Cavaliers vs Bulls
LeBron James has declared himself ready for his 13th NBA season since the Cleveland Cavaliers superstar’s lower back is feeling better.
Fellow former MVP Derrick Rose may have only one good eye, but he insists he will be ready to go for the Chicago Bulls.
The Cavaliers eliminated the Bulls in last season’s conference semifinals and look to spoil Fred Hoiberg’s coaching debut for Chicago on Tuesday night at the United Center.
James’ return to Cleveland in 2014-15 was a resounding success, leading the club to a 53-29 season and its second NBA Finals appearance with a six-game loss to Golden State. The four-time MVP had two triple-doubles, tied for most ever, and averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the Finals as the Cavaliers played without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.
James practiced each of the last two days after sitting out nearly two weeks since receiving an anti-inflammatory injection for his back. He is ready for Tuesday – a contest he isn’t emphasizing.
‘We’re not going to put too much on the first game of the season,’ he said. ‘We’ve put in a lot of work over the last few weeks, and you can only try to get healthy, work your habits, work your rhythm and our last few practices have been very good. But you don’t put too much onus on if this will be the team that we’ll be long-term tomorrow.’
Pelicans vs Warriors
One of the enduring memories for Golden State Warriors fans last season came when assistant coach Alvin Gentry lightened up the mood in practice before an eventual title-clinching NBA Finals win in Game 6 by throwing down a dunk.
Gentry has moved on from the newest NBA champions to take over a talent-laden New Orleans Pelicans team that Golden State insists is a threat to its throne.
The Warriors will receive their championship rings before Tuesday night’s opener against a Pelicans team that has dropped 14 of the last 15 meetings between the teams, including seven straight at the Oracle Arena.
Led by league MVP Stephen Curry, Golden State ended a 30-year championship drought by knocking off LeBron James and Cleveland in the Finals after posting the league’s best record at 67-15.
Curry was sixth in the league in scoring with 23.8 points per game, third in 3-point shooting at 44.3 percent and first in foul shooting at 91.4 percent. He teamed up with Klay Thompson (43.9 percent on 3-pointers) to form the “Splash Brothers,” one of the most lethal shooting backcourts in NBA history.
The Warriors rallied from a 2-1 Finals deficit, with Gentry “dunking” in a light-hearted practice before the clincher. Gentry, who will turn 61 next week, actually used the wall behind the basket as leverage to dunk as Golden State’s players roared in laughter.
Now Gentry, who last was a head coach with Phoenix from 2009-13, has replaced Monty Williams with the Pelicans. He will receive his Warriors ring in Tuesday’s pregame ceremony.
“It’s gonna be a little bit different in that these are people that we did something special with and together, so you have a closeness there, but after this thing is over, we have to find a way to compete and beat these guys, which is not going to be easy,” Gentry said.
He’ll be up against Luke Walton, who will serve as Golden State’s interim coach with Steve Kerr needing to rest his surgically repaired back. Kerr will be present for the ring ceremony.
“It’s going to be awesome,” Walton said. “I think it’s great that he’s (Gentry) going to be out there with us when we get our rings. He obviously is a big part of what we did last year. It’s always fun battling friends and people that you know.”
Gentry will get his first chance to coach Anthony Davis, who was fourth in the league with 24.4 points per game last season, first with 2.9 blocks per game and among the top eight in field-goal percentage, rebounds per game and double-doubles.
Pistons vs Hawks
Atlanta opens its season Tuesday night against the visiting Detroit Pistons, who are merely seeking their first playoff berth in seven seasons.
The Hawks’ 60 wins in 2014-15 were a club record and the most in the Eastern Conference, and they won 19 in a row from December-January. They were dumped from the playoffs in unceremonious fashion, however, losing by an average of 13.3 points while being swept by Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals.
“Last year was just a step,” said Kyle Korver, who shot 49.2 percent from 3-point range to lead the league for a second straight year. “It ended up being a lot bigger step than we thought it was going to be. But it was just a step. We weren’t there yet. We weren’t the champions.”
Atlanta is tasked with replacing the only non-All Star from its starting lineup in DeMarre Carroll, who signed a $60 million deal with Toronto. Kent Bazemore, who averaged 5.2 points last season, will start in his place alongside Korver, Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague.
Carroll averaged 12.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.3 steals and shot a career-best 48.7 percent, serving as a Swiss army knife of sorts for the Hawks.
“He was somebody that everybody enjoyed being around,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He had a real caring way about him. And that’s how he played. He cared about those around him. He gave us a heck of a two years.”
Budenholzer also has additional responsibilities after being promoted to president of basketball operations in June.
“I’m sure there’s a lot to be proven,” the third-year coach said. “I’ve got to carry on the leadership, carry on the vision. A lot of good things happened the last two years. It’s a great challenge.”
The Pistons haven’t reached the postseason since 2009, though they showed some progress last season. The 32 wins were their most since that year, and they went .500 over their final 54 games under first-year coach Stan Van Gundy.