Opening night is here. After an offseason that was alternately interminable and lightning quick, the 2020-21 Kings take the court tonight for the first game that counts.
It’s hard not to think about the last time the team attempted to play a regular-season game on another Wednesday back in March. COVID-19 made its way into the NBA that night, and it hasn’t really left. Four Kings were confirmed to positive for COVID-19 during the summer, along with Marvin Bagley III more recently. Today, the Houston Rockets project to be without several players due to one positive test and contact tracing for others. The league isn’t in a bubble anymore, and the reminders of that are ever present.
But there’s also the joy of basketball to look forward to, and this Kings team has many reasons for excitement.
Where: Ball Arena, Denver, Colorado
When: Wednesday, December 23 at 6 p.m. PT
How to watch/listen: NBC Sports California, KHTK Sports 1140 AM
Projected Starting Lineups:
Kings: De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley III, Richaun Holmes
Nuggets: Jamal Murray, Garry Harris, Michael Porter Jr., Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokić
Kings: Jabari Parker (back), DaQuan Jeffries (back) — OUT
Nuggets: JaMychal Green (calf), Greg Whittington (knee) — OUT
Chief among those reasons for excitement is De’Aaron Fox, the blazing fast point guard who committed to spend another five seasons in Sacramento. His ability to blow by defenders has become so effective that they have no choice but to concede oodles of space to him in the halfcourt. As a result, the next step in Fox’s evolution has to be a consistent jump shot.
The same is true for Bagley, but the true key for him this year is merely staying on the court. It’s no secret that this is a developmental season for the Kings, and they need to know what their 21-year-old big man is capable of. That requires a sample size of more than 13 games per season.
The third piece of the Sacramento core is already Tyrese Haliburton, the rookie who has yet to even play an NBA minute. His advanced feel for the game and his ability to make his teammates better have already made him beloved within the locker room. He was also a highlight machine during the preseason because he has a knack for getting steals and then being able to conduct the offense in transition.
Most of the other players on the roster are either veterans whose timelines don’t match up with the franchise as a whole or young players who may or may not have the potential to stick around. Hopefully, the goal of the season is to evaluate what those rookies and sophomores can do rather than fattening up minutes for the players in the latter stages of their careers.
Sacramento’s opponent tonight is in a far different stage of team building. After advancing to the Western Conference Finals last season, the Nuggets are trying to establish themselves as contenders rather than fluky beneficiaries of a bubble postseason. They’ve looked outstanding during the preseason as well and figure to jump on the Kings right away if they’re not ready.
But the success of this season probably won’t be judged in terms of wins and losses. Under the new front office, there’s a long-term plan in place, one that will hopefully come to fruition sooner than later if not this very year. The 2020-21 season will be an exercise in patience on several fronts. Fortunately, the wait for tip-off ends soon.