On Saturday night, for one game, the NBA will return to Vancouver. The Toronto Raptors will take on the Golden State Warriors at Rogers Arena in the NBA’s first preseason game of the 2016-2017 season. This game means nothing in terms of the NBA standings; however, this is no ordinary exhibition game.
What to watch:
All eyes will be on number 35 in the blue, yellow, and white. Saturday night’s game will be the first time Durant steps onto an NBA floor with a Warriors jersey, after he shocked the world by leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder to join Golden State as a free agent this summer. Durant is widely considered one of the greatest offensive players in the game, and he joins one of the greatest offenses in NBA history. Saturday night’s game will be an interesting first look at how Durant will fit in with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, and Draymond Green in the Warriors’ high-octane offense. Durant’s decision to join the Warriors was highly scrutinized by NBA fans across the league, so it will be interesting to see how Vancouver’s fans will receive Durant. Many fans saw Durant’s move as disloyal, and that by joining the Warriors, he is simply looking for the easiest route to an NBA championship. The Warriors are coming off of the greatest regular season in NBA history, with a record of 73-9; however, they fell just short of an NBA championship, falling in a heartbreaking Game Seven to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals. As the heavy favourites to win the 2016-2017 NBA championship, the Warriors may come out hungry on Saturday night, ready to prove just how good they can be.
Are the Raptors for real?
The Raptors are coming off of their greatest season in franchise history. Led by the all-star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors finished second in the Eastern Conference with a 56-26 record heading into the playoffs. The Raptors beat the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat in the first two rounds of the playoffs to advance to their first conference final in franchise history. Like the Warriors, the Raptors’ championship hopes were ended by Lebron James and the Cavaliers. Raptors GM Masai Ujiri was did not make any bold moves in the offseason, opting to keep his core together. The most noteworthy move was resigning DeRozan to a monster five year, $139 million dollar contract. The team was forced to depart with one of their playoff sparkplugs, big man Bismack Biyombo, who signed a four year deal with the Orlando Magic. The team was able to sign forward Jared Sullinger to a one-year year deal, and he should compose the starting frontcourt with DeMarre Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas. Despite their success in 2015-2016, the Raptors still have doubters. Some critics say that their success was simply a result of a weak Eastern Conference, and that they are not talented enough to ever be a true championship contender. The Raptors do not have close to the same expectations that the Warriors do, but they still have a lot to prove. Saturday night is the Raptors’ first opportunity to show their fans that they are not to be taken lightly in the 2016-2017 season.
It will be interesting to see how the Vancouver crowd reacts on Saturday night. Tickets to the game sold out in just minutes, so there is clearly excitement and enthusiasm from Vancouver about this game. It will be fascinating to see where the enthusiasm is coming from. Perhaps it is the excitement of seeing Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and the 73-9 Warriors. Maybe the Raptors’ playoff run captivated Western Canada’s basketball audience, and they are excited to see how the team looks coming into this season. Surely it is a combination of both, but it cannot be denied that this is the most enthusiastic Vancouver has been about basketball since the Grizzlies left for Memphis in 2001. It is unlikely that a sold-out crowd of an exhibition game will earn Vancouver another NBA franchise, but the fans are definitely doing their part by showing the right enthusiasm for the sport.
Tip-off is at 4:30pm at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, and the game can be found on TSN.