An NBA preseason consumed by off-court machinations kindly gave way on Tuesday night to basketball. In resounding fashion, the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks reminded the league that whatever storms brew off the floor, they still dominate on it.
Opening nights feature marquee matchups, and the Eastern Conference opener did not disappoint. The Bucks and Brooklyn Nets have developed an interesting rivalry, after facing off in five of the postseason’s most consequential minutes in a Game 7 overtime of their conference semifinals battle last season.
Brooklyn is a big-market squad stacked with a slew of All-Stars, past and present, acquired on the open market. Milwaukee is more of a home-grown team in one of the league’s smaller outposts, headlined by Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, a tandem who have grown up together with the Bucks since 2013. The Bucks squeaked by in their meeting last June, but the Nets enter the season as a consensus favorite in the East, with the Bucks as, decisively, their stiffest competition.
Antetokounmpo might have relinquished the regular-season MVP award to Denver’s Nikola Jokic, but launched his reclamation campaign with a fury with 32 points and 14 rebounds. Kevin Durant was similarly productive in the Nets’ loss, with 32 points of his own.
Neither Brooklyn nor Milwaukee are without its worries. The Kyrie Irving situation will hover over the Nets until it’s resolved, while the Bucks will have to find some bench depth and, more immediately, lost floor general Jrue Holiday to a heel contusion in the first half.
But for a night, two contenders took to the court and renewed their clash for conference supremacy — and possibly a claim as title favorite.
— Kevin Arnovitz
MORE: Power Rankings, projections and intel for all 30 NBA teams
ESPN’s experts will react to the second game Tuesday night, Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Lakers, at the game’s conclusion.
Bucks 127, Nets 104
Dealing with injuries, Bucks lean on creative lineups
MILWAUKEE — The Bucks were already a bit shorthanded heading into the game, with Bobby Portis, Semi Ojeleye, Donte DiVincenzo all sidelined because of injuries, but the team’s depth was pushed even further after Jrue Holiday suffered a bruised heel in the second quarter and did not return to the game. Holiday’s absence forced coach Mike Budenholzer into some unusual lineup combinations out of the gate for the Bucks’ season opener.
The lineup changes worked out, thanks to some strong contributions from the end of Milwaukee’s bench to hold off Brooklyn’s charge in the third quarter and complement another dominant performance from Antetokounmpo.
Jordan Nwora, a second-round draft pick in 2020, scored 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting and grabbed six rebounds while playing a surprising 26 minutes. He even blocked Kevin Durant going to the rim at one point, leading to a fast break and 3-pointer on the other end by Grayson Allen.
The Bucks next kick off a three-game road swing, starting Thursday at the Miami Heat.
— Jamal Collier
Missing Kyrie Irving, Nets lack cohesion in opener
MILWAUKEE — The banner night in Milwaukee started off with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks gawking at their championship rings that actually transform into a necklace pendant.
Then the Brooklyn Nets came onto the floor as the favorites to acquire what Giannis now has. But, Brooklyn opened the season looking like they were opening training camp in San Diego.
And unlike when they were in Southern California for a week, the Nets didn’t have All-Star guard Kyrie Irving. The Nets fell behind 31-12, got within five just before the half before eventually losing by 23. Patty Mills did his best to fill Irving’s big shoes, burying seven-for-seven 3’s in his Nets’ debut. But Antetokounmpo bullied the Nets with a dominant performance and the defending champs looked like the more cohesive team.
Relax, though, Nets fans. Statements can be made but championships aren’t won on opening night. Durant and Harden will find their groove. They just know that the path to their ring might be harder than expected, especially without Irving.
— Ohm Youngmisuk
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