10 must-watch games in 2018/19 for Aussie NBA fans
The NBA offseason never fails to disappoint, and this summer's no exception.
LeBron James to the L.A. Lakers! Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors! Jimmy Butler to anywhere but the Minnesota Timberwolves!
The wait for games that matter, is almost over. Last year was a great one for Aussie NBA fans. Ben Simmons snagged Rookie of the Year, Joe Ingles was a flamethrower from 3-point land all year long, Aron Baynes emerged as a sniper in the playoffs as the Boston Celtics came within one LeBron hairline from making the finals - but there's more to come in 2018-19. With a new Australian in the league (Ryan Broekhoff) and every returning Aussie expected to play deep into the playoffs, this coming season could set the high-water mark for this era of Aussies in the NBA.
Let's take a look at the 10 matches Aussie fans can't afford to miss (all dates are based on AEDT):
1. Philadelphia 76ers @ Boston Celtics (Oct 17)
The season opens with a bang - it's a rematch from last year's Eastern Conference semi-finals. The star power alone is pretty high: Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving, and Gordon Hayward should all feature - making this the crown jewel of the opening slate of games. Even the neutrals likely won't miss this one; what's your excuse?
The Boston Celtics came out on top in the playoffs, but this should be a close game regardless. It will be interesting to see if Simmons and the 76ers have figured out a way to overcome the tactics the Celtics used to neutralize him in their playoff series, and whether Baynes can pick up where he left off with his hot shooting.
Don't forget about Jonah Bolden too - the youngster has been fairly impressive in preseason action, and could make his full debut in this game.
Lastly, not to hate on the big Banger, but Embiid might be looking to create another poster.
We're waiting for Baynes to shut him up with a denial at the rim this time!
2. Philadelphia 76ers @ Milwaukee Bucks (Oct 25)
It's the second Philly game in a row. This one is a little less glitzy than the Celtics game, but the Bucks are still a strong team, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo and his Stretch Armstrong limbs.
Of course, the highlight for Aussie fans will be seeing Ben Simmons matched up against fellow Boomer Matthew Dellavedova. It looks like an obvious advantage for Simmons, but underestimate Delly's hustle and scrappiness at your own risk. I mean, he didn't hesitate to get into it with Marcus Smart, one of the 'angrier' players around, just last year.
Let's not forget about Thon Maker either. Thon saw a decent jump in minutes per game last year from his rookie season, and with new coach Mike Budenholzer's emphasis on spreading the floor at all positions, his shooting ability could see him take yet another step up this year.
With that said, Dellavedova and Maker's linger knee concerns has not helped their respective causes. Both players are facing a roster logjam and limited minutes, with strong competition on their respective spots. Maker could still be the first reserve big man in the Bucks' rotation, but Dellavedova's absence in Milwaukee's final preseason game, is definitely raises an eyebrow.
Bonus point: both teams should be in the playoffs, and for all we know they could end up facing each other. Potential postseason series preview, this one. Keep your eyes peeled!
3. Utah Jazz @ Dallas Mavericks (Oct 29)
This game will see Joe Ingles visiting the NBA rookie many think is Joe Ingles 2.0, Ryan Broekhoff. It remains to be seen if Broekhoff will have a big role. If he does make it onto the floor, there's every chance he will go head to head with Jingles, sharpshooter vs. sharpshooter.
Dante Exum should feature too. He's had an up-and-down NBA career so far, mainly due to several untimely injuries, but the Jazz kept the faith and signed the guard to a 3-year, $33 million extension in the off-season. Exum is still more potential than tangible production at this point, but not many teams sign a player to a sizable contract if they don't think he can live up to it.
If Exum stays healthy this year, he could finally get extended opportunities to show his talents. He'll get an early-season chance to do so against the much-hyped Dallas playmakers, Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Dončić.
4. Dallas Mavericks @ San Antonio Spurs (Oct 30)
Both were Western Conference powerhouses not too long ago, but right now, these two teams are now in markedly different positions. San Antonio are still a playoff team, but not quite a contender. Dallas is just beginning to pick up momentum in their rebuild after a few fallow years.
While not quite a headliner fixture nowadays, these two teams are still extremely well-coached (shout outs to Rick Carlisle and Gregg Popovich), which should make for a show of good basketball. And there should still be some big-time players on display - the aforementioned young Dallas guards, Dirk Nowitzki, DeMar DeRozan, and LaMarcus Aldridge.
