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Opening Night reaction: Did Kawhi just overthrow LeBron as King of LA?

The new champs in Toronto got their rings, but their Finals MVP was down in Staples Center giving the business to the Lakers

Los Angeles Lakers v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The NBA kicked off the 2019-2020 season with two contests that showed off the pageantry and competitive spirit we’ve all fallen in love with as fans.

Of course, the reigning Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors weren’t involved, which means the night could only be so lit. Still, there were some fascinating early developments worth taking note of.

New Orleans needs Zion (duh)

Kudos to the Pelicans for fighting hard on the road, with a brand new team, against the champs. But this team doesn’t have enough front court physicality without the services of rookie phenom Zion Williamson. On defense they were bullied by the Raptors’ imposing front line, losing the points in the paint battle 56-38, and allowing Toronto 38 free throw attempts.

Those are sure signs of losing the physical battle, something that could be remedied by adding Williamson’s brawn.

There were some positives for the Birds, headlined by rookie Nicolo Melli coming off of the bench to drill 4-of-5 from downtown.

The Pelicans want to play fast and shoot threes (they were 19-of-45 from beyond the arc), but their lack of size will haunt them.

The Raptors are still a problem

The world champion Toronto Raptors unveiled their first title banner at a raucous ring ceremony in “The North”. The Toronto faithful received replica rings for their support, while the players emotionally basked in the festivities.

And as someone scarred from the Raptors edging out the Dubs in last summer’s Finals, I managed to suffer through the ring presentation only by smuglly declaring to myself that this will be the only championship they’ll ever win. After all, they did lose Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

Then I watched Pascal Siakim (34 points, 18 rebounds, 5 assists) and Fred Van Vleet (34 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds) go crazy against New Orleans. It’s wild to remember that back in June I thought those guys were merely talented role players behind Leonard and Kyle Lowry. Now? It’s clear those two killers were high-powered starters waiting in the wings for their chance to ball out.

Toronto may not be as terrifying as they were with Leonard, but that doesn’t mean they won’t bring the pain.

Kawhi goes Hollywood

Wait wait waaait...Kawhi Leonard is doing commercials with the Terminator??

How did this dude go from being mute in San Antonio to a freakin’ pitchman for blockbuster movies? There’s something about that Hollywood air.

Leonard took the starring lead role on the court last night as well, leading his Clippers to a resounding 112-102 victory over the Lakers in the first skirmish of the “Battle for L.A.”. The “Fun Guy” was the best player on the court, which is saying something considering titans LeBron James and Anthony Davis were opposing him.

Leonard has a phenomenal ability to force double teams from wherever he is. He buries his head down and uses his physicality to force cracks open in the defense before either making a tough shot or dishing to the open man. His 30 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals were too much for the other L.A. team to overcome.

He’s also surrounded by several stud role players who relish in doing their jobs, whether that be Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell torturing defenders with their nearly unstoppable pick-and-roll randem, or Patrick Beverly being everywhere at once as he harasses opponents. Ivica Zubac giving Javale McGee the business in the post was a shock for me.

And the Clips didn’t even have All-Star wing Paul George! They could be a real problem if they keep this up, folks.

I can’t wait till Thursday when the Warriors finally get a chance to see these new look Clippers up close.

The Lakers don’t seem so scary

The Lakers’ crunch time offense was James jogging the ball up and then force feeding the ball in traffic to Davis. That didn’t look like the run-n-gun basketball of the Showtime era: it was more like the plodding 1990’s style of basketball, except with inferior post play.

Laker Nation was not pleased by the Clippers bullying Frank Vogel’s squad.

If not for Danny Green exploding in the second half, this game surely would have been a blowout.

The Lakers rely on being bigger and more athletic to control the paint. The Clippers matched their physicality and perhaps even exceeded it. As a result, the Lakers were forced to either shoot from distance (Green is their only pure shooter that can stay on the floor), or force up junk in traffic. That’s how they ended up struggling their way to 43% shooting from the field.

I don’t think that’s a recipe for a championship, but we’ll see if the future presence of the injured Rajon Rondo makes a difference.

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