NBA fans and analysts are in for one thriller of a season, even though it has been shortened to 72 regular season games per team.

As a precursor, to the pre-season, there were numerous off-season/free-agency moves that have left many a roster looking very different to what it did just two months ago, with only a few teams maintaining there previous look.

Some notable changes includes: Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kris Dunn and Rajon Rondo Joining the Atlanta Hawks; Jeff Teague and Tristan Thompson joined the Boston Celtics; Kevin Durant finally getting to start for the Brooklyn Nets with the addition of Landry Shamet; Gordon Hayward joining the Charlotte Hornets, who also drafted LaMelo Ball with the third overall pick; JaVale McGee signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Kent Bazemore and Kelly Ourbe Jr going to the Golden State Warriors; the Houston Rockets losing Russell Westbrook to the Washington Wizards, but adding a healthy John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins to their roster; the Clippers adding some veteran African talent to their squad with Congolese forward Serge Ibaka and Cameroonian-French forward Nicolas Batum; the Lakers adding Gambian-German guard Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell, Marc Gasol and Wesley Matthews; Avery Bradley joining Miami, Jrue Holiday going to Milwaukee; New Orleans now having Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe; Al Horford now being at OKC, Seth Curry and Dwight Howard now with the 76ers, while Chris Paul and Jae Crowder are now in Phoenix.

From this past Friday night, African fans have been given a glimpse of what the coming season has in store and it seems as though the 30 teams in the league will not disappoint at all.

The first 18 games are in the bag, and have not been short of the excitement that is anticipated to feature right through the regular season and of course the postseason. Most of the marquee games have been close, even though some of the top stars like LeBron James, Anthony Davis and James Harden are yet to take to the hardwood.

The first Lakers v Clippers matchup on Friday ended 81 – 97 in favour of the Lakers, who saw standout performances from sophomore Talen Horton-Tucker with 19 points, nine rebounds and four assists and he even pulled off three steals in the process, Kyle Kuzma 18 points and five assists and new recruit Harrell contributed a 13-point, 12-rebound double-double.

Saturday’s Nuggets v Warriors clash saw the Klay-less Golden State squad beat the visitors from Denver 105 – 107. The great team effort from the home side saw Stephen Curry, new recruit Kelly Oubre Jr, Jordan Poole and Mychal Mulder combine for 40 with 10 points apiece, while Kent Bazemore had 13 points and five rebounds.

Center Nikola Jokic had an impressive 26-point, 10-rebound double-double, Garry Harris had 11 points, while Monte Morris had 10.

The same night the Memphis Grizzlies also defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 107 – 105 in an equally breathtaking clash that saw Ja Morant put up a 20-point, 11-assist double-double, 13 points from Jonas Valanciunas, and 12 points each from Kyle Anderson and Desmond Bane.

Jaylen Nowell led the Wolves with 22 points, D’Angelo Russell put up 13, Karl-Anthony Towns had 13, while Malik Beasley ended the night with 12 points.

Sunday night saw Kevin Durant make his debut in a Brooklyn Nets jersey and help the New York squad to victory over his former teammate Russell Westbrook and the Washington Wizards 119 – 114. Durant was good for 15 points, while Kyrie Irving scored 18, and Shamet marked the scoreboard with 13 points.

Rui Hachimura led the Wizards with 18 points, Raul Neto was close behind with 17, and Deni Avdija contributed 15 points to Washington’s tally.

At this speculative stage, many-an-analyst are still predicting a back-to-back title run by the Lakers, however the Clippers are showing signs of wanting to complete the job they set out to do last term and stop the purple and gold, and the Nuggets also fancy their championship chances.

In the East, all eyes are on Brooklyn and the combination of Durant and Irving as well as the pieces around them – it promises to deliver fireworks, Atlanta look to have strengthened with the addition of veteran guard Rondo, Bogdanovic and Dunn, while the Sixers, Celtics and Heat are not to be slept on either.

For now, we wait and see.

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