It's opening night in the NBA, featuring a mostly refined three-course meal before we stuff our faces on a loaded Wednesday night of basketball. We've been starved of the NBA since the guys in South Beach wrapped up a second straight title in a thrilling series, and it's time to dig in.
Take a seat, grab your preferred beverage and get ready to chow down.
The appetizer: Pacers vs. Magic
7 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass
The season opens with the Pacers and Magic facing off in a game between a team at the top of the Eastern Conference and one at the bottom. The Magic are still in rebuilding mode after sending Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers, but that's OK. They serve as the marinara sauce to the Pacers' fried mozzarella stick. Hey, it could even be a zesty marinara with the regular-season debut of second overall pick Victor Oladipo:
The game will not be nationally televised, but it's worth taking at least a few dips out of your plate to check it out on the free League Pass trial. Oladipo had a pretty good preseason with Orlando, leading the team in points per game and producing highlights like this putback:
Who doesn't like at least one mozzy stick?
How will those new Pacers rotations look? The Pacers upgraded their bench with Luis Scola, C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland over the summer and should eventually (read: hopefully) have Danny Granger back in a few weeks once his calf is better. Indiana had one of the best starting five lineups in the NBA, but struggled when it came time to go to the bench.
How will the backcourt minutes in Orlando be split up? The Magic have stacked up their backcourt depth after drafting Oladipo. Will he play minutes at point guard behind stalwart "Magician" Jameer Nelson? Where does Arron Afflalo fit into the equation at shooting guard? The Magic have questions to face with their logjam in the backcourt and begin their journey for answers.
The main course: Bulls vs. Heat
8 p.m. ET, TNT
OK, so the appetizer is still on the table and the waiter is a little rude and drops off the main course after barely letting you enjoy that marina goodness. It happens. The Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls are the protein and starch of opening night -- just don't ask me which team's the steak (medium-rare, thank you) and which team's the baked potato (pour the goods on it).
SB Nation's James Herbert did a fine job previewing this delectable dish earlier today, leaving my mouth watering for some high-class NBA action to open the season. But if you insist on a teaser, let's start with Derrick Rose's monstrous jam on Joel Anthony from the playoffs a few years ago:
And cap it off with Joakim Noah getting the middle finger from a Heat fan:
Photo credit: Steve Mitchell, USA Today Sports
These two teams have a knack for creating incredible moments together. What better way to start the season than to have the return of Derrick Rose against the Heat be the headliner?
Can the Heat start off the defense of their title with a bang? Miami has two titles, but is going up against one of the most stacked fields in its time together. A victory over the Bulls in the first game of the season is a good way to hush the whispers that Chicago will claim the Eastern Conference title.
Can the Bulls start with a bang? A year of bottled-up anticipation comes to a head when Rose makes his return to the Bulls in a game that actually counts. Both of these teams are going to be compared from point A to point Z of the season, and the debate will rage until one is eliminated from the playoffs. Chicago can double up the attention it's receiving with a statement win over Miami out of the gates.
Dessert: Lakers vs. Clippers
10:30 p.m. ET, TNT
Man, I'm stuffed after all that Heat-Bulls goodness, but I saved room for dessert and so should you! The Los Angeles Lakers host the Los Angeles Clippers in the purple and gold version of Staples Center to close out our dinner service. Let's serve up a classic ice cream sundae.
The Clippers will serve as the base here, providing a perfectly creamy vanilla ice cream as the centerpiece of the dessert. Doc Rivers makes his debut as the new head coach of the Clippers and Chris Paul will have one of the best teams ever constructed around him to lead.
The Lakers, though, just aren't the team we're used to seeing. Any sundae is incomplete without toppings, but the Lakers' starting lineup is anything but the premium stuff. Kobe Bryant is out, for starters, so there's no hot fudge to pour on top. Second, the starting five features Shawne Williams at power forward, Steve Blake at shooting guard and Nick Young at small forward. That's equivalent to sprinkling an overabundance of chalky rainbow sprinkles on the otherwise finely crafted ice cream.
Alas, there are two maraschino cherries on top. Pau Gasol and Steve Nash remain as the final ingredients to this dessert that ultimately isn't as good as the main course, but is still worth sticking around for if only for the tasty ice cream.
Will we see improved Clippers offensive execution? The Clippers brought in Doc Rivers to right the ship of a team that has underperformed in each of the last two playoff seasons. The team also shot Eric Bledsoe out to Phoenix for Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick to add even more firepower to the O. Will we see creative sets beyond a rinse-repeat pick-and-roll offense out of the Clippers?
What is this Lakers team without Kobe Bryant? The Lakers are synonymous with Kobe Bryant at this point, but no Kobe for who knows how long has vacated that identity. Mike D'Antoni had a full offseason and training camp to put together an offensive and defensive system for this team of mostly one-year contract players, and will have a chance to show what difference a hands-on summer made.
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