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Non-National NBA Games Of The Week (Oct. 28-Nov. 2)

Welcome back to Non-National Games of the Week! This should be another strong season of games not played on TNT, ESPN, ABC or NBATV. You can also read my League Pass team column. As much fun as the offseason has become, real games are so much better.

Tuesday

Orlando Magic @ New Orleans Pelicans: The first non-national game of the season features Anthony Davis and his new muscle Omer Asik. Orlando made a series of changes this summer and Jrue Holiday will provide a challenge on both ends for Elfrid Payton’s first game. Plus, any minutes of Aaron Gordon vs. Anthony Davis should be captivating.

Wednesday

Milwaukee Bucks @ Charlotte Hornets: A combination of the first game for the newly rechristened Charlotte franchise and Jabari Parker’s first regular season game. The Giannis / Jabari / Larry Sanders (not all caps…for now) front court will be worth checking in on the first few weeks and Lance Stephenson making his debut should be fun as well.

Washington Wizards @ Miami Heat: A nice opening week game featuring two teams that had some notable turnover this summer. Miami has to learn how to play without LeBron while Paul Pierce works to make his imprint on a Wizards team ready for more success. Since Washington has players suspended due to a strange brawln in the pre-season, Chris Bosh will have an opportunity to show what he can do against shakier opponents.

Atlanta Hawks @ Toronto Raptors: While other games on this list make it for storylines or debuts, this one should be a fun game to watch. Toronto was one of the NBA’s best surprises last season and Atlanta played well before Al Horford’s injury. These teams actually made a trade in the off-season that sent Louis Williams and rookie Lucas Nogueira to the Raps in exchange for cap flexibility so we could see Lou try for some fireworks against his former team.

Houston Rockets @ Utah Jazz: Dante Exum’s debut, Trevor Ariza’s return and Dwight Howard vs. Derrick Favors. Sounds good to me.

Thursday

Detroit Pistons @ Minnesota Timberwolves: There may not be two teams outside of Cleveland with more questions we need answered. Will Stan Van Gundy lay down the law and only play two of Drummond, Smith and Monroe at a time? Can Andrew Wiggins start his career strong? Will Gorgui Dieng and Zach LaVine get minutes? How many bad shots can Josh Smith take before SVG goes ballistic?

Friday

Philadelphia 76ers @ Milwaukee Bucks: After missing all of last season,  Nerlens  Noel should get a showcase here against the only team that ended last season with a worse record than the Sixers. We might get to see second round pick KJ McDaniels defend Jabari Parker at some point, which happened most recently in a thrilling ACC Tournament game.

San Antonio Spurs @ Phoenix Suns (Game of the Week): The Champs get Game of the Week honors and deservedly so with such a compelling week one matchup. The Suns added Isaiah Thomas to an already fun core and know how important each win will be. I also want to see how the Spurs handle Patty Mills’ extended absence and whether rookie steal Kyle Anderson gets any minutes.

Saturday

Dallas Mavericks @ New Orleans Pelicans: Two teams with substantial changes who should be right in the middle of the battle for playoff spots in the Western Conference. Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler make Dallas a more complete team but Omer Asik provides a defensive identity that New Orleans sorely lacked last season. Plus, Anthony Davis guarding Dirk Nowitzki will be thrilling each and every time down the court.

Denver Nuggets @ Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook gets the reins of the Thunder in what should be a fast-paced game. Ty Lawson and the Nuggets added veteran depth in Arron Afflalo and young talent in Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris while the Thunder will have to survive without Kevin Durant and new addition Anthony Morrow.

Phoenix Suns @ Utah Jazz: This game has five Point Guards I want to see, six if you count Tyler Ennis who likely will not see much time. I also like it when coaches face teams they played on and Jeff Hornacek had great success in Salt Lake City. 

Sunday

Philadelphia 76ers @ Houston Rockets: This will likely only be worth watching for a quarter but Nerlens Noel manning up Dwight Howard should illustrate just how far the rookie’s body needs to develop if he wants to play center in the best league in the world. Plus, Harden could go for 40 or more.

Golden State Warriors @ Portland Trail Blazers: Must-watch NBA basketball on the first Sunday of the season. Just excellent. Damian Lillard has already had some big games against his hometown team and both franchises have making and winning playoff series in their sights already. This game also should be an early test of Steve Kerr’s defensive ethos since David Lee has lots of trouble defending LaMarcus Aldridge.

