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NBA Opener Takeaways: A Changing of the Guard



Credit: Nuggets Twitter

The NBA’s 77th season tipped off last night, featuring a game where the defending champions, Denver Nuggets, faced off against the Los Angeles Lakers, followed by a match between the Golden State Warriors and the revamped Phoenix Suns. The Nuggets emerged victorious over the Lakers with a score of 119-107, thanks to Nikola Jokic’s stellar performance of 29 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists. On the Lakers’ side, LeBron James contributed 21 points, shooting at 63% accuracy from the field in his 29 minutes on the court. In the subsequent game, the Suns were propelled by Devin Booker’s 32 points, while the Warriors were led by Steph Curry’s 27 points. As the season gets underway, here are some initial impressions from last night’s opening games:

Lebron James Is on a Minutes Restriction
LeBron has showcased his resilience across 20 NBA seasons, and as he steps into his 21st season, he’s breaking new ground. No NBA player has ever averaged over 8 points per game in their 21st season. Darvin Ham is cognizant of the toll time has taken on his veteran superstar, indicating a shift from LeBron’s usual 36-38 minutes per game to a more conservative 28-30 minutes. This strategy was evident when LeBron rallied the Lakers in the 4th quarter, narrowing the Nuggets’ lead to just 4 points, before being subbed out upon hitting his minute limit, a move that saw the Lakers ultimately fall by 12 points. Despite LeBron’s enduring high-performance level, the injuries he battled over recent years, some impacting his playoff availability, are not to be overlooked. By employing this new minutes-management strategy, the Lakers aim to ensure LeBron’s vitality and health, hoping this approach yields substantial benefits in the crucial stages of the season.

The Denver Nuggets Are Not a Fluke

Similar to their performance in the previous year’s Western Conference Finals, the Nuggets managed to secure a comfortable victory over the Lakers. At no juncture did the Lakers pose a significant threat to the Nuggets, barring a fleeting surge that was halted when James was benched. Jokic once again overshadowed Anthony Davis, who had a rough spell going 0-6 in the second half. Displaying no contentment with their prior championship, nor embodying an underdog mentality, the Nuggets, led by Jokic, are channeling a demeanor reminiscent of the Duncan-Era Spurs. They exude an aura of sustained excellence, hinting at a future where competing for championships could become the norm in Denver.

A New Era has Begun
For the last decade, discussions regarding the best player in the world have largely centered on LeBron James, with Kevin Durant and Steph Curry also in the conversation. When it comes to championship contention, the spotlight usually shines on a LeBron-led team, a KD-led team, or the Warriors. Yesterday, however, hinted at a changing of the guard. LeBron James played only 29 minutes. The Warriors lost, and apart from Steph, they no longer seem to be the formidable force they once were. While still a good team, the Warriors no longer resemble the powerhouse that made five finals appearances and secured four championships over a nine-year span.

As for the Suns? They orchestrated their offense through Devin Booker who scored 32 points, while Kevin Durant took a secondary role, scoring just 18 points. By no means are LeBron, Durant, and Curry past their prime, nor are they incapable of delivering vintage performances on any given night; however, with LeBron entering year 21, Durant year 18, and Steph year 15, it’s safe to say most of their prime days are behind them. It’s hard to imagine James or Steph leading their teams to a championship unless they acquire substantial help, perhaps a superstar who can shoulder the load. The Suns won’t clinch a ring with KD as their lead man, as this is Devin Booker’s team — he is younger and now entering his prime. What the early outcomes of game one in the 77th year of the NBA suggest is that the league is transitioning into the era of Jokic and Giannis; the baton appears to have been passed.

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