The wait is now over, and we’re less than a day away from the 2021-22 season starting. The Bucks will raising their championship banner on opening night, but they face a serious test in the Brooklyn Nets, who took them to seven games in the playoffs this year. Even though they’ll be without Kyrie Irving, the Nets are still a dangerous proposition for the reigning champs, as they’re still helmed by Kevin Durant and James Harden.
Will Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday carry some momentum from the Finals into their first game of the season? Catch this game live on October 20, at 7:30 AM, Manila time.
Away: The Brooklyn Nets (0-0)
Projected Starting Five:
- PG: James Harden
- SG: Joe Harris
- SF: Bruce Brown
- PF: Kevin Durant
- C: LaMarcus Aldridge / Blake Griffin
The Brooklyn Nets have had a tumultuous summer thanks to the Kyrie Irving saga, but let’s not forget that when it comes to business on the court, former OKC teammates Harden and Durant are consummate professionals. Durant averaged 20 PPG, 6.7 RPG and 1.7 APG on shooting splits of 51.2 / 50 / 81.8 in three preseason games while playing an average of 27.2 minutes in those contests. Harden also played in three games and averaged 11.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG, and 7.3 APG while shooting 43.3 / 31.3 / 57.1 – generally strange numbers that can probably be chalked up to the preseason.
One big question will be how hard the new rule changes against abnormal moves for offensive players will affect Harden, who has made a career out of taking advantage of those loopholes. Nothing’s going to be changed about him being a brilliant facilitator, but we’ve got to wonder what the effect on him will be over the course of an 82-game season.
Brooklyn still has a solid team outside of those two, though, with experienced veterans like LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Patty Mills, and Paul Millsap ready to take part. Summer league and preseason darling Cam Thomas is also a wildcard, because he’s got the potential to provide an excellent scoring punch from the bench. He dropped 21 points against the Lakers in his first preseason game and has both the courage and the ability to get buckets.
Home: The Milwaukee Bucks (0-0)
Projected Starting Five:
- PG: Jrue Holiday
- SG: Grayson Allen
- SF: Khris Middleton
- PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo
- C: Brook Lopez
Antetokounmpo’s signature game came the title-winning Game 6 against the Phoenix Suns. With 50 points, 14 rebounds, two assists and five blocks, the Greek Freak made 16 of 25 shots and also made an astounding 17 of 19 free throws. He showed flashes of an improved three-point shot in preseason games, and if that progress continues onto the regular season, the 26-year-old Finals MVP could become nigh-unstoppable. Everyone knows that he’s a hard worker, and winning his chip has taken a huge burden off his shoulders after embarrassing playoff exits in his back-to-back regular season MVP campaigns. In three preseason games, he averaged 18.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 4.3 APG and 1.3 SPG and shot 68.8 / 66.7 / 58.3. It’s fair to note that his high three-point average came at an average of two attempts a game, hardly enough to judge by, but his free throw percentage was in line with his 58.7% average in this year’s playoffs.
Khris Middleton only played in two preseason games and averaged 19.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG and 2.5 APG while Jrue Holiday played three times to average 12.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG and 5.7 RPG. They’ve also got key holdovers from that title-winning team in Brook Lopez and Pat Connaughton, but one player to keep a lookout for is second-year player Jordan Nwora, who played in all of their preseason games and averaged 17.8 PPG, 5.0 RPG and 2.6 APG while shooting 44.3 / 41.2 / 83.3. They’ll be looking to him to help replace some of the production that was lost thanks to Bryn Forbes moving to the San Antonio Spurs.
The Bucks will also still be missing the defense of Donte DiVincenzo, who remains out thanks to the torn ankle ligament he suffered against the Miami Heat in the playoffs.
Spread: The Nets are looking strong even without Irving, but Antetokounmpo and the Bucks will be looking to prove a point against everyone who said they got lucky to win it all last year. I like the Bucks at -1.5.
Over/Under: Regular season games between the Nets and Bucks were a high-scoring affair last year, and with defenses still acclimatizing over the first few games, I’m taking the Over 236.