What to watch in the NBA, as training camps are set to open

Sep 27, 2021, 11:35 AM | Updated: 11:38 pm
Houston Rockets' Jalen Green, right, and Josh Christopher film themselves during an NBA basketball ...

Houston Rockets' Jalen Green, right, and Josh Christopher film themselves during an NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 27, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The first practices of the season in the NBA are here, with teams set to hit the floor on Tuesday to formally begin getting ready for the 2021-22 campaign.

A six-pack of things to watch as things get started:

THE CHAMPS

Milwaukee is running it back.

The Bucks used eight players in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, the title-clincher against Phoenix, and seven of them are still on the roster; the exception is P.J. Tucker, now part of the Miami Heat. The Bucks also have seven of their top eight scorers, in terms of total points, back from a year ago; the exception in that case is Bryn Forbes, who returned to San Antonio.

Plus, Giannis Antetokounmpo played the game of his life to finish off that title run, a 50-point, 14-rebound masterpiece — and he isn’t even 27 yet. His best easily may be yet to come.

CAMP CENTRAL

San Diego hasn’t technically had an NBA team since 1984.

This week, the city has three.

The Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets and Brooklyn Nets are all calling San Diego home this week for training camp. They’re all practicing separately, using three different facilities. The Nets will play in Los Angeles against the Lakers on Sunday before returning home, while the Nuggets and Clippers will play in Los Angeles on Monday.

YOUTH IS SERVED

If so inclined, the Houston Rockets might be able to do something very rare in the preseason.

Start with a three-guard lineup: Josh Christopher, Jalen Green and Daishen Nix. Put Usman Garuba at forward, put Alperen Sengun at center.

It adds up to five teens on the floor.

There are no fewer than 21 teens on NBA rosters as training camps begin Tuesday, including five Rockets and a trio of 18-year-olds — Golden State’s Jonathan Kuminga, Oklahoma City’s Josh Giddey and San Antonio’s Joshua Primo.

Of those, Kuminga and Giddey will turn 19 before the regular season begins. Primo doesn’t turn 19 until Dec. 24. He’ll be 18 years, 300 days old when the Spurs open their season Oct. 20 against Orlando.

That means he’s in line to become the youngest player in an NBA game in more than 15 years — Andrew Bynum was 18 years, 191 days old when he appeared in a playoff contest for the Los Angeles Lakers against Phoenix on May 6, 2006.

There have been four 18-year-olds to debut in the NBA since Bynum: Dragan Bender, Sekou Doumbouya, Devin Booker and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

But technically, if Primo debuts before Nov. 17, he’ll be younger than any of them were for their NBA regular-season games by a matter of days.

HOW THINGS CHANGE

It hasn’t even been a year since the 2020 NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat — they were played in October.

“Feels like three years ago,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

The Lakers used 12 players in that series; of those, only LeBron James and Anthony Davis have remained with the team on an uninterrupted basis. Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard are back now, after playing elsewhere last season.

The Heat also used 12 players in that series; of those, only Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson remain in Miami.

It should be noted that in both cases, the Lakers (Talen Horton-Tucker) and the Heat (Udonis Haslem, Gabe Vincent) have had other players remain on the roster since those finals. They just didn’t play in that title series inside the restart bubble at Walt Disney World.

PRESEASON PERSPECTIVE

The games that start Sunday when Brooklyn visits the Los Angeles Lakers mean, and this can’t be stressed enough, absolutely nothing in terms of wins and losses.

Milwaukee went 0-3 in the preseason last year and won the NBA title. Phoenix went 0-4 in the preseason last year and went to the NBA Finals.

The only team in the last 25 years that had the best record in the preseason and went on to win the NBA crown was Golden State in 2016-17.

FINALLY, HOME

For Raptors fans in Toronto, the wait is nearly over.

The team plays at home next week. Really at home, that is.

For the first time since Feb. 28, 2020, the Raptors will play a game in Toronto when they open their preseason schedule against Philadelphia. Only a handful of players and staff remain from that team, so the Raptors are having camp in Toronto instead of going elsewhere in Canada — as they’ve done often in recent years.

Toronto called Tampa, Florida, home last season because of the pandemic.

“We thought it was really important to re-establish our base here and get everyone familiar with the city,” Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said. “A lot of our players, a lot of our staff, haven’t been here, so we thought that was really important for us to do that.”

___

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What to watch in the NBA, as training camps are set to open