Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:01 AM

Friday's Essentials

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Game of the Night - Golden State (-2.5, 218) at Utah, ESPN, 10:35 ET

The Jazz were swept by Golden State in 2016-17’s first round, losing all four games by double-digits. They then watched Gordon Hayward walk away, leaving the franchise that developed him behind in order to join forces with his former college coach.

If not for Detroit passing on Donovan Mitchell to take shooter Luke Kennard with the No. 12 pick, Utah could be mired in mediocrity, preparing to face another season fighting an uphill battle in the loaded West.

Instead, Mitchell’s return following a brilliant rookie season makes the Jazz one of the primary threats to the Warriors’ plans of a three-peat that would give them four NBA titles in five years. Although he was edged out for Rookie of the Year honors by Philadelphia prodigy Ben Simmons, Mitchell’s brilliance down the stretch cemented a rise we saw come out of nowhere last November, when he overcame shooting 25 percent (13-for-52) over the first five games of his career and ended up averaging 20.5 points to lead all first-year players.

Utah couldn’t get past Houston in May’s conference semifinals, but Mitchell’s 28.5 points per game in the first round eliminated Russell Westbrook and Oklahoma City. Considering the Jazz beat Golden State in all three of their 2018 meetings and are the only team with a winning record against the Dubs over the past two seasons, they’re right to be confident entering their home opener.

Mitchell hit four of five 3-pointers the last time he ran into the Splash Brothers, breaking Damian Lillard’s NBA record for most makes from beyond the arc by a first-year player. Utah won 119-79, registering a 40-point blowout over a Warriors team that was resting Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala but had multiple All-Stars out there.

Center Rudy Gobert’s size is a major weapon against Golden State, but Steve Kerr’s counters had typically worked until Mitchell’s arrival. In fact, the last five games the Jazz played against the Warriors in 2017, four of which came in that aforementioned first-round playoffs series, all resulted in double-digit losses.

Utah didn’t play its trademark defense in Wednesday’s regular-season opener in Sacramento, prevailing despite giving up 117 points, which is sixth-most they’ve surrendered since Mitchell came on board. Golden State scored 126 points in the first meeting between the teams last season (Dec. 27, 2017) but was held under 100 in the next three. Although it’s too early in the season to call this a huge game, the fact the Warriors are well aware of how much trouble this team gave them in posting wins by 40, 30 and 19 points should ramp up the intensity from where we would ordinarily see it in a Game No. 2.

The Warriors handled Westbrook-less OKC on Wednesday but failed to cover a 13-point spread and fell behind in the third quarter despite being up 10 at the break. Golden State held the Thunder to just 37 percent shooting but went just 7-for-26 from 3-point range since Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant combined to make just one of their 13 attempts.

Damian Jones made his first start at center for the Dubs and Kevon Looney came up with 10 points and 11 boards off the bench in replacing JaVale McGee and Zaza Pachulia, so they held their own against Steven Adams. It’s going to be a different challenge to fare as well on the road against Gobert, who had 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting in Sacramento, adding 15 boards and three blocks in a team-high 37 minutes. His length is a challenge for for Draymond Green, who still isn’t in great shape after taking most of the summer off from basketball to heal a sore knee. He played just 32 minutes on Wednesday and isn’t likely to be himself for a few weeks. Head coach Steve Kerr has said he’d likely play in “shorter bursts.”

The Warriors are just a 2.5-point favorite here, which is interesting since it took until Game No. 47, a Jan. 20 visit to Houston, for them to be favored by less than a possession in 2017-18. Golden State was an underdog six times last season, mostly down the stretch as key players rested, but were only favored by 2.5 points or less twice last season. They lost at both the Rockets and Pacers in those contests. Utah was a home underdog six times last season and won four of those games outright, including a 129-99 rout of Golden State on Jan. 30.


Of the props available below at Westgate Superbook, I'd bank on Jaylen Brown's scoring output to be higher than expected and will back the 'under' on Raps/Celtics 3-pointers and Gobert points.

