The new NBA season will soon be upon us and while the continent enjoyed the NBA Africa Game and the exploits of the stars at the event, the focus has now shifted to the tip-off of the new season. The schedule has thrown up some intriguing games, but the opening-day fixtures have some interesting ties Africa will be looking forward to.
Bismack Biyombo vs Miami Heat: Biyombo missed Orlando Magic’s first meeting with Miami Heat last season, but went on to average seven rebounds playing an average 21 minutes in the other three regular-season games against the Heat. Orlando lost only one of those four games; the first one Biyombo missed through suspension. Was it just a happenstance? Or was Biyombo a factor? The opening game for the Magic at the Amway Center on October 18 will give us some clue. This could also be the first game for Nigerian-American Edrice ‘Bam’ Adebayo, the Heat rookie they drafted from the University of Kentucky with the 14th pick.
Emmanuel Mudiay at Utah Jazz: Mudiay played three games for the Denver Nuggets against the Jazz last season; of the three, the Nuggets won only one. In that game he played 32 minutes, passed for eight assists and scored 10 points. In the other two games he played a total of 40 minutes and had zero assists. The lesson? The Nuggets need Mudiay to facilitate. That is what the young Congolese will need to do, if the Nuggets want a W from Salt Lake City in their opening game of the season. Mudiay was on fire in the NBA Africa Game as he scored 22 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished nine assists.
Joel Embiid at Washington Wizards: Fans of the Washington Wizards are about to get a feel of what the Embiid hype is all about … if the current ‘Most Exciting Player (MEP)’ of the League gets to suit up at the Capital One Arena for this one. Embiid mania swept the League last season, but he didn’t play in any of the three regular-season fixtures between these two franchises. And the game will be on national television, too.
Luol Deng vs LA Clippers: Deng didn’t get a mention in the post-game report after the LA Lakers defeated the LA Clippers 111-102 in December last year. But the 32-year-old Sudanese forward played a solid 34 minutes and posted a 13-point, 12-rebound, two-steal, two-assist and two-blocks-with-no-turnovers game. Then the Lakers decided to develop their young players. Deng didn’t play in the next three regular-season fixtures. The Lakers lost all three. A brand-new Lakers team is emerging; this meeting of neighbours on the opening day will show what plans the purple and gold have for the veteran.
Serge Ibaka vs Chicago Bulls: Ibaka had mixed results the against the Chicago Bulls last season. Two losses and a win. The two losses came at the early part of the season, when Ibaka was with the Orlando Magic; the win was later in the season after he’d switched to the Toronto Raptors. The US media have called Ibaka out on his ‘declining numbers’; this game will likely provide an insight into what he has in store for the season. He has said that he will soon be back to his best this season, touting the return of ‘Iblocka’.
Victor Oladipo vs Brooklyn Nets: Oladipo averaged 15.9 ppg last season, which means the 26 and 21 he scored against Brooklyn in the two OKC wins were above his average. Also exceptional was the game-high +25 he recorded in the plus/minus efficiency in the second game. All these while playing beside League MVP Russell Westbrook. Indiana were 3-1 versus Brooklyn last season, and Oladipo may just continue from where he left off, and keep piling up the numbers against the Nets. He was the MVP of the Africa Game after scoring 28 points, pulling down nine rebounds and passing five assists.
Clint Capela and Luc Mbah a Moute at Golden State Warriors: The Rockets lost all three games to end the month of April during the last regular season; two of those games were against the champion Golden State Warriors. Still, Capela averaged 16 ppg and 6.5 rpg after play of 25.5 minutes in those games. Mbah a Moute started all but one in the four-game sweep the Clippers suffered at the hands of the Warriors when he was at LA last season, but the Cameroonian is usually rated one of the best players on the floor for the Clips. A better Rockets team now face the Warriors in one of the games the world is looking forward to, and all African eyes will be on the continent’s representatives in this one.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Thon Maker at Boston Celtics: Milwaukee opted to rest All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo for their last regular-season visit to Boston. It didn’t matter that the Nigerian-Greek had dropped 21 and 22 points on the conference leaders in the first two regular-season duels; the Bucks simply wanted their franchise player rested for the impending playoffs. Thon Maker, the other player of African descent on the Bucks roster, had done well to start 34 of the 57 games he played, averaging 12.5 mpg versus the Celtics in three games.
The development of both players, and the readiness of the Bucks to challenge the top teams in Eastern Conference, will be the point of interest in this game. The Celtics won at the Bucks’ home arena in the first game of last season and although the Celtics won the next game at the TD Garden, this season opener for Milwaukee will run the rule over their ambitions.
By Akinbode Oguntuyi
@booday10 on Twitter