Check out who some of the top ESPN experts and bloggers picks for the first games of this NBA season.
CELTICS VS KNICKS
Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: I’d normally take the home team in any close matchup, but I’ll pick the Celtics. New York will be integrating Chandler and be without its only real distributor, the injured Baron Davis. Meanwhile, Doc Rivers’ Celtics have a freakish track record of coming out of camp on fire.
Chris Forsberg, ESPN Boston: Celtics. Chemistry will work in their favor early on. No reason for them not to have energy in the first game of the year. The Celtics thrive in Madison Square Garden — though having Pierce would aid that cause. C’s assert that the Atlantic Division remains theirs.
Brendan Jackson, CelticsHub: Celtics. If Paul Pierce goes, there isn’t a game this season the C’s will be fresher for. Furthermore, the backcourt matchup is so far in the C’s favor that it negates any edge the Knicks may have in the frontcourt. Add their depth and defense and the Celtics are 1-0 to start the season.
Mike Kurylo, KnickerBlogger: The Knicks. Boston has the advantage of familiarity and chemistry, but New York’s new look with Anthony running the offense and Chandler manning the paint will give them the element of surprise. Also, when in doubt take the home team.
David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: I’ll side with the Knicks, mostly because of the loss of both Jeff Green and Pierce (likely out). There is a buzz in New York again and Madison Square Garden will be rocking. A healthy Pierce in the opening game would make Boston a very tough team to beat because the Celtics are so mentally tough. But even if Pierce plays he won’t be close to 100 percent, so it should be a merry Christmas in Gotham.
MAVS VS HEAT
Jeff Caplan, ESPN Dallas: Heat. The Mavs will raise the championship banner before they tip off the season with the Heat in the building. Can they ride that momentum to a victory? Hard to see it from a team that has barely had time to be introduced to one another let alone has to play a hungry team like the Heat. There are going to be some potholes as the Mavs learn one another and as the core adapts to life without Chandler manning the middle and providing swagger not seen in Dallas in decades. Miami, meanwhile, should be primed to run Dallas out of its own gym.
Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: The Heat. Then again, I picked them to win the Finals so what do I know? Well, I do know this: Watching the Mavericks raise that championship banner will make Dwyane Wade‘s blood boil.
Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: Miami. The Mavs were once a well-oiled machine, but now they’re stuck doing a bit of necessary maintenance. No one should doubt Rick Carlisle’s ability to get everything sorted out in short order, but asking a team with such significant changes to be battle-ready by opening night is a bit much.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: The Mavs are in trouble. This is setting up as one of those classic situations where the Heat, forced to watch the Mavs raise their banner, start the season with a vengeance and rout the aging incumbents. Don’t forget, furthermore, that Miami hasn’t won a regular-season game in Dallas in nine tries dating back to 2002. In other words? The Heat are due.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: It will be an emotional day for the Mavericks and they are dealing with adjustments to their roster. The Heat return intact, in shape and looking to make a statement. Miami wins this round.
BULLS VS LAKERS
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: The Bulls. The Lakers haven’t adapted to new coach Mike Brown’s system yet. Plus the Lakers are 4-7 at Staples Center on Christmas Day … so much for home for the holidays.
Nick Friedell, ESPN Chicago: The Bulls. The Lakers don’t have Bynum (suspension). The Bulls have added Hamilton. Rose wants to put on a show in front of the whole country.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Chicago. The Bulls are healthy to start the season and that defense is going to be suffocating for a Lakers team trying to deal with a whole new scheme. Plus, the Lakers are 3-7 in their last 10 Christmas Day games. They clearly are saving it up for Memorial Day or Flag Day.
John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: Bulls. The Lakers have more adjustments to make at the beginning of the season than the Bulls do, so Chicago should be in better shape on opening day.
Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA: Chicago. It’s the better team right now and the Lakers have laid an egg the last two years on Christmas Day. I don’t think this is the year they break that trend.
THUNDER VS MAGIC
John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Oklahoma City. Combine the Thunder’s huge home-court advantage with the fact that they’re already the better team, and they have to be a huge favorite in this game.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Thunder. The Magic just don’t have that many good players these days. Unless they collectively put on an incendiary shooting performance (unlikely in the first game after a long lockout and brief preseason), I expect the Magic to sputter against the Thunder’s relentless attack.
Eddy Rivera, Magic Basketball: Thunder. The Magic have the better coach in Van Gundy and the best player on the floor in Howard. After that, however, Oklahoma City has Durant and Westbrook and Ibaka and Harden and Perkins and … you get the idea. This is a poor matchup for Orlando. As such, this should be a blowout in the Thunder’s favor.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Thunder. Oklahoma City has a ridiculous home-court advantage and you can be sure the fans will be fired up. The Magic looked a bit confused and unfocused in the preseason, while this Thunder team has had zero distractions. Unless OKC just can’t handle Howard, the Thunder should take care of the Magic.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: OKC will be smoking hot coming out of the blocks like Usain Bolt in this matchup. The Thunder just better hope that Durant didn’t burn himself out in all of those flag football and charity basketball games during the offseason. Give the Magic a pass until Howard’s situation is resolved.
CLIPPERS VS WARRIORS
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: 110-99 Lob City, behind a 15-8-12 performance by Paul. DespiteMarc Jackson‘s best efforts, the Warriors D up like the ghosts of Warriors past.
D.J. Foster, ClipperBlog: The Clippers. Golden State has successfully lured the Clippers into shootouts in previous matchups, but Paul and Billups have been around long enough to know that fast-break opportunities against the Warriors are nothing more than fool’s gold.
J.M. Poulard, Warriors World: The guards are close to even, but the Clippers have the upper hand in the frontcourt and will probably plan to take advantage of it. So the Clippers get the win.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopSpeak: Clippers. I hope nobody steals my “picking the better team” strategy.
Justin Verrier, ESPN.com: Clippers. This team is finally ready to do Frankie Muniz proud.