NBA

Opening night schedule for 2021-22 NBA season features intrigue of revamped postseason rematches

The 2021-22 NBA season is set to begin on Oct. 19 with two star-studded matchups.

To begin the night, the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks will receive their rings and raise their banner to the rafters at Fiserv Forum before taking on the Brooklyn Nets in a rematch of the epic seven-game Eastern Conference Semifinals series.

From there, things shift to the West Coast, where the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors partake in a different kind of postseason rematch, as the two teams will run back the Seven-Eight Game of the NBA's inaugural Play-In Tournament.

There's nothing like opening the season with a set of postseason rematches, though things will look different than they did in the spring. How different? Busy offseasons for all four teams involved will make for new-look rematches on opening night.

Brooklyn Nets vs. Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee Bucks

Starting Lineups
Game 7, 2021 ECSF Opening Night projection
G Jrue Holiday G Jrue Holiday
G Khris Middleton G Donte DiVincenzo
F P.J. Tucker F Khris Middleton
F Giannis Antetokounmpo F Giannis Antetokounmpo
C Brook Lopez C Brook Lopez

The defending champions are running it back for the most part, as their Big Three of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton remain intact, but there a few changes abound.

P.J. Tucker, who started in all seven games of the East Semis, moved on in free agency. Tucker's matchup with Kevin Durant was a big aspect of the series and his absence alone means things will look much different.

Milwaukee didn't have much cap space to have an active free agency period, but the team did bring in solid veterans in George Hill, Rodney Hood and Semi Ojeleye. The Bucks also motioned to acquire Grayson Allen to shore up their guard rotation.

The biggest difference, however, will be the return of Donte DiVincenzo, who missed all but one game of the 2021 NBA Playoffs with an ankle injury.

DiVincenzo should return to the starting lineup and will be tasked with the difficult task of dealing with Brooklyn's prolific backcourt.

Brooklyn Nets

Starting Lineups
Game 7, 2021 ECSF Opening Night projection
G James Harden G Kyrie Irving
G Bruce Brown G James Harden
F Joe Harris F Joe Harris
F Kevin Durant F Kevin Durant
F Blake Griffin F Blake Griffin

After coming up short last season, the Nets have gone back to the drawing board, retooled and reloaded.

First and foremost, Irving will be back healthy after missing the end of the series with a severely sprained ankle. His return alone restores the dynamic of Brooklyn's scary Big 3.

Brooklyn lost a key member of its rotation in Jeff Green but has been extremely busy in the draft and in free agency. He's not a one-for-one replacement, but the Nets added veteran forward James Johnson to bolster their frontcourt rotation and add some toughness and defence.

The biggest splash, however, is the addition of Patty Mills, who will immediately slide in as the sixth man in a microwave-like role. NBA.com's Scott Rafferty outlined how Mills is the perfect addition for the Nets , and opening night will be the first look at the dynamic he adds to the team.

Don't be surprised if Brooklyn's first-round picks, Cam Thomas and Day'Ron Sharpe, make their way into the rotation early on, as Thomas has shown the potential to be a prolific scorer at the NBA level during his Summer League performance and Sharpe is a versatile 6-foot-11 big man that can play a big role against Milwaukee's bigger lineups.

It'll be early, but a training camp learning from Durant, Harden and Irving could make Thomas' NBA debut, in particular, one to tune in to.

Golden State Warriors vs. Los Angeles Lakers

Golden State Warriors

Starting Lineups
2021 West 7-8 Play-In Opening Night projection
G Stephen Curry G Stephen Curry
G Kent Bazemore G Andrew Wiggins
F Andrew Wiggins F Otto Porter Jr.
F Draymond Green F Draymond Green
C Kevon Looney C James Wiseman

This is where things get interesting.

The Warriors have been very active this offseason, adding through free agency and the 2021 NBA Draft. Through free agency, Golden State has added Nemanja Bjelica, Andre Iguodala and Otto Porter Jr., the latter two of whom could stand to play major roles on the wing for Golden State early in the season.

Part of their role on the wing will be the mentorship of lottery picks Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, who could stand at the forefront of the future of Warriors basketball for years to come. They'll each begin writing their stories at the Staples Center on opening night.

The biggest change could be a product of health, as 2020 No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman could return to action after missing the final month of his rookie season with a meniscus injury and Klay Thompson could potentially be back in action by opening night.

Wiseman, who went down in April, will have been out for six months at opening night, while Thompson is working to return from an Achilles injury suffered in November of 2020.

Suffice it to say, the starting lineup will look much different than it did in the Play-In, regardless of the availability of Thompson and Wiseman.

Los Angeles Lakers

Starting Lineups
2021 West 7-8 Play-In Opening Night projection
G Dennis Schröder G Russell Westbrook
G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope G Wayne Ellington
F LeBron James F LeBron James
F Anthony Davis F Anthony Davis
C Andre Drummond C Marc Gasol

Who's new in LA? A simpler answer to start with is who's still around.

Of players who played in the Lakers' Play-In victory over the Warriors, only LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Talen-Horton Tucker are on the roster for the upcoming season. For what it's worth, Marc Gasol picked up a DNP-CD in the Play-In game.

Now, onto the newcomers.

It all starts with Russell Westbrook, who the Lakers acquired via a blockbuster trade with the Washington Wizards. In trading away Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and Kyle Kuzma to acquire Westbrook and losing Alex Caruso, Andre Drummond and Dennis Schröder to free agency, Los Angeles had a number of voids to fill.

Enter Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza, Kent Bazemore, Wayne Ellington, Dwight Howard, Malik Monk and Kendrick Nunn, a group of seven free agency acquisitions who are ready to contribute.

It's no secret that those first five names are a group of seasoned veterans, with Anthony entering Year 19, Ariza and Howard entering Year 18, Ellington entering Year 13 and Bazemore entering Year 10. It's worth noting that in May, Bazemore was starting for the Warriors in the Play-In, so he'll be in a much different role this time around.

Monk and Nunn are two players who round out a core of three more youthful players for Los Angeles, along with Horton-Tucker.

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