The Torture Chamber

Last season, the Golden State Warriors boasted one of the most dominant starting lineups in the entire league. Their #FullSquad of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut walloped opponents by a startling 16.3 points per 100 possessions. They outperformed the strong unit of the Portland Trail Blazers and arguably outplayed the Indiana Pacers' heavily-used starting five as well. The #FullSquad’s Points Per Possession of 1.149 (via NBAwowy.com) was better than any team’s season total (which includes subs, of course) and their 98.6 PPP allowed would have been third in the NBA behind the Chicago Bulls and Pacers.

Despite all that dominance, Golden State’s starting five was not even the best five-man unit the team put on the court last season. Replacing David Lee with Draymond Green actually produced even better results albeit in far more limited minutes. In an admittedly small sample size of just 71 minutes (thanks, Mark Jackson!), this group I call “The Torture Chamber” outscored opponents by an insane 17.2 points per 100 possessions, nearly a full point better than the #FullSquad.

The statistics are fine to provide some framework but the true power of this lineup comes out when imagining them functioning as a regular unit. With Bogut, Iguodala and Green on the floor, Klay Thompson becomes the fourth-best defender on the floor which should be downright scary for opponents. That combination of perimeter defenders also allows Stephen Curry to get non-taxing assignments on that end so he can preserve energy for carrying the offense and ideally avoid foul trouble which has periodically caused problems. While I feel Mark Jackson focused too much energy on hiding Curry throughout games, some chances at cover are necessary to keep him on the floor and at his best.

This lineup also makes substantially more sense on offense as the young players on the team progress. While David Lee has plenty of offensive strengths, he can be a self-starter and has not shown faith in his jumper in recent years (especially last season). Draymond has no issues in terms of confidence in his shot as both playoff runs illustrated. In fact, after the All-Star Break the Dancing Bear shot 38.1% from three, a better percentage than stretch fours Channing Frye and Patrick Patterson made over the course of their full seasons. Lee and Bogut have played well together but their natural positions on the floor gum up the works for drives since neither big can draw their opponent out of the paint to open up driving lanes. The combination of Bogut and Green gives the Warriors two dangerous screeners that Coach Kerr can use in concert with one another to break open multiple players at the same time, especially since Andre Iguodala can handle the ball enough to let both Splash Brothers wreak havoc when necessary.

I am not saying The Torture Chamber should log the insane minutes together like the #FullSquad or other top-heavy combinations around the league when healthy. David Lee and Harrison Barnes should both receive plenty of minutes with members of the core (particularly Barnes with Curry to see if his offense can be resuscitated) and the Warriors should have one of their best perimeter defenders on the floor for all significant minutes to keep other teams on their toes. Rather, that insanely potent lineup must be the top choice for closing out games and a possible starting five against opponents who struggle defending drives.

This Warriors' team possesses a compelling combination of pieces that can be mixed and matched to create problems for their opponents and the Curry / Thompson / Iguodala / Green / Bogut five should be the crown jewel sooner rather than later.

Top-5 Non-National Teams For 14-15

While we are still about a few weeks away from regular season NBA basketball, it seems like a fair time to start thinking about the teams and storylines that could dominate the landscape for the upcoming season. After years of writing the Non-National Games of the Week column for RealGM, I have a sense of what teams will be on my NNGW radar to start the year. My non-national teams have to have entertainment value on a game to game basis and fascinating pieces in the form of young talent or new additions. Each of these squads fits that bill and there were a few tough omissions as well.

While I have removed teams with heavy national profiles from consideration for this column in other years, I made every team eligible this season and none of the chosen six play even thirty games on ESPN/ABC, TNT and NBATV.

Honorable Mention. Philadelphia 76ers: They will be absolutely terrible but Nerlens Noel made enough plays in Summer League to make Philly the early leader for my first quarter Eastern Time Zone team.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves: Unlike the Sixers, most of Minnesota’s fun young players should get at least some playing time this season and the team should be somewhat competitive. Andrew Wiggins and Gorgui Dieng have larger roles to play, but both Anthony Bennett and Zach LaVine should get enough burn to make the Wolves worth paying attention to. Plus, any team with Ricky Rubio gets my attention, at least for now.

4. Phoenix Suns: The Suns came out of nowhere and ended up being my favorite League Pass team on the aggregate last season. They were fun to watch and played games of importance despite eventually missing the playoffs. While there are numerous factors which may lead to a more deflating campaign, Jeff Hornacek’s squad deserves this spot based on their large overall continuity.

3. Golden State Warriors: After deciding to keep their roster largely together despite some compelling offers that I am still not over, the Warriors did change their head coach and should have a much more effective and engaging offense to show for it. I also hope we get to see more of Draymond Green playing with Stephen Curry as well as a potential rejuvenation for Harrison Barnes after a wholly disappointing sophomore season.

