Two teams balancing early-season transitions and late-season title aspirations share the national spotlight Tuesday on NBA Opening Night when the Golden State Warriors visit the Los Angeles Lakers.
The duel of the only Western Conference franchises to win NBA titles since 2014 is a rematch of a historic meeting last May, when the Lakers beat the Warriors 103-100 at home in the opener of the league's first-ever play-in tournament.
Fighting through blurred vision that resulted from getting poked in the eye earlier in the game, LeBron James hit the game-clinching 3-pointer in the final minute in that one, and later declared, "I was seeing three rims and shot at the middle one."
Much has changed since the night when James put up a 22-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist triple-double, which was barely enough to offset a 37-point night by Golden State's Stephen Curry.
The Lakers have retained just three players from that team that went on to lose to the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the Western playoffs. And one of those three -- Talen Horton-Tucker -- won't suit up for the opener because of a thumb injury.
James and superstar sidekick Anthony Davis are now surrounded by the likes of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, DeAndre Jordan, Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard, the latter two having returned to the team after playing elsewhere last season.
An 0-6 preseason, which included two losses to Golden State, didn't surprise James.
"We're going to have moments where we're not quite right there," he admitted. "We may take steps backward. I think nothing is worth having if it's not worth working for."
The Warriors return six of the eight who got minutes in the season-ending loss, but still are without All-Star guard Klay Thompson, who continues to rehab an Achilles injury that cost him the entire 2021 season, and big man James Wiseman, who is close to returning from a torn meniscus in his knee.
Golden State gave itself a chance in the play-in game by hitting 15 of its 34 3-point attempts, and the Lakers would be wise to expect more of the same this time around.
After setting a franchise record by averaging 38.7 3-point attempts last season, the Warriors went crazy from beyond the arc in the offseason, putting up a whopping 63.2 a night.
Curry hit 17 of his 42 from deep in his four games, but that wasn't even the most encouraging part for the Warriors. Jordan Poole hit 16 treys over five games, while newcomers Otto Porter Jr. (55.2%) and Nemanja Bjelica (44.4%) combined to make 24 in 47 attempts.
The Warriors went 5-0 in the preseason, capped by a 41-point explosion by Curry in a 22-point romp over Portland in Friday's finale.
Golden State coach Steve Kerr stamped his guys ready to go, especially Curry, the league's reigning scoring champ.
"He's been building up perfectly from before camp started to all of the training over the summer to now," Kerr said of Curry. "He's clearly ready to roll for the regular season. He's in a great place."
In opening the NBA's 75th season, the Warriors and Lakers are opening in Los Angeles for the first time since 1982. Times have changed: That game featured a total of nine 3-point attempts and only two were successful: One by LA's Mike McGee and the other by the Warriors' Joe Hassett.
World B. Free led Golden State with 30 points as the Warriors recorded a 132-117 victory over the defending NBA champions who were led by future Hall of Famers Magic Johnson (22 points), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (20 points) and James Worthy (20 points).
--Field Level Media