Largest lead in Warriors/Jazz, 16.5: (Over -110, Under -110)
Total 3-pointers made in Warriors/Jazz, 21.5: (Over -110, Under -110)
Kevin Durant total points, 27.5: (Over -110, Under -110)
Stephen Curry total points, 26.5: (Over -110, Under -110)
Donovan Mitchell total points, 23: (Over -110, Under -110)
Rudy Gobert total points, 14.5: (Over -110, Under -110)
Largest lead in Celtics/Raptors, 16: (Over -110, Under -110)
Total 3-pointers made in Celtics/Raptors, 21.5: (Over -110, Under -110)
Jayson Tatum total points, 17: (Over -110, Under -110)
Jaylen Brown total points, 13: (Over -110, Under -110)
Kawhi Leonard total points, 23.5: (Over -110, Under -110)
Kyle Lowry total points, 17.5: (Over -110, Under -110)

The card

Charlotte (-2/218) at Orlando, 7:05 p.m. ET: If you can’t beat him, hire him. That could be one way to look at the Magic opening the season with Steve Clifford at the helm since he quickly landed on his feet after being let go as Michael Jordan went a different direction. Charlotte carries an 11-game winning streak over Orlando into Amway Arena, posting all of the victories on Clifford’s watch. Kemba Walker will now look to terrorize his ex-coach after opening the season scoring 41 points in a 113-112 home loss to Milwaukee. Nicolas Batum had an opportunity to win it but missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

The Hornets want to push whenever possible, while the Magic want to use their excellent length to become the Eastern Conference’s version of Utah. In that vein, 7-footer Mo Bamba had a fantastic debut off the bench in Wednesday’s win against the Heat, drilling a crucial 3-pointer and finishing with 13 points, seven boards and two blocks. He’s got a 7-foot-10 wingspan. Aaron Gordon led the way with 26 points and 16 rebounds and Orlando survived nearly squandering a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit in pulling off an upset of the Heat. The Magic started fast last season too and may be a live home ‘dog here if they can keep Walker from going off. Charlotte has won seven of eight in Central Florida.

New York at Brooklyn (-3.5/219), 7:35 p.m. ET: New York’s teams cashed in their regular-season debuts. The Nets lost just 103-100 in Detroit when Joe Harris’ 3-pointer on their final possession misfired, but 21-year-old center Jarrett Allen’s block of a Blake Griffin dunk attempt was among Wednesday ‘s top highlights in a strong performance on the road. The Knicks scored a franchise-best 49 points in the second quarter and ran away from the Hawks in a duel of teams expected to vie for the NBA’s worst record. NYK rolled despite lottery pick Kevin Knox shooting just 4-for-16 off the bench and took the game over in Noah Vonleh’s 16 minutes of play that saw him grab 10 boards and shoot 5-for-5 from the field for a double-double no one could’ve seen coming.

The Knicks and Nets will be seeing each other for the third time this month since they squared off in a pair of preseason games, winning on the other’s home court in competitive games. D’Angelo Russell’s activity stood out, so New York will likely key in on being as disruptive as possible against the Brooklyn point guard as it seeks it fifth straight victory in the series following last season’s sweep that featured three double-digit wins. Kristaps Porzingis will be out for months, but the Knicks could get back versatile guards Emmanuel Mudiay (ankle) and Courtney Lee (neck) after both missed the opener. They’re two of New York’s top defenders, so any total plays should wait on announcement addressing their availability. Brooklyn will have shooter Allen Crabbe (ankle) in the mix for the first time, while wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is expected to be a game-time decision.

Sacramento at New Orleans (-11/230.5), 8:05 p.m. ET: The Pelicans posted the week’s most impressive victory, crushing Houston on its home floor. Anthony Davis went to work from the opening tip and really never gave the Rockets a shot, finishing with 32 points and 16 rebounds to wear out the Rockets’ defense. New Orleans head coach Alvin Gentry stuck to his guns of playing bigs Nikola Mirotic, Julius Randle and Davis together, counting on their versatility to be as big a problem for opponents as their pick-and-roll defense will be for his sanity. Although there will likely be headaches ahead, Gentry has said he’s not going to go small whenever possible this season in an effort to make teams adjust to dealing with the size advantage his best guys enjoy.

