Opening night preview: Rockets at Lakers

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There will be plenty of drama surrounding opening night’s contest between the Lakers and the Rockets, but it probably won’t include the kind created by a close game where we wonder who will win or lose.

While Kobe Bryant’s return after appearing in just six games last season due to injury would be exciting for basketball fans under any circumstances, the fact that it comes at home against Dwight Howard, who bolted L.A. in free agency after one disastrous season, makes it an especially compelling matchup.

By now, you’ve certainly heard about the messy way things ended between Howard and the Lakers, with Bryant essentially sabotaging the team’s free agent pitch meeting to try and help Dwight make his decision to leave that much easier. The two couldn’t have differed any more greatly from a personality standpoint, and the combination of Bryant’s ruthlessness with the opportunity to win by playing with a deeper roster in Houston was worth leaving $30 million on the table to do so in Howard’s eyes.

Beyond seeing how that plays out when the two are on the court, there are a few other things to watch.

The Lakers are expected to have a down season again, thanks to the roster continuing to be in somewhat of a state of flux. The team added pieces to plug holes as a kind of short-term fix until it can once again attract a star free agent or two to come to Los Angeles, two of the more prominent being Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin, both of whom will be in the starting lineup for this one.

But L.A. is missing guys, too. Steve Nash is done for good, thanks to his nerve issue never quite being settled to the point where he could play on anything resembling a consistent basis. Nick Young is out for a bit after suffering torn ligaments in his thumb during practice, and others like Ronnie Price, Xavier Henry and Ryan Kelly have been dealing with injuries that should keep them sidelined for most (if not all) of this opening night contest.

The fact that the bulk of those players we just mentioned are so far from being recognizable by the casual fan tells you just how far this Lakers team has fallen.

Things aren’t nearly as bad in Houston, though the Rockets had a lackluster offseason that, at least on paper, undoubtedly left the team worse.

Houston swung for the fences in free agency, attempting to add a third star player next to Howard and James Harden to truly vault the team to a level of legitimate contention. But after striking out with Carmelo Anthony and coming close with Chris Bosh before Miami offered him max money to stay, the Rockets let Chandler Parsons go to the Mavericks for nothing in return, and traded a reliable defensive big man in Omer Asik away to the Pelicans for a future first round pick.

The Rockets tried to add some depth by overpaying for Trevor Ariza (again), and trading for veteran shooter Jason Terry. But that’s about it, and while Harden may not have seen the value in all that Parsons gave the team, the likelihood exists that it will be difficult for Houston to be as good as it was a season ago — when the team was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

None of that should matter tonight, however, against a Lakers team that will have all kinds of trouble slowing Houston offensively. The Rockets averaged a ridiculous 130.7 points per game in their three wins against L.A. last year, and barring an unexpected, transcendent performance from Bryant, Houston should end up pulling away somewhat convincingly.

ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Houston Rockets

ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: L.A. Lakers

Opening night preview: Magic at Pelicans

Opening night preview: Mavericks at Spurs

Devin Booker tries to meet Gorgui Dieng in locker room after both get ejected (VIDEO)

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NBA players like to talk a big game about getting into fights with one another. It rarely actually happens, and when things get a little too heated sometimes we get a little extracurricular activity that helps us weave the tapestry that is the story of the NBA.

As the Minnesota Timberwolves took on the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night, Gorgui Dieng and Devin Booker decided to have a little chat with one another. The two got into a jawing match after a play in the third quarter when Dieng elbowed Booker in the face.

Booker took exception to that and decided to start flapping his gums at Dieng. Both were ejected after official review, and as they exited to opposite sides of the floor, Booker appeared to make eye contact with Dieng and accept an offer to meet him in the concourse under the stands that lead to the locker rooms.

The Suns guard then had to be restrained from running at full speed to meet Dieng.

Via Twitter:

Devin Booker vs. Gorgui Dieng is the bitter rivalry you didn’t know you needed.

Report: Anthony Davis fears fractured finger, could be out up to a month

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New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis hurt his hand against the Portland Trail Blazers earlier last week. Initial reports had Davis missing 1-2 weeks with a sprained finger.

Now it appears things could be much worse.

Reports surfaced on Tuesday night that Davis could be facing a potential fracture in his left index finger. If that’s the case, Davis could miss anywhere from 2-4 weeks with a more serious injury.

Via Twitter:

The Pelicans cannot afford to have Davis out for that amount of time. The team has not met expectations this season, and are struggling to stay in playoff contention as we near the All-Star break.

If Davis is going to miss significant time, now is probably the best place in the NBA calendar. The real problem is that the Pelicans won’t be able to stay afloat without him. Even with Davis on the floor, New Orleans has struggled to win recent games against top Western Conference opponents like the Blazers and Golden State Warriors.

It’s probably too much to extrapolate this into what this could mean for Davis staying with the Pelicans, but it’s natural to wonder whether a missed postseason could push Davis to ask for a trade out of Louisiana.

If he’s not on the floor, the Pelicans probably aren’t winning games without Davis. That could spell disaster for their playoff hopes, and in turn, alter the future of the franchise.

Kevin Durant challenged Draymond Green to better control his emotions

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Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green has often let his emotions get the better of him. Green famously missed Game 5 of the NBA finals in 2016 after he repeatedly kicked LeBron James in the crotch.

Meanwhile, things have been heated in the Golden State locker room like never before. It’s bubbled over to the public sphere, with Kevin Durant and Green seemingly at odds at different times during this year.

Things seem to have studied in the meantime, particularly after Stephen Curry returned to the lineup At the beginning of December. But Durant and Green are still trying to find a way to work together to win another championship in the Bay Area.

According to a story from The Athletic, that meant a challenge from Durant to Green to maintain his emotions and to keep himself in check.

Via The Athletic:

Durant told Green he wasn’t accepting the emotional excuse. Green’s fire is what makes him great even if it also makes him volatile. But Durant wasn’t buying that it’s uncontrollable. He’s seen Green control it. He’s seen him keep his composure in the crucible of championship stakes. He’s seen him locked in and focused, forcing his emotions to submit to his will.

So Durant challenged him to be better. Green accepted.

Green has had a down year and it’s not clear Why that is. Is he simply aging? Or is this more due to the internal strife in the Warriors locker room?

No matter what, Golden State will need a semblance of the old Draymond Green to win NBA title this year. This agreeent between the two stars should be helpful both in healing their wounds and moving toward their shared goal.

These guys might not ever fully reconcile, but another championship ring could act as a salve.

Paul George joined Knicks fans in cheering for Raymond Felton (VIDEO)

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There’s not much to cheer about at Madison Square Garden these days. Kristaps Porzingis is still not playing for the New York Knicks, and it’s not clear whether the team will land a big free agent like Kevin Durant this summer or strike out and continue their run of dismal play.

As such, it makes sense that New York fans are trying to keep themselves entertained, and that includes during Knicks games.

When the Oklahoma City Thunder came to town on Monday night, fans in Manhattan found themselves cheering for a former Knicks player on the Thunder bench. With the game out of reach, it only seemed appropriate.

In the fourth quarter, MSG started a chant for Raymond Felton, who played for the Knicks for three seasons over two stays. As cheers rained down from the stands, even Paul George got involved in the action.

Via Twitter:

George scored 31 points as the Thunder rolled New York, 127-109.