SAC @ CHI: Veteran C Joakim Noah is a pretty good matchup for DeMarcus Cousins. I don’t think the Kings can stop Carlos Boozer, and former Bull James Johnson will have his hands full with Luol Deng. The best news about Richard Hamilton has been no news; a healthy Rip is a fantasy asset. At PG, Kirk Hinrich has been nursing a groin strain, so Nate Robinson could get extra minutes. Chicago should win the game; I’m interested to see if they slow down the pace or run with the Kings. Also watching how PF minutes are divided between Jason Thompson and rookie Thomas Robinson.
GSW @ PHO: There was an Andrew Bogut sighting at practice. It’s possible he could play limited minutes on his tender ankle. Stephen Curry is also a question mark, though we never considered his most recent ankle “injury” serious and expect him to be ready. Rookie Harrison Barnes won the starting SF job, but Brandon Rush has the edge in defense and experience, so it could be a timeshare. The Goran Dragic era begins in Phoenix, where the most important addition is Michael Beasley. The former Kansas State star and second-overall draft pick was immature in Miami and frustrating in Minnesota. If he flops with a third NBA team, the Suns are in big trouble.
DAL @ UTA: Handed a tough road back-to-back against two teams with huge, talented frontcourts, and without their own starting PF and C, the Mavs have already earned at least a split. They do not match up well vs. the rested Jazz. Not only are Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap a dynamic duo, their backups Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter make it a fearsome foursome. Two new Utah players to watch are PG Mo Williams and SF Marvin Williams, while SG Gordon Hayward is on a lot of ‘breakout lists’ (including mine) in his third season.
MEM @ LAC: This could be fun. Two very good teams, who know each other intimately after a 7-game playoff series last spring, with no major injuries (Willie Green is filling in for Chauncey Billups) and similar strengths. Can Zach Randolph return to his previous form after missing most of last season with a knee injury? We’ll find out soon enough, as Blake Griffin is a severe test. Home-court advantage earns the Clippers the nod, unless you think an 11-year winless streak in season openers for the Grizzlies makes them overdue.
LAL@ POR: After that highly disappointing home opener, the Lakers must travel north and regroup. Trying to ambush them is rookie Damian Lillard, the key to the Blazers season. We know the young man can score. Phenomenal in the Summer League and impressive in training camp, he will be slightly turnover-prone as he makes the transition to facilitator. Given that Kobe is not himself, Wesley Matthews could have a big game. The Portland second unit remains full of question marks. If and when rookie C Meyers Leonard is NBA-ready, he could eat into the minutes of J.J. Hickson.