2020 was not another year for the NBA. Rather the complete opposite.
What was foreshadowed as a spectacular season, ended up being a year full of uncertainty that forced them to find different solutions to try to save the tournament, ending in 2020 what had started in 2019.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to make drastic changes, to take special measures, to rethink the structure of competition and to try to keep moving forward beyond difficulties. The year ended in October and 71 days after Game 6 of the Finals was played, which crowned the Los Angeles Lakers as champions, a new season was beginning.
Just 10 days have passed since the opening day. And although the number is short, it is also enough to find surprises, promising starts, and others not so much, brands that have become new records and a high expectation regarding the level of the game.
The idea of this column is to review, week by week, the highlights. We entrusted ourselves to that task just before the end of a significantly unique year.
The duel of the best duos
Kevin Durant receives the pass over the mark from Miles Bridges, makes a jump back and hits the basket.
The Big 3 format in the making of teams that was so successful in the decade that is ending, seems to have fallen into disuse to give way to the format of star duos accompanied by a lot of depth on the bench with role players.
Although there are teams that will try to build their final roster by adding a third star, at this start of the season we see that a lot of importance is given to the support troop that accompanies the stars and in this sense, there are pairs that have excelled at this start.
If there were doubts about the possible complement between Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, especially around the health of the first, they were cleared. They both average 28.3 points per game and combine for 9.6 assists and 10.5 rebounds in addition to scoring 45% of the team’s average points. The game against the Atlanta Hawks showed the best of each one of them: while Durant’s 33 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists were the demonstration of his dominance, Irving’s 17 in the fourth quarter served to convince more than one that we are against the most powerful duo of the beginning of the NBA.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis have not lagged behind when it comes to performance. El Rey leads his team in points (23.4), assists (6.8) and steals (1.0), while Davis leads in rebounds (8.2). While the depth of the champion team’s roster detracts from their averages, no one doubts the impact both have on the court. Between them they have combined for 43.2 points per game, 15.3 rebounds and 10.6 assists. Almost nothing.
Leaving Kawhi Leonard and Paul George out of this discussion is not a good idea. In the only game they did not play together (against Dallas), they lost by 51 points. Kawhi contributes remarkable statistics after 3 games with 25.0 points, 5.7 assists and 3.0 steals per game, while Paul George scores with an average of 22.4 points, 5.7 assists and a ridiculous 3-point ERA: 47.4% with 7.6 attempts per game .
To these numbers we must add that they got them in games against the Lakers, Denver, Minnesota and Portland, which further highlights their averages.
Honorable mention this week for Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kris Middleton, who combine for 45.0 points, 18.2 rebounds and a shooting efficiency close to 50% for the Milwaukee cause, which is 2-3.
And to highlight also what was done by Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr, Denver’s two top scorers with averages of 24.5 and 19.5 respectively. Although the Nuggets have won only one game of the 4 they played, the Serbian already has 3 triple tens in that period, confirming his quality and quality of being an all-rounder on the court.
The great games and the records
The Bucks converted 29 at 144-97 over the Heat, surpassing the previous mark of 27 set by the Rockets. Thus, they achieved their second victory since the return of the NBA, with Middleton as the leading scorer with 25 points.
Undoubtedly the great game of this beginning was the one played by Brooklyn and Atlanta on December 30, in which they combined for 286 points without the need to play overtime, in which it was the largest scoring mark of the season. “I definitely need a beer,” Nets coach Steve Nash said at the end of the game.
A total of 37 triples were scored (19-18 in favor of the Nets) with Bogdan Bogdanovic and Joe Harris being the most accurate with 6 each from that range. The point guard game favored Trae Young in points (30 on a 14-for-16 free throw schedule) but Irving, with his 17 points in the fourth quarter, including his 3 3-pointers from the game) tipped the balance for the Nets.
However, it was not the only outstanding game at the start of the tournament as historical records were achieved in two others. On Sunday, December 27, Dallas took advantage of Kawhi Leonard’s absence from the LA Clippers team and delivered him a historic beating. The score was 124-73, establishing the biggest difference between the two teams in the first half of the game by beating them by 50 points. The Clippers had a fateful night shooting at the hoop, finishing with a mere 34.2% shooting from the court with a poor 12.1% shooting from the 3-point range.
Two days later, Milwaukee also made history in a 144-97 win over the Miami Heat by scoring 29 3-pointers in 51 attempts during the game, the most hits in NBA history. The funny thing is that in the previous game against New York he had scored only 7 of 38 to lose the game. Of the 13 players the Bucks used in the game, 12 of them scored beyond the 3-point line.
Raging starts and inconsistency of some powerful
Surprises could not be absent at the start of the season. Who could imagine that after the first 10 days of competition, the Orlando Magic would be the only team without a 4-0 loss? Did anyone dare to predict the furious starts of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Sacramento Kings at 3-1 records? Surely few.
But surprises can also come in a negative sense: Denver (1-3), Dallas (1-3), Toronto (0-3) Milwaukee (2-3) have negative marks. Miami Heat is 50% (2-2) when less than three months ago it gave the Lakers headaches in the NBA Finals.
How is this explained? Perhaps a good part of the reasons is found in the fact of the short rest time between the end of the previous season and the start of the present one. In addition, in the short training period that the teams had to get in shape during the preseason.
Surely there you understand the reasons why the Clippers, after beating the Lakers and Denver in their first two games, lost by 51 difference to Dallas. Or that Denver has lost two games to Sacramento and has only been able to beat a decimated Houston team so far this season.
Why has Milwaukee been so inconsistent with its 3-point shooting this season? Is it normal for a team to shoot for a 15.5% effectiveness in one game and the next one dispatches with a historical mark of 29 triples and an effectiveness of 56.8%? Definitely not.
It will be then that the teams are still trying to find their game identity and, fundamentally, the confidence to execute in the decisive moments of the matches. But this roller coaster shouldn’t last forever.
Sooner or later, the waters return to their normal course.