The 2016-17 NBA season kicks off in balmy Milwaukee, Wisconsin against the Bucks for the Charlotte Hornets. After months of trades, singings, practices, and preseason games, this one will count. Both teams are eager to get back to the playoffs.
The Hornets went 3-4 in the preseason, losing in blowout fashion in their final tune-up against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The theme of the preseason was nagging frontcourt injuries, and those have stretched out to their first game.
Center Cody Zeller missed the entire preseason recovering from a knee injury, and his status for Wednesday’s game is up in the air. Even if he does make it onto the court, offseason acquisition Roy Hibbert is expected to start for the Hornets. Forward Marvin Williams is expected to play after fracturing his finger, while backup power forward Frank Kaminsky is likely to miss the game with a sprained foot.
On the opposing bench, the newly acquired Tony Snell has not practiced this week and is questionable at best for the Milwaukee Bucks. They could start the unproven Rashad Vaughn or Malcolm Brogdon at the 2, but most likely they will follow their preseason blueprint and add stretch-big Mirza Teletovic to the starting lineup and slide their forwards up a position each.
The Bucks went 1-2 against Charlotte last season, with two tight losses and one comfortable win. Their final meeting was the only one to feature Point Giannis, a close 98-95 loss for the Bucks. With Khris Middleton gone on Milwaukee’s side, and Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee in different pastures for Charlotte, these are not the same teams that met one year ago.
There is no such thing as a must-win game in October, but both teams would like to get off on the right foot. If Charlotte is serious about hosting a playoff series, then they need to win games early and often. Conversely, Milwaukee needs every game they can get ahold of as they weather the storm of Khris Middleton’s injury.
One player to watch for Charlotte is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. This is his first regular-season game since January, when he reinjured the shoulder that kept him out for the first 46 games last year. His wing defense is elite, able to lift the entire team and single-handedly change a game. But it is his offense that needs to improve for Charlotte to replace the players it lost and maintain last year’s production.
Charlotte is hoping for a complete team performance to prove to fans and itself that the loss of key contributors from last season’s 48-win team will not derail this season. The combination of Kemba Walker, Nic Batum, and head coach Steve Clifford should be enough to return to the postseason.
Tonight at 8 p.m. will be the first test for that theory.