The NBA returned for the 2020-21 season on Wednesday after the shortest turnaround in league history with the Los Angeles Clippers laying down the gauntlet to champions Los Angeles Lakers with a performance that showed they are determined to wrest the title from their city rivals several months from now.
Paul George scored 26 of his 33 points in the second half, Kawhi Leonard added 26 points and the Clippers rallied past the Lakers on the NBA champions’ ring ceremony night for a 116-109 victory.
George went 13 of 18 with five 3-pointers in an outstanding first game since agreeing to add four years and $190 million to his contract with the Clippers, who never trailed in the latest meeting of Southern California’s two NBA powerhouses. The Clippers beat the Lakers in the season opener for the second straight year while winning coach Tyronn Lue’s debut.
The Clippers stayed in their locker room while the Lakers received their rings, but they emerged with purpose and determined play — from their two superstars in particular.
LeBron James scored 22 points and Anthony Davis had 18 for the Lakers just 72 days after they finished off the Miami Heat in the NBA bubble.
Serge Ibaka scored 15 points in his debut for the Clippers, who hadn’t played since blowing a 3-1 playoff series lead to Denver and ruining a much-anticipated conference final showdown with the waiting Lakers in the bubble.
The collapse led to coach Doc Rivers’ departure, and Lue moved down the bench to take over a star-studded team with several new additions.
The Lakers fell behind by 22 points under a ring hangover in the first quarter, but they erased all but two points of the deficit in the second. The Clippers pulled away late in the third with George scorching a series of one-on-one defenders. He scored 11 more points in the fourth to seal it.
Meanwhile, Kevin Durant was in specular form as he faced former team Golden State Warriors for the first time since he joined the Brooklyn Nets.
Durant shook off 18 months of rust in a matter of minutes and looked as good as new against his old team alongside Kyrie Irving as the Nets emphatically kicked off the Steve Nash era with a 125-99 victory over the Golden State Warriors.
Durant finished with 22 points in 25 minutes of his first official game since rupturing his Achilles tendon while playing for Golden State in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals.
Irving led Brooklyn with 26 points and Caris LeVert scored 20 as the Nets led by as many as 38, pouring on the points the way the Phoenix Suns did when Nash was their point guard, or more recently Golden State did when Durant was their All-Star forward.
The Nets made the playoffs last season but now are expected to contend for the Eastern Conference title after finally getting Durant and Irving on the court together. They used the first game of the shortened, 72-game season to prove they might be worth the hype.
Stephen Curry had 20 points and 10 assists for the Warriors, a depleted team that looks nothing like the powerhouse that won two titles in Durant’s three seasons there.
There was a debut for number 2 pick James Wiseman who started at center despite his limited preparation and had 19 points and six rebounds for the Warriors. Andrew Wiggins was 4 for 16 for his 13 points and Kelly Oubre Jr. was 3 for 14.