Game time: 7:00pm
Where: Time Warner Cable Arena - Charlotte, NC
TV: Yes! Fox Sports South and NBA League Pass
The Charlotte Hornets open their 2014-15 season tonight against the Milwaukee Bucks. It will be a special night for Charlotte fans new and old, as it will be the first regular season game the team will play as the re-branded Hornets. Expectations for the season are high as well, which makes this arguably one the most anticipated seasons in the franchise's history.
As if enough there weren't positive vibes weren't already, Kemba Walker reportedly signed a 4 year, $48 million extension with the team last night. Whether you agree with the contract or not, getting the deal done now means not worrying about Walker entering restricted free agency next summer. Kemba is a Hornet for the long-term, and that is worth celebrating.
Tonight, the Hornets will be matched up against a young Milwaukee Bucks team that isn't expected to win a lot of games, but has exciting prospects that are hard to root against. A lot of focus will be on Jabari Parker in his first regular season game. Parker should be in the running for Rookie of the Year, and at times this preseason was playing flat out ridiculous.
Giannis Antetokounmpo will be another player to watch. He stands nearly seven feet tall, yet glides down the court with ease and is tough when attacking the hoop in transition. He is still incredibly raw, but after impressing in both the FIBA World Cup and in preseason, he appears to be ready to take the next step forward in his second season in the league.
(Side note, I highly recommend watching VICE Sports' mini-documentary on Giannis. He appears to be an incredibly likable person and explains some of the shocks of transitioning to the United States, such as discovering how good smoothies are, and learning that a buffet means you are allowed more than one plate).
Beyond Parker and Antetokounmpo, watch for Larry Sanders as he looks to put last season behind him, and don't sleep on the likes of Brandon Knight, Nate Wolters, and Khris Middleton either. Former Bobcat draft pick Jared Dudley is now with Milwaukee as well, after arriving in Milwaukee via a trade this summer. It will also be the first regular season game for new head coach Jason Kidd, who was traded to Bucks after attempting to
sack Kings Landing leverage his way into becoming Brooklyn's President of Basketball Operations.
The Hornets are healthier after a going through a bit of a injury spell in preseason, but lingering concerns remain. Gerald Henderson has been cleared to play, but it is unclear what his role will be after missing all of preseason. Lance Stephenson practiced Tuesday, and is expected to play, though he mentioned he felt, "about 90 percent."
The Hornets were up and down in preseason, but they should benefit from buzz of the team's return. While no game should be overlooked, opening the season against the Bucks is a favorable draw for a team looking to start the season strong. With a back-to-back (so soon) coming Saturday and Sunday at home to Memphis and away at New York, a win will set things off in a positive way as the team gets ready for a tough weekend.
Matchups to Watch:
Al Jefferson versus Larry Sanders: The two didn't see each other last season because of Sander's injuries, so this will be their first matchup with Jefferson in Charlotte. Sanders had a disaster of a season last year, but was one of the best interior defenders in the league two seasons ago. That said, he often likes to go for blocks, so Big Al could get him with his crafty post moves.
Giannis versus MKG: Both are young, talented, and full of potential. Giannis has the length, but MKG has the advantage on defense. Both also work incredibly hard on the court, so this matchup should be fun to watch.
Gerald Henderson versus his rust: It's unfortunate Henderson hurt his hamstring and didn't get to play in preseason. He now faces the challenge of getting back into game shape, which may take some time. If he plays tonight, we shouldn't be too critical if he plays a little out of sorts.