Matching up won’t be a problem for the Kings, who covered against Utah thanks to an improved-looking backcourt of De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield. Willie Cauley-Stein anchored the bigs with 23 points despite squaring off against reigning Defensive Player of the Year Gobert, so the hope is that he’ll be able to continue a strong start in a contract year while proving he can be a consistent force for the first time in his career. The Kings are going to try and wear teams down by playing a lot of bodies and started shooters Nemanja Bjelica and Yogi Ferrell to help spread the floor, so expect plenty of track meets as they look to follow Fox’s lead and get out in transition. They’ll be better off when wing Bogdan Bogdanovic returns from a knee issue, but that isn’t expected to be until next month. These teams combined for 215 or more points in each of last year’s four meetings, splitting the series 2-2.

Boston at Toronto (-3/209), 8:05 p.m. ET, ESPN: After crushing the 76ers in their home opener, the Celtics will look to send a message to their other main nemesis in the East, reigning Atlantic Division champ Toronto. Boston will see how it matches up with Kawhi Leonard for the first time after the Cavs had few answers for him in Wednesday’s 116-104 Raptors’ win. Leonard finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds and was aggressive in attacking the paint and single coverage in an impressive debut. He’s looked like his old self for weeks now. Most important, Kyle Lowry shook off the disappointment of the Raps moving friend and tag-team partner DeMar DeRozan over his protests and poured in a team-best 27 points and eight assists in a 116-104 win over Cleveland. Toronto put its fantastic depth on display and may be at full strength since OG Anunoby (eye) will be fine to play and Delon Wright (thigh) may be available after being held out against the Cavs.

Strength in numbers carried Boston past Philadelphia in resounding fashion despite Kyrie Irving (2-for-14) struggling with his shot. Jayson Tatum scored a game-high 23 points in the 105-87 rout that featured all nine Celtics who played at least 19 minutes scoring at least seven points. Only Al Horford failed to hit a 3-pointer, a sign that Boston is going to swing the ball to the open man and trust everyone is capable of hitting the outside shot, which includes big Aron Baynes and even Horford, who missed his lone attempt. Marcus Morris produced 16 points off the bench and was instrumental in helping the C’s pull away. These teams went 2-2 against one another last year but Toronto won a huge late-season game 96-78 and has won or split the regular-season series against Boston in each of the last five years.

Cleveland at Minnesota (-8.5/223.5), 8:05 p.m. ET: Kevin Love will be back in his old stomping grounds, but being the face of a franchise again will take some getting used to. Playing next to LeBron James and Irving while winning a title required him to alter his game, but he’s one of the few holdovers from the team that won the title in ’16 and is being tasked with being the bridge between that era and whatever comes next. Love shot 5-for-18 up in Toronto and has been dealing with a sore foot, so Cleveland may be in for a rough start as it begins truly turning the page. Lottery pick Collin Sexton missed five of seven shots and committed a team-high four turnovers in just 17 minutes, so there are definitely some growing pains ahead.

If the Timberwolves can’t dispose of this group, it’s going to be hard to resist dealing Jimmy Butler in the coming week. At this point, Tom Thibodeau appears to be buying time since it appears inevitable that Butler will get his wish in getting out of town, having proven too disruptive to play with despite his best intentions on the floor. Karl-Anthony Towns hasn’t responded well to how Butler has challenged him to step his game up and fouled out in just 22 minutes in San Antonio, scoring eight points and grabbing nine boards. Towns will see plenty of suspect defenders Love and a slumping Tristan Thompson here, so it’s a must that he turns things around. Butler had four steals against the Spurs and was out there defending and trying to get guys involved, but the lack of chemistry from Minnesota’s group is pretty evident. We’ll see what reaction he gets in the Timberwolves’ home opener. Odds are he’ll be booed lustily while Love is cheered, which will make for an interesting dynamic early.