2. New Orleans Pelicans: An absolutely huge test year for Anthony Davis. The Brow got muscle behind him in the form of one of the best defensive Centers in the entire league in Omer Asik. The full-strength Pelicans will be intensely fun to watch and give us a much better idea of what the next few seasons in New Orleans will look like. Plus, the three-headed PF/C monster of Davis, Asik, and Ryan Anderson causes matchup problems in each iteration and we may also see some minutes with all three sharing the court, which could lead to my favorite potential situation of the entire 14-15 season: Anthony Davis guarding Small Forwards. If Monty Williams puts Davis on Kevin Durant for 5+ minutes during some game, it would be must-see TV for basketball fans.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers: Amazingly, the Cavs get the #1 spot on this list for a second year in a row. Let’s hope it turns out better for them this time around. This year’s Cavaliers are the great experiment of this NBA season because their three best players were all better offensively than defensively last year and their only true rim protector on the roster has quite the injury history. Add in the intrigue relating to who starts at shooting guard and figuring out the SF/PF rotation and you have a team worth watching in both big and small moments.

On Paul George, Non-NBA Basketball And Player Safety

Paul George suffering a freak injury during a televised scrimmage does not change the likelihood of something like that happening in a similar event or in some other basketball activity. It just raises awareness of that possibility and potentially could actually lead to some positive changes in terms of on-court player safety.

Ben Gordon And Non-Guaranteed Contracts

One of the currently in vogue CBA tricks that has become more prominent this league year, non-guaranteed contracts carry a few fun benefits teams can use to their advantage.

On Warriors' Big 3 Possibility In 2016

With Stephen Curry on a below-market contract, the Warriors could comfortably sign a second max contract player in 2016, or even a third if they deal for Kevin Love.

The Human Element

The best players in the sport have transitioned from supermen to businessmen to being a business, man, at the same time the league as a whole transitioned from family owned teams to major enterprises. Like it or not, this NBA should be around for a long, long time.

The Law Of Small Numbers

While taking a quick glance at the market for Kevin Love around draft day could have led to confidence for the Warriors, any concept that letting the string play out would be to their advantage would be deeply misguided.

Why Sign-And-Trades Sometimes Aren't Possible For The Incumbent Team

Teams on the giving end of potential sign-and-trades rarely are unable to participate, but the Nets were unable to with Shaun Livingston's deal with the Warriors.

The Depth Of The 2014 NBA Draft

We could see as many as 15 solid starters from the 2014 NBA Draft with an impressive number of solid rotation players behind them.

The Third Way

While a drastic path like stripping enough cap space to sign two max contract players to join Stephen Curry would be possible, it also carries gigantic downside risk since the Warriors are already a good team.

The Updated Stepien List

While daunting at first, the Stepien Rule boils down to one thing: an NBA team cannot be without a first round pick for two consecutive years looking forward and completed drafts do not matter.

Previewing The Warriors' Offseason Cap Situation

Now that the Warriors’ season is over, we can start to figure out what the offseason could hold in terms of on-court personnel. Having a clear understanding of the starting point for the summer makes a huge difference, especially given the NBA’s soft salary cap system.

On Mark Jackson's Future With The Warriors

Even if Mark Jackson stands as the greatest limiting factor on this Golden State team, Warriors' front office should understand and appreciate both how lucky that makes them and how insanely difficult that can be to improve.

Final Non-National NBA Games Of The Week & NNGW Season Awards

The final jockeying for playoff seeds and the NNGW awards are handed out.

Non-National NBA Games Of The Week (Apr. 7-Apr. 13)

Despite the huge stakes of the final full week of the regular season, the non-national slate looks pretty weak at the outset though Warriors/Blazers on Sunday will have the 5th seed on the line.

Non-National NBA Games Of The Week (Mar. 31-Apr. 6)

A simply excellent week of non-national games with important tilts almost every night. This also could be the last week of feisty spoiler performances for a few teams that could…let’s say “reassess their priorities” as the lottery picture clears up.

The Utter Nightmare Of Minnesota's 2011 Draft

A bad draft can happen in a variety of ways: poor selections, bad trades, or taking options off the table for no reason. All three hit David Kahn and the Wolves at the same time.

Proposing A New Playoff System

The top 16 regardless of division or conference make it into the playoffs and then the top seeds are given the choice of their opponent from the bottom-eight clubs.

Non-National NBA Games Of The Week (Mar. 24-Mar. 30)

With a little less than a month left in the regular season, we are looking at a stretch run with intrigue all over the standings. Each conference has two teams at the top and groupings in the middle and bottom of the playoff picture while the ping pong balls hang in the balance.

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