Every new season in the NBA brings a host of new storylines, but 2010-11 promises to be particularly exciting for basketball fans everywhere. Between the Heat’s superteam, the Lakers’ quest for a three-peat, the continued emergence of Kevin Durant, an exciting rookie class featuring two number one overall picks, and the shadow of an expiring collective bargaining agreement hanging over everything, this season is certainly one of the most anticipated in recent memory. Here’s a primer of what to watch for over the first couple nights.
- Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh travel to Boston in an opening-night showdown of Eastern powers (7:30 EST, TNT). This will the regular season debut of the Heat’s new trio, and everyone will be watching to see how the team plays together. How will Miami manage possessions? Is their interior defense as bad as everyone thinks it will be? Will there be enough of the ball to go around? Most importantly, who will take the last shot if it’s a close game? The Heat start the season with three games in four nights, including huge games against the Celtics tonight and the Magic on Friday (ESPN, 8:00). We’ll have a pretty good idea of where they stand in the East by the end of the first week. Tonight’s game also marks LeBron’s return to the scene of last year’s playoff nightmare, as TD Garden was the site of his last game as a Cavalier.
- The Celtics, meanwhile, open the season without Kendrick Perkins, and after facing Miami on opening night, travel, ironically, to Cleveland on Wednesday night. They’ll be the first to get a look at LeBron’s new and old teams, and chances are Wednesday’s game will serve as an easy recovery win after what promises to be a tough opening-night fixture. We’ll get to see if the Celtics’ new frontcourt members, Jermaine and Shaquille O’Neal, have anything left. Delonte West also makes his return to Cleveland as he rejoins the Celtics.
- You can’t really go wrong with any of the opening-night games (Heat-Celtics, Suns-Blazers, Rockets-Lakers), but of the second two games, the more compelling has to be the Lakers taking on Houston after raising their 16th championship banner to the rafters of Staples Center (TNT, 10:30 EST). The Lakers, who only got stronger by adding veterans Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, and Theo Ratliff alongside promising rookies Derrick Caracter and Devin Ebanks, will seek to complete the league’s first three-peat since LA did it from 2000-02. Phil Jackson likes to win titles in threes- he’s done it twice with the Bulls and once already with the Lakers. Another title this year would give him four three-peats for an astonishing 12 championships. The Lakers also pay a visit to Phoenix on Friday for a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Finals. The Suns will feature a new look, as Hedo Turkoglu, Hakim Warrick, and Josh Childress will look to offset some of the production lost with Amar’e Stoudemire’s departure to New York.
- ESPN can’t quite match up to TNT’s opening night doubleheader, but Wednesday’s double feature of Bulls-Thunder (8:00 EST) and Blazers-Clippers (10:30 EST) will be almost as good. We’ll get a first look at the Bulls under new head coach Tom Thibodeau (albeit without Carlos Boozer) along with the opening game for newly minted World Championship MVP/defending scoring champion Kevin Durant and the Thunder. The second game marks the long-awaited debut of 2009 #1 overall pick Blake Griffin, who sat out all of last season with a knee injury. The Blazers will understand the Clippers’ situation- Greg Oden went through the same exact process in 2007. Griffin has been tearing it up in the preseason, averaging 17 points (on 60% shooting) and 12 rebounds per game in just under 30 minutes of run. Many experts have picked Griffin to win Rookie of the Year, and Clippers fans hope that the former Oklahoma stud will be worth the wait. Much has changed for the Clippers since last season; in addition to Griffin, the Clippers have a new coach in Vinny Del Negro and will sport new uniforms as well.
- The other rookie generating the most buzz this season, Washington’s John Wall, will debut on Thursday against Orlando as the Magic christen the brand new $480 million Amway Center (TNT, 8:00 EST). While most eyes will be on Wall, look to see if Dwight Howard has made any improvements in his offensive game. A dominant Howard is the Magic’s best chance to take down Miami this season, and with the Magic traveling to play Miami the following night, Thursday’s contest will offer a nice chance to see Howard's progress.