Atlanta at Memphis (-7.5/213.5), 8:05 p.m. ET: No one has played worse than these teams this week. The Hawks lost at the Knicks and showed no desire to defend. The Grizzlies still looked stuck in preseason mode against Indiana and found their chances of an opening night victory snuffed out by halftime. The Pacers won 111-83 and outscored Memphis 60-16 in the paint. Nobody looked comfortable whatsoever, but the biggest issue for the Griz was a lack of energy and fight that can best be illustrated by a 57-28 disadvantage on the boards. We’ll see if being back home can serve as an alarm clock for Memphis that the season has arrived and it’s time to stop going through the motions.

The Hawks’ problem wasn’t effort, but rather, a lack of attention to detail that goes hand-in-hand with being young. They committed 24 turnovers and were often lost on the defensive end, so Lloyd Pierce will have plenty to harp on as he gets his team ready for an opponent they’ve already seen since Atlanta visited Fed-Ex Forum two weeks ago, losing 120-110. We’ll see if familiarity with being defended by Mike Conley helps Trae Young, who struggled in shooting 5-for-14 with five assists and four turnovers in his debut. John Collins, expected to be the focal point for Atlanta up front this season, will miss his second straight game due to an injured ankle and won’t play until next week. Forward/center Dewayne Dedmon and wing Justin Anderson are also out, while rookie forward Omari Spellman (ankle) is doubtful, leaving the Hawks thin up front.

Indiana at Milwaukee (-3.5/216), 8:35 p.m. ET: We’ll see if having such light work in its debut affects Indiana, especially since the Bucks got a great challenge from the Hornets and were able to execute in some late-game situations. Myles Turner, fresh off signing a four-year $72 million extension, is still working his way back from an ankle tweak and played just 20 minutes in the blowout of the Grizzlies so we’ll see if he’s up to the task of playing extended minutes here. If he’s not Indiana should still be in great shape leaning on an improved-looking Domantas Sabonis, who came off the bench for 14 points and 15 rebounds and really helped key the blowout with his work off the bench alongside newcomer Doug McDermott. The Pacers posted their rout despite a slow start from Victor Oladipo and an 0-for-5 night from point guard Darren Collison.

The Bucks got a great game from Giannis Antetokounmpo (25p/18r/8a) as he made good on his promised to stop settling for jumpers in Game 1. Mike Budenholzer’s influence has already produced results in that the offense looked crisper and guys attacked with purpose, so this is going to be a terrific early meeting between the Central Division’s top contenders. Indiana won last year’s final three meetings, including a 103-96 result in March to claim the last meeting between the teams at Bradley Center. This will be Milwaukee’s regular-season debut at the Fiserv Forum, their new downtown arena. The Bucks are healthy, while the Pacers will be without only T.J. Leaf, who has an injured ankle.

Oklahoma City (PK/214) at L.A. Clippers, 10:35 p.m. ET: Russell Westbrook has been ruled out by OKC for this one. I'd expect he'll be in the lineup for Sunday's home opener.

The Thunder star is still working his way back from undergoing knee surgery last month and has been progressing in practices but has yet to be cleared. Offseason acquisition Dennis Schroder has been around to run the offense and help maintain the team’s identity, while Terrance Ferguson has been inserted into the spot Andre Roberson will fill opposite Paul George when he's healthy again. George struggled in the first half at Golden State before getting hot to fuel a second-half comeback that ultimately flamed out down the stretch. Steven Adams was a game-time decision due to a back issue but ended up playing 35 minutes, finishing with 17 points and 12 rebounds. He’ll be tasked with facing L.A. 7-footers Marcin Gortat and Boban Marjanovic, who combined for 24 points in 14 rebounds in helping replace DeAndre Jordan.

The Clippers held a fourth-quarter lead on Denver as a slight underdog on Wednesday but struggled down the stretch in getting outscored 23-6 over the final 5:07. Doc Rivers is putting top defenders Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley on the floor together to set the tone, but we’ll see if rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander eventually break into the first five. I’d bank on it. Lou Williams was on the floor to finish the opener, but the offense bogged down around him, so Rivers has to figure some things out to make the most out of his competitive group.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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