ABOVE PHOTO: Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers shouts during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
By Tim Reynolds
And … it’s back.
The NBA’s new season starts Tuesday with a pair of games; Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets welcoming Durant’s former team in Golden State, while the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers open with the Los Angeles Clippers in the renewal of rivals who share a building.
For the first time since March, all 30 NBA teams are playing this week. When the season resumed in July, only 22 teams went to the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. So, for eight teams — Golden State, Minnesota, Atlanta, Charlotte, New York, Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland — games will be played for the first time since March.
For others, it’s the first time since August. Others, the first time since September. And for the Lakers and Miami Heat, who met in last season’s NBA Finals, the offseason only started in mid-October.
The league has had 30 teams since 2004, and on Monday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver suggested that it might be time to consider expansion once again. Extra teams would figure to mean extra revenue, and while nothing is imminent — really, it’s years away if it happens — Silver did say that it is something under advisement.
“It’s an economic issue and it’s a competitive issue for us,” Silver said. “So, it’s one that we’ll continue to study, but we’re spending a little bit more time on it than we were pre-pandemic.”
For now and for the foreseeable future, though, the NBA is 30 teams. The first half of the season goes through March 4, the second half starts March 11 and runs through May 16, the play-in tournament goes from May 18 through May 21, the playoffs start May 22 and the last possible date for the NBA Finals is July 22.
All that is pandemic-permitting, of course. Everything is subject to change.
But Opening Night, at least, has arrived. Here’s some of what to know going into this season:
Larry Bird, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain are the only players in NBA history to win three consecutive MVP awards.
Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo has a chance this season to join their club.
The Bucks’ star from Greece — and proud owner of a newly signed supermax extension — is already the first two-time MVP hailing from Europe and joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James as the only players to win the award twice before turning 26.
LeBron James is about at the point where every game he plays creates a new entry in the NBA’s record book.
He enters this season with 995 consecutive regular-season games with at least 10 points scored, the longest such run in NBA history and in position to reach the 1,000 double-digit games in a row milestone when the Los Angeles Lakers play at San Antonio on Dec. 30 — which just happens to be James’ 36th birthday.
The last time James didn’t have at least 10 points in a regular-season game was Jan. 5, 2007, when he was held to eight at Milwaukee.
Other milestones within reach for James this season: He’s six triple-doubles shy of 100; 654 assists from 10,000; 759 points away from 35,000; and 1,448 minutes from 50,000.
Stephen Curry played in only five games last season with Golden State, part of the long list of injured players that derailed any chance the Warriors had of being competitive.
Curry returns this season and likely won’t need long to move into No. 2 on the all-time 3-pointers made list. He enters with 2,495, just 65 away from Reggie Miller’s total of 2,560.
Ray Allen holds the all-time mark of 2,973 makes from 3-point range. At Curry’s current career pace of 3.6 made 3’s per game, he would need 134 more games to catch Allen — which means the record could be his in the latter stages of the 2021-22 season.
Houston’s John Wall is scheduled to return to the court Wednesday, in what will be his first game since Dec. 26, 2018.
To put in context how much time he’s missed while recovering from heel and Achilles injuries: Danny Green has appeared in a league-high 158 games since Wall’s last appearance, 114 of them wins; Rockets guard James Harden has scored 4,887 points since Wall’s last game; Nikola Jokic has handed out 1,085 assists (and LeBron James has 1,079 going into Tuesday); and Giannis Antetokounmpo has grabbed 1,664 rebounds.
ALL OR NOTHING
The Miami Heat are either going back to the NBA Finals or missing the playoffs entirely.
That is, if the trend from the last seven seasons holds true.
Starting with San Antonio’s loss in the 2013 finals, teams that lost the title series one year either go back to it the following year or completely miss the postseason. Of the last seven runners-up: The Spurs won the 2014 title, the Heat missed the 2015 playoffs, Cleveland won the title in 2016, Golden State won the title in 2017, the Cavaliers lost the finals in 2018 and missed the playoffs in 2019, and the Warriors missed the playoffs last season.
Sometime in the coming days — possibly as early as Wednesday, more likely during the Christmas games Friday — someone will make the 500,000th 3-pointer in NBA history, including regular-season and playoff games.
There have been 499,549 made 3’s in NBA history. At last season’s pace of made 3’s, with teams combining for almost 25 per game, the 500,000th would come during the matchup between the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas night.
So far, 2,337 NBA players have made at least one 3-pointer; that’s 72.9% of the players who have appeared in the league since the league added the shot in the 1979-80 season. Of the 530 players who appeared in at least one game last season, 463 — or 87.4% — made at least one 3-pointer.
Toronto enters the season with the longest active streak of season-opening wins; the Raptors have started 1-0 in each of the last seven seasons.
Brooklyn is the other end of the spectrum; the Nets have started 0-1 in seven consecutive years.
Another note on opening games: San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Detroit’s Dwane Casey are pretty much automatic.
Popovich is entering his 25th season as coach of the Spurs, a stint he started 18 games into the 1996-97 season. He’s coached 23 season-openers, going an absurd 21-2 in those games. Casey has gone 10-1 in his openers with Minnesota, Toronto and Detroit — with wins in his last seven.
Something to watch this season: how the Los Angeles Clippers handle close games without coach Doc Rivers.
Over the past three seasons, the Clippers went a league-best 22-8 in one-possession games, including both regular-season and playoff matchups. That .733 winning percentage is the best in the league over that span, well ahead of No. 2 Denver (33-16, .673) and No. 3 Cleveland (22-15, .595).
Rivers is coaching Philadelphia now. The 76ers ranked 21st in the NBA in three-points-or-less games over the last three years, going 20-23 (.465). Could Rivers change that? Time will tell.
The team that has struggled most in games decided by three points or less? Dallas. The Mavericks are 12-27 in those games over the last three seasons and lost a league-high 11 such contests last season. As Luka Doncic’s game keeps evolving, as it will, expect that to change.
Miami’s Udonis Haslem — he’s 40, turning 41 in June — is the oldest player in the NBA to start the season, now that Vince Carter is retired.
Jamal Crawford played one game last season; like Carter, he’s older than Haslem but isn’t currently under contract.
The youngest player in the league right now is Oklahoma City’s Aleksej Pokusevski. If he plays in the Thunder opener on Wednesday at Houston, he’ll be able to say he debuted in the NBA at 18 — the Serbian rookie doesn’t turn 19 until Saturday.
Pokusevski could become the 28th 18-year-old in NBA history. He won’t come anywhere near the record for games played before turning 19; that one is held by Kobe Bryant, who appeared in 80 games for the Lakers as an 18-year-old in 1996-97, including playoffs.
Sekou Doumbouya played in five games as an 18-year-old for Detroit last season. He was the first 18-year-old in the NBA since Dragan Bender played nine games at that age for Phoenix in 2016.
The NBA doesn’t expect fans to like every call. The league also won’t mind if fans study the rules a bit deeper as well.
A video rulebook site with hundreds of videos that explain the nuances of certain rules of the game has been revamped and relaunched in recent weeks. The league says it offers “a deeper look at some of the game’s most misunderstood rules and violations.”