On Wednesday, the San Antonio Spurs edged the Minnesota Timberwolves 112-108 in both teams' season openers. During the offseason, both the Spurs and the Timberwolves had star players with one year left on their contracts who were unhappy and communicated their desire to be traded.
The Timberwolves, on the other hand, reportedly sat on Jimmy Butler's trade request all summer with no apparent intention to honor his request. In recent weeks, they have been dealing with an increasingly vocally unhappy Butler, who skipped almost the entire preseason and reportedly didn't even ride with the team to the game on Wednesday.
Two teams. Similar situations. Two entirely different approaches.
On Wednesday, the Spurs were led by new acquisition DeRozan, who notched 28 points (10-21 FG, 7-11 FT), 4 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 3-pointer and 3 TO. LaMarcus Aldridge was an able lieutenant as a scorer and surprisingly dominated the paint with a line of 21 points (7-23 FG, 7-10 FG), 19 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 assists, 1 steal and 2 TO. Rudy Gay was solid in his return to health, with 18 points (8-12 FG, 1-2 FT), 7 rebounds, 1 3-pointer, 1 block and 1 TO. Even point guard injury replacement Bryn Forbes, starting with Dejounte Murray (knee) done for the season, had a respectable fantasy night of 11 points (4-10 FG, 2-2 FT), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 1 3-pointer and 2 TO in 30 minutes of action.
The Timberwolves got a strong game from Butler with 23 points (9-23 FG, 7 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists, 1 3-pointer, 1 block, 1 steal and 1 TO. Jeff Teague actually led the way with 27 points (8-12 FG, 9-9 FT), 4 assists, 2 3-pointers, 2 steals and 2 TO. Andrew Wiggins scored well and even had a few peripheral contributions with 20 points (8-18 FG, 2-2 FT), 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 3-pointers, 1 steal and 2 TO.
The problem was that newly extended franchise big man, Karl-Anthony Towns, fouled out in only 22 minutes of action and turned in an uncharacteristically poor stat line that's featured in the lowlights below. Did the Butler saga negatively affect Towns, and if so, could this continue to impact his production in the short term? We'll have to watch and see, but it's not great that this is even a question now that the season has begun.
The Timberwolves and Spurs dealt with their offseason issues in entirely different ways. At least for one night, the Spurs had the advantage in the box score.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves: 8 points (2 -6 FG, 3-3 FT), 1 3-pointer, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 TO, 6 fouls, 22 minutes
The Nets were full of fantasy basketball sleepers, and on Wednesday, we got to see them in action. While Russell had an off game, teammate Jarrett Allen justified his buzz with 17 points (6-10 FG, 3-4 FT), 10 rebounds, 4 blocks, 2 3-pointers and 2 TO. Caris LeVert also did his thing, leading the Nets with 27 points (10-18 FG, 7-8 FT), 4 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block and 3 TO. Spencer Dinwiddie outplayed Russell off the bench, notching 23 points (10-18 FG, 3-5 FT), 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 steal and 4 TO in 32 minutes. Joe Harris also turned in a strong line, with 13 points (6-14 FG), 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 3-pointer, 1 steal, 2 TO as a starter due to the preseason injury of DeMarre Carroll.
Domantas Sabonis outplayed Myles Turner in the Pacers' season debut. Turner played 20 minutes and notched 8 points (4-8 FG), 8 rebounds, 4 blocks, 1 assist and 1 TO with a +/- of +7. Sabonis came off the bench, but played 29 minutes and contributed a strong double-double with 14 points (7-11 FG, 0-2 FT), 15 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 TO and a +/- of +26. The bench as a whole got a lot of minutes in the blowout win, and overall, seven Pacers scored in double figures on the night.
Hassan Whiteside started off the season with a bang, producing 12 points (6-15 FG, 0-1 FT), 18 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 steal and 1 TO in 34 minutes. Last season ended with Whiteside losing minutes and questions as to how he fit in with the Miami Heat moving forward, but his role to start this season seems as large as it's ever been ... at least for one game. Goran Dragic led the Heat with 26 points (9-14 FG, 5-7 FT), 4 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 3-pointers, 1 block and 3 TO. Josh Richardson was the other team leader with 21 points (8-21 FG, 3-3 FT), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 3-pointers, 1 steal, 1 block and 3 TO.
The Cleveland Cavaliers played their first game of the second post-LeBron James era, and several players turned in impressive lines. While Kevin Love led the way with 21 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists, the most standout line may have been posted by Cedi Osman with 17 points (5-10 FG, 5-6 FT), 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 3-pointers, 2 steals and 3 TO. Tristan Thompson grabbed 13 rebounds, George Hill scored 15 points and dished seven assists, and Rodney Hood scored 12 points. While Rookie Collin Sexton scored nine points in 18 minutes off the bench, the sixth-man role was clearly held in the opener by Jordan Clarkson and his 15 points (7-15 FG), 3 rebounds and 1 3-pointer in 23 minutes.
The Kawhi era of the Toronto Raptors began with him popping for 24 points (9-22 FG, 5-6 FT), 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 3-pointer and 2 assists in a team-high 37 minutes. Kyle Lowry seemed energized, as he produced 27 points (10-12 FG, 2-3 FT), 8 assists, 5 3-pointers, 1 steal, 1 block and 3 TO. The Raptors got three more double-digit scoring efforts from Pascal Siakam, Danny Green and Fred VanVleet plus 12 rebounds from Jonas Valanciunas. Serge Ibaka moved to the bench with Siakam starting, and Ibaka produced 9 points (2-10 FG, 4-6 FT), 7 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals, 1 3-pointer, 1 assist and 2 TO in 27 minutes as a sixth man.
Holy huge team performance, Batman! The Pelicans landed Davis in the highlights area above, but he could have been joined by any number of his teammates. Nikola Mirotic joined him in monster double-double brotherhood, starting and producing 30 points (11-20 FG, 2-3 FT), 10 rebounds, 6 3-pointers, 3 assists and 1 TO in 30 minutes. New addition Julius Randle racked up more than a point per minute with 25 points (9-15 FG, 5-6 FT), 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 3-pointers in 24 minutes off the bench. Other new addition Elfrid Payton produced a triple-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and 1 steal. The Pelicans looked extremely impressive in demolishing the Houston Rockets, who obviously have some kinks to work out on defense.
Injuries of note
OG Anunoby took a blow to the right eye on Wednesday and had to leave the action after 18 minutes of play. The severity of the injury is currently unknown, so consider him day-to-day for now.
Analytics advantage for Thursday
There are three games on Thursday night, with four of the six teams making their season debuts, while the other two (Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat) are currently 0-1. One of the matchups pits the 76ers against the Chicago Bulls. For those playing DFS, it must be noted that Ben Simmons ruled the Bulls last season, averaging a triple-double with 23.3 PPG (54.9 FG%, 53.8 FT%), 11.7 RPG, 11.7 APG and 2.3 BPG in three regular season games. Embiid was impressive against them last season as well, notching 26.0 PPG (61.8 FG%, 66.7 FT%), 9.0 RPG, 4.0 APG, 3.0 BPG, 1.5 SPG and 2.0 3PG. The Bulls tied for the ninth-fastest pace last season but finished 24th in team defensive rating. This all adds up to what should be a good night for the 76ers' skill players Thursday.
Top players to watch tonight
Very clearly, the eyes of the entire NBA-watching world will be on LeBron tonight, as he makes his debut with the Los Angeles Lakers. Will his role actually change to more of a finisher than a distributor, the way it was suggested all summer? How will the young guys like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma look on this team? Will the veterans who were brought in make significant contributions? We start getting answers to all of these questions tonight.