NBA opening night for the 2019-20 season has come and gone. We had laughed, we cried, we cheered and we booed as the Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Clippers became the first teams to get a win under their belt, while the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers are STILL searching for that elusive first victory (hang in there, guys!).
The Raptors' 130-122 win over the Pelicans lost some luster because of Zion Williamson's absence, but we were still treated to a high-scoring overtime game. In the second game, you could feel the star power oozing out of the TV set as LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis kicked off their seasons.
As with any big night, some fared better than others, and we'd be remiss if we didn't point out the winners and losers from NBA opening night.
Winner: Kawhi Leonard
If the goal is to steal Los Angeles from the Lakers, Kawhi and the Clippers took their first step on Tuesday. If the goal is simply to establish themselves as one of the best teams in the NBA, well, they also did that. Leonard got off to a slow start but was simply phenomenal on Tuesday, scoring in his normal, unstoppable, efficient way en route to a game-high 30 points. It was nothing we haven't grown accustomed to after watching Leonard lead the Raptors to a title last season, but it was still fun to watch.
Loser: LeBron James
Well, this is a rarity. You can probably count on one hand the number of times LeBron has come out as a "loser" after any performance, but this was a relative stinker in his first game with Anthony Davis. Normally supremely efficient, James scored 18 points on 7-of-19 shooting (1-for-5 3-pointers) in the loss to the Clippers on Tuesday and committed five turnovers. To highlight how inefficient this game was for LeBron, he hasn't shot less than 50 percent from the field in a season since 2009, and he only shot a worse percentage than he did in the opener (36.8 percent) four times all of last season. We're not exactly worried about LeBron bouncing back, but he was a big part of the Lakers' disappointing opening night.
Winner: The city of Los Angeles
It's not enough that they have beautiful weather, beaches and celebrities -- now L.A. has the NBA's best teams as well? Unfair. While both teams are far from a finished product, the Clippers and the Lakers put on quite a show in the first installation of the renewed battle for Los Angeles. After a lot of lean years with the Clippers in the 90s and 2000s, and some mediocre Lakers squads in recent years, Angelenos now get to watch two of the league's top title contenders on a nightly basis. The star power between LeBron, AD and Kawhi was off the charts on Tuesday, and Paul George didn't even play. P.G. made his impact in other ways, though ...
Winner: Paul George
Paul George isn't even playing yet due to offseason shoulder surgery, but he was still a big winner on opening night. Not only did the Clippers forward grace the small screen with a Clio-worthy performance in thewith Kawhi, but he also took the early lead in the running NBA fashion competition by sporting a tuxedo on the sideline as he cheered on his new Clipper family. If this is a sign of the fashion game P.G. is bringing this season, we're in for a treat.
Loser: Coach's challenges
We saw the Dwight Howard, but while reviewing the play the refs found that Lou Wililams' continuation basket after the foul shouldn't have counted and took the points off the board, so ... unforeseen benefit? It seems like it might take a while for coaches to figure out how to use these challenges. Of course, you want to see every call get made correctly, but the wrench it throws into the game might not be worth it.and it was ... disappointing. Not only did Nick Nurse's protestation fail, but it also seriously disrupted the flow of the game for a relatively minimal potential result. In the second game, Lakers coach Frank Vogel also had his challenge denied for a foul on
Winner: Pascal Siakam
Those who bought stock in Siakam early in his career are gloriously reaping the benefits, and he looks ready to take yet another leap judging by his opening-night performance. The lanky forward put up a ridiculous line of 34 points and 18 rebounds, and it would have been even more impressive had he not fouled out before overtime. Siakam is expected to take an even bigger offensive role with the departure of Kawhi Leonard, and it appears he's up to the task.
Loser: Alvin Gentry
The New Orleans Pelicans have a lot of new faces this season, and it looks like their coach, Alvin Gentry, forgot a few of them were on the team. Lonzo Ball played well in his New Orleans debut but was noticeably absent for an unbelievably long stretch in the fourth quarter as his team battled the Raptors. Frank Jackson and Jahlil Okafor played during crunch time instead of Ball and Derrick Favors, which was intriguing, to say the least. Even worse, Gentry put Ball back in the game to start overtime, when he hadn't played since the 6:29 mark of the third quarter. Needless to say, Ball didn't look comfortable after his incredibly long break, and the Pelicans went on to lose. Gentry's got some work to do to shore up his rotation with such a deep roster, but sitting your best players for hours at a time probably isn't the answer.
Winner: Fred VanVleet
We weren't sure how VanVleet would come out this season after taking the world by storm during the Raptors' championship run. The answer? Very, very strong. The newly minted starting guard was on fire in the opener, putting up a career-high 34 points on 12-of-18 shooting, including 5-of-7 from 3-point range. If the Raptors are going to stay competitive in the East, VanVleet will be a big reason why.
Loser: Lakers bench mob
The Lakers bench was outscored 60-19 in the loss to the Clippers, which is a bit misleading because the Clippers bring two of their best scorers off the bench in Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. That being said, the Lakers have to be concerned with the lack of production. When you're throwing Troy Daniels, Jared Dudley and Quinn Cook out there for significant minutes, that's not a foundation for a prolific unit. On top of that, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope finished with an astonishing ZERO points in 28 minutes. There's a long way to go and the trade/buyout market is likely in their sights, but this wasn't a great start for the Lakers' depth -- or lack thereof.