For the Aussies in this match up, it will be a case of brand new beginnings. For rookie Broekhoff, it's obvious why: even if he's featured in every Mavericks game up to this point, his NBA career would still only be six games old.
For NBA champion Patty Mills, he might be looking at unfamiliar territory: a starting role and/or heavy minutes. That's what happens when Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili leave, Dejounte Murray goes down with a torn ACL, and Derrick White tears a ligament in his heel.
The basketball gods are really showing the Spurs some love, huh.
5. Utah Jazz @ Philadelphia 76ers (Nov 17)
We've been made to wait for this. Ben Simmons and Dante Exum are childhood friends, and talk about them finally meeting on the court in an NBA game has gone on for so long I had to do a quick Google search to make sure that they actually haven't done so. First, Simmons had his first year written off due to a broken foot - then when he came back last year, it was Exum's turn to be out with a shoulder injury.
By the time Dante returned, the Jazz had already completed their two games against Philly, so the anticipated showdown was pushed back yet again. Well, knock on wood, we'll finally have it this season. No need to use Call of Duty to settle the score anymore!
6. Philadelphia 76ers @ Utah Jazz (Dec 28)
7. Philadelphia 76ers @ Boston Celtics (Christmas Day)
You know the league values this match up if they're putting it in their Christmas lineup. Part Deux of the opening day blockbuster should have both teams well up and running, with all the early season rust shaken off.
If Ben Simmons still hasn't figured out how to leave his mark on the Celtics by this point, it'll be cause for worry for the 76ers. And I'll cheat a bit here and say that Melbourne's own Kyrie will be itching to break out all his fancy tricks to give the fans a treat for the holidays.
8. San Antonio Spurs @ Philadelphia 76ers (Jan 24)
The date's a little bit off on this one, but this is the closest we've got to an Australia Day special this season. Not sure if it will be billed as such, but we can hope.
Last season, the 76ers held an Australian Heritage Night, complete with a limited edition T-shirt. The season before that, it took place in Milwaukee with the Bucks hosting the 76ers. There was even a Vegemite eating contest!
Maybe we'll get a shoey competition this time!
Anyway, we will have the steady Spurs against the flashy 76ers. There should be some Aussie veteran vs. young upstarts action as well, with Patty Mills taking on Ben Simmons and Jonah Bolden.
Speaking of Bolden - by this point in the season, we should have a clearer picture on his progress. Has he carved out a regular rotation spot? Has he been going back and forth between the 76ers and their G League affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats? Or maybe, just maybe - has he played himself into the Rookie of the Year conversation? We'll see.
9. L.A. Lakers @ Philadelphia 76ers (Feb 11)
The Lakers are going to be a sideshow all year long until LeBron leaves or retires or otherwise disappears, but his first year in purple and gold is probably going to be the most intense one, if for no other reason than the novelty of it all. Everyone will be following his and the Lakers' every move.
With that in mind, you could argue that I could put any of his games against our AITNBA boys on this list, but it's got to be Philly, right? Ben Simmons is the brightest star in the Aussie contingent right now, and there will definitely be a direct confrontation on the court between these two.
It's the King vs. the Prince. The two are good friends off the court, but you can bet Ben is planning to succeed LeBron as the next great power point forward.
The Lakers circus makes its way to Philly in February, but Ben Simmons may turn out to be the ringmaster on the night.
10. Oklahoma City Thunder @ Utah Jazz (Mar 12)
Playoff P turned into Playoff Pee as soon as he came up against Jinglin' Joe in the first round of the playoffs last year. Paul George's first postseason with OKC ended on a sour note (get it? Jazz, note?), and a lot of it had to do with the way Ingles got into his head.
You could put the Benny Hill theme to this footage, it's absolutely hilarious.
These two teams could have a rematch in the playoffs, and this late-season fixture could serve as a nice preview. My money's on Jingles to win his match up with PG13 again!
The NBA has become a 24/7, 365 monster. There's sizable chunks of entertainment for everyone, no matter what their interests or biases are. As you can see, we're pretty much spoiled for choice when it comes to our Aussies in the NBA - and there will most likely be even more to come in the postseason.
Till then, let's enjoy the greatest league in the world coming alive again. Me? I'm looking forward to some sweet string music from Broekhoff. How about you?