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Lessons Learned from the NBA’s Opening Night

LeBron James glances at the bench.
LeBron James already has one foot out the door in Cleveland. Photo by Keith Allison (Flickr) CC License

The NBA’s opening night was supposed to be all about grudge matches and unfinished business. Instead it became all about Gordon Hayward. The eighth-year forward’s evening came to a sudden and shocking end five minutes into his Celtics debut when he landed awkwardly after attempting an alley-oop. The highlights aren’t for the faint of heart and will likely haunt the dreams of basketball fans the world over for months to come.

The official diagnosis is a dislocated ankle and broken tibia, and the injury dramatically alters the team’s title hopes. Hayward was supposed to be the missing piece that would lift the Celtics past the Cavs, but now those plans have been put on hold as he focuses on recovering from the gruesome injury.

The scene on the West Coast was thankfully more uplifting as the Rockets edged the Warriors in a free-flowing, high-octane game that showcased modern basketball at its finest. The two teams combined for 243 points and 31 threes. and consistently brought fans to their feet with deep bombs and improbable drives.

If last evening was any indication, the 2017-18 season should be full of spills, thrills and chills. Here are some of the lessons we learned from the NBA’s explosive opening night.

The NBA is a brotherhood

Sometimes it takes a devastating injury or personal tragedy to remind us just how tightknit the NBA really is. That was apparent last April when Isaiah Thomas was greeted with an outpouring of love and support after losing his sister to a car accident. It was evident again last evening when players went out of their way to comfort Gordon Hayward following his injury. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Love, and Isaiah Thomas all visited the Celtic locker room to offer words of support for their fallen opponent, and players from coast to coast took to Twitter to offer their condolences and prayers. There aren’t a lot of positives to be found in Hayward’s injury, but he should find comfort in knowing his fellow players are eager to see him back on the court soon.

Unfortunately, it’s a massive longshot that Hayward makes it back this year.

Odds Gordon Hayward will return for the 2018 playoffs: 50/1

Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are ready to step up

Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum revealed that they’re both ready for primetime last night. Brown had 25 points, six rebounds, and two steals in 40 minutes and outshined Kyrie Irving for long stretches of the game. Tatum also rose to the occasion, chipping in 14 points and 10 rebounds in his first regular-season action. Brown and Tatum are 20 and 19-years-old, respectively, and should benefit immensely from getting additional minutes in Hayward’s absence.

Odds Jayson Tatum wins the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year: 10/1

16-point leads don’t count for much

Prior to the NBA’s three-point revolution, a double-digit lead in the second half used to be reasonably safe. That’s no longer the case. The Warriors and Cavs both squandered 16-point leads late in the game and, in the case of Golden State, never recovered. The teams succumbed to different issues. The Cavs got comfortable and took their foot off the gas, while the Warriors went cold from deep and uncharacteristically turned over the ball. They’ll rectify that issue soon and will be far better when a healthy Draymond Green is able to spearhead their attack.

Odds the Warriors and Cavs meet in the 2018 NBA Finals: 1/3

LeBron is still the King

LeBron James said he was out of shape following yesterday’s win, but you wouldn’t know it from his performance. The 13-time All-Star had 29 points, 16 rebounds, and nine assists in 41 minutes and was there to contest Kyrie Irving’s corner three in the game’s final seconds. If this is what he looks like when he’s winded, then the rest of league had better beware. James will have a few days off before Friday’s tilt with the Bucks, and has said he will focus on improving his conditioning after sitting out much of the preseason.

Odd Lebron James wins the 2017-18 NBA MVP: 9/2

Nick Young is going to fit in just fine

Swaggy P. showed why he’s one of the most dangerous scorers in the league last evening as he went five for six from beyond the arc and scored 20 points in the first half. Nobody was more surprised by the offensive explosion than Steve Kerr, who jokingly told TNT’s David Aldridge, “He made like one shot in training camp. I guess he’s a gamer.”

Over/under on the number of threes Nick Young hits in 2017-18: 150.5

Draymond Green puts the clamps on Otto Porter Jr. Photo by Keith Allison (Flickr) CC License

The Warriors are going to be okay

It’s natural to overreact to the Warriors losing their first game at home, but let’s not forget they also dropped their opener last season in a 129-100 blowout to the Spurs. If memory serves, Golden State managed to turn things around rather nicely after that.

Over/under on the number of games the Warriors will lose in 2017-18: 14.5

Kneeling will not be an issue in the NBA

Player protests have been a big part of the NFL’s narrative this season, but they likely won’t overshadow the NBA. Not a single player knelt during the national anthem on opening day and that’s unlikely to change moving forward. Steph Curry has said that kneeling would be “counterproductive” since the league empowers its players to discuss social issues. James has also made it clear that he has no intention of taking a knee prior to games.

“First of all, I’m all in favor of anyone—athlete or non-athlete—being able to express what they believe in in a peaceful manner,” James told reporters. “I think you guys know that when I’m passionate about something, I speak upon it. Me standing for the national anthem is something I will do. That’s who I am. That’s what I believe in.”

Over/under on the number of NBA players who will kneel during the national anthem in 2017-18: 5.5

Take the under on Golden State and Houston this season at your own peril

Vegas listed the over/under odds on last evening’s Warriors-Rockets game at 230.5. To many, it seemed high, considering that both teams would probably be a little rusty, but they managed to eclipse the mark by 12.5 points. Bookmakers will likely adjust the odds the next time either team takes the court, but you’d still be well advised to avoid the under. Golden State and Houston had the NBA’s top offenses last season and both franchises became even more lethal during the offseason by adding more three-point shooters and more players capable of spreading the court.

Odds Golden State will have the NBA’s top- ranked offense in 2017-18: 2/3

Everyone on the Warriors can and will play this season

James Harden spoke glowingly about the Rockets’ depth following last night’s win, but the Warriors are the deeper squad. Golden State played 12 players last evening compared to eight for Houston, and received contributions from top to bottom. Rookie Jordan Bell looked especially impressive, scoring eight points in 12 minutes. He moved well without the ball and played credible defense on James Harden, which is no easy task. Kerr has called this his deepest team yet, and players like Bell, Patrick McCaw, and Kevon Looney should all see extended time as the coach attempts to keep his stars fresh for the postseason.

Over/under PPG for Jordan Bell in 2017-18: 5.5

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Ryan Murphy began his love affair with sports journalism at the age of nine when he wrote his first article about his little league baseball team. He has since authored his own column for Fox Sports, and now serves as SBD’s resident NBA and MLB expert.