Basketball

Lakers, Clippers set to star in wide open NBA season

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

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LOS ANGELES, United States (AFP) — It's a whole new ball game in the NBA, where a seismic shift in star talent has flung the door wide open to an array of 2020 title contenders.

The NBA, whose sudden row with China promises to linger, will be hoping on-court excitement in the wake of unexpected off season moves will pull attention from simmering tensions when the 2019-20 campaign tips off today.

With Kevin Durant gone and Klay Thompson ruled out for the first half of the season after knee surgery, Golden State Warriors' march to the finals that has defined the past five seasons looks to be a thing of the past.

Stephen Curry says a championship is “still the goal” for him, Draymond Green and the rest of the Warriors' new-look team, after Golden State fell to the Toronto Raptors in last year's title series.

But just as the Warriors open their glitzy, new, US$1.4-billion Chase Arena in San Francisco, the centre of gravity in the still-powerful Western Conference has shifted south.

Los Angeles Clippers are the top pick to contend in a survey of NBA general managers, thanks to the arrival of Kawhi Leonard from reigning champions Toronto Raptors and Paul George from Oklahoma City.

The revamped Clippers are out to usurp the Lakers as Los Angeles' top team, although the LeBron James-led Lakers won't go quietly.

A “very motivated” James, whose first campaign in LA ended with him missing the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2005, says the team is ready to contend with former New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis lining up alongside Dwight Howard, Kyle Kuzma and newly arrived Danny Green.

“I'm not in talk-about-it mode,” James said.

The Clippers and Lakers kick off the season today, when the Raptors will launch their title defence — and raise their championship banner — in a game against the Pelicans.

The Clippers-Lakers matchup is the first of four games in the season between the Tinseltown rivals, who also feature in the star-studded Christmas slate.

In December the league ventures south of the border with two games in Mexico, and league icon Michael Jordan's Charlotte Hornets take on reigning Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo of Greece and the Milwaukee Bucks at Paris in January.

However, the league that has painstakingly cultivated overseas markets and welcomed a steadily increasing number of international players, received a jolting reminder of the pitfalls of global growth on the eve of the season.

Commissioner Adam Silver admits he doesn't know “where we go from here”, after lucrative Chinese sponsorship and telecast deals were left in limbo when Houston Rockets executive Daryl Morey tweeted support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

And not all of the marquee off season moves will yield immediate dividends.

Durant won't suit up for the Brooklyn Nets this season as he continues his recovery from a ruptured Achilles tendon.

But with Kyrie Irving, who fled the Boston Celtics, and DeAndre Jordan, the Nets expect to contend.

“The league is wide open on both sides, East and West, so we want to take advantage of our opportunity,” Brooklyn's Jordan said as training camp opened.

The Clippers will also be without one of their heralded new arrivals as the season starts, with George still recovering from off season shoulder surgery.

George wasn't the only superstar to depart Oklahoma City, who traded 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for point guard Paul George.

In Houston, Westbrook will be teaming up with 2018 MVP James Harden — his former Thunder teammate who was traded to Houston in 2012.


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