San Antonio Spurs: 3 potential Opening Night opponents for 2018-19
By Rob Wolkenbrod
The NBA schedule remains locked up for the 2018-19 season, but who could the San Antonio Spurs face on Opening Night?
So far, fans know when the San Antonio Spurs will play preseason hoops, but the 2018-19 regular season schedule remains in the balance. Given the 2017-18 release date, it should arrive around mid-August and feature who the Spurs play from Game No. 1 to 82.
It all starts with Opening Night, however, sometime in the middle of October. In 2017-18, it was the Minnesota Timberwolves as San Antonio’s opponent, resulting in a victory; Jimmy Butler debuted for the Timberwolves and it became the first of 73 games that Kawhi Leonard missed.
For the fall of 2018, who could be the Spurs’ first opponent on an 82-game schedule? A handful of teams make sense, and it has the potential to showcase interesting matchups.
3. Toronto Raptors
The headling opponent for Opening Night, the Toronto Raptors represent the juiciest matchup for not just the San Antonio Spurs, but the NBA. It’s for the obvious; the storyline that consumed the league for most of the year.
Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green were shipped to Toronto for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick. While Green may still be close with San Antonio, Leonard issues with the organization went public, culminating in a trade request in June.
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Whether it’s in San Antonio or Toronto, a Raptors-Spurs matchup has the makings of an attention-grabber, especially on Opening Night, when millions of NBA fans will tune in to ESPN, TNT or another network. Though, this may be too early to cash-in on Leonard’s first game against the Silver and Black.
The NBA can wait later into the season for Leonard’s return to the Alamo City or the Spurs’ adventure to Toronto, much like they did for Kevin Durant‘s return to Oklahoma City and LeBron James‘ first appearance in Cleveland. It allows the situation to drag out, receive its own night and captivate the NBA’s ratings.
There’s a case for Spurs vs. Raptors on Opening Night, but it’s an early card for Adam Silver to pull. Look for it by December or the 6-8 weeks of 2019.
Next: Golden State Warriors
2. Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors were a rival of the San Antonio Spurs, due to their close proximity in the Western Conference standings. This changed, however, once Zaza Pachulia closed out Kawhi Leonard in the 2017 Western Conference Finals, which saw the Warriors come back from over 20 points down in Game 1 and sweep the Spurs.
Without Leonard for most of the 2017-18 season, Golden State had its way with San Antonio, aside from their final matchup of the campaign, when Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson all sat out. Then came the first round playoff matchup, when Durant, Thompson and Draymond Green dominated LaMarcus Aldridge and company in five games.
Would it be much of a rematch on Opening Night? Maybe not, but it’s still the Warriors, and they will receive a marquee spot on the schedule. The NBA can see this as an opportunity and use it as DeMar DeRozan’s Spurs debut, as well, which could draw an extra eye or two against the 2018 NBA champions.
If DeMarcus Cousins was confirmed for Opening Night, this game would become a ratings juggernaut. Maybe he will, but all signs point the other way.
Why not the Spurs vs. Warriors? The West is so deep that almost any playoff contender that matches with Steve Kerr‘s squad makes for a compelling opponent; the Portland Trail Blazers, the Utah Jazz, the Houston Rockets. Any of them can fill this role.
Next: Los Angeles Lakers
1. Los Angeles Lakers
Whether it’s at home or on the road, the Los Angeles Lakers should be among the teams with the highest TV ratings on Opening Night. LeBron James is the reason, along with the Laker luster and the new faces brought in to join Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma.
The San Antonio Spurs would likely fall at the wrong end of the hype, since all of it would go on LeBron and his first official game in Purple and Gold. It was the offseason’s biggest signs for one of the NBA’s greatest players of all time, so fans will hover around television sets to view the return of Hollywood Basketball inside the STAPLES Center.
Yes, the Spurs would likely go on the road for Opening Night, so the NBA can match LeBron and the STAPLES Center together to capture the raucous crowd in attendance. While it can wait for a separate night to fulfill the buzz’s potential, a primetime game in Los Angeles, with James in a Lakers uniform, is bound to make the normal ratings skyrocket.
As with the Warriors game, the NBA also promotes DeRozan’s first game as a Spur and the start of the post-Kawh era. Not as big of a storyline as the “King in Southern California,” but a subplot towards a wild night of basketball.