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NBA 5 things to know: Damian Lillard sparkled in Milwaukee Bucks debut, and an East rivalry renewed

While the third day of the NBA season only featured two games on the schedule, it was a pair of matchups deep in start talent and led by a fantastic night Damian Lillard in his Milwaukee Bucks debut.

After a busy first couple of days, the NBA schedule took the foot off the gas and showcased a couple of major clashes in both conferences. The evening kicked off with a pair of playoff teams from last season as the Bucks welcomed the Philadelphia 76ers to Milwaukee for both team’s season openers.

Related: 2023-24 NBA Playoff predictions

After four hard-fought quarters, the Portland Trail Blazers great made a major statement in his debut as he came close to putting up a 40 spot in their one-point win over the James Harden-less 76ers.

In the night’s second game, Kevin Durant had to go it alone — with Bradley Beal and Devin Booker sidelined — in a fun matchup against Lebron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. LA came up short in their season opener against the Nuggets and were hoping to avoid a losing streak to begin the season.

With all of that in mind, here are five NBA things to know from Thursday’s action, as well as a look ahead to a packed schedule for Friday on the 2023-24 NBA regular season schedule.

Damian Lillard and Milwaukee Bucks didn’t show a lack of chemistry

damian lillard
Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

When you put a pair of alpha dog players like Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo together there is the obvious concern of chemistry and filling roles. At least for one night, both shined like the superstars they are. In a tough home opener against the Philadelphia 76ers, both put up strong numbers in a big win — although Antetokounmpo’s 23 points and 13 rebounds also included a -13 when he was on the floor.

However, the team’s newest superstar was a revelation in his first regular season game as a member of the Bucks. He was a +12 during his 37 minutes on the floor, dropped 39 points, was 17-17 from the line, and hit several big buckets late in a highly competitive early-season affair. As far as pressurized debuts go, you can’t do much better than that.

Tyrese Maxey shows Philadelphia 76ers don’t need James Harden

damian lillard
Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

While they tried to avoid it, the biggest story for the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday was not their game against the Bucks, but instead the ongoing drama with star guard James Harden. Nevertheless, in the shadow of an ongoing investigation from the NBA, the 76ers played well on the road and were in the game late.

While they did suffer a loss to open the season, the biggest takeaway was the outstanding playing of Tyrese Maxey as he tried to fill the void left by Harden as the team’s second star. He had one of the best +/-‘s for the night among the starters as he actually outscored reigning MVP Joel Embiid 31 to 24 in their one-point loss to Milwaukee on Thursday.

Los Angeles Lakers look in offseason mode after two games

damian lillard, los angeles lakers
Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Lakers were soundly beaten by the Nuggets on opening night. On Thursday they faced a Phoenix team without two of their top three players and LA struggled throughout. For many teams, the early part of the season can include a lot of growing pains as new players get assimilated with unfamiliar teammates. However, that should not be the case for the Lakers.

LA should have a leg up on many other squads because the core of the team that went to the Western Conference Finals last season is back and there are few new faces. That fact that they barely avoided a 0-2 start might be something to keep an eye on over the next couple of weeks.

Boston Celtics and Miami Heat, a tale of two very different offseasons

Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

It only took a few days into the new season for the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics to renew their ongoing rivalry between Eastern Conference elites. The pair have faced off in the last two conference finals and split those two series. Miami was the victors in the most recent playoff clash and Friday’s matchup will serve as an early litmus test for both.

The pair of organizations went about their summers very differently. The Celtics made several notable changes including adding All-Star caliber players Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis. The Heat failed in attempts to make blockbuster trades for available stars like Bradley Beal and Damian Lillard. A win for either team could be early proof of which franchise’s summer strategy worked out the best.

Sacramento Kings look to make an early season statement

Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

The Sacramento Kings were, arguably, the biggest surprise of the 2022-2023 season. They were ahead of schedule in year one for head coach Mike Brown, however, their impressive season came to a quick end in the postseason when they were ousted by the defending champion Golden State Warriors in the opening round.

You never want to make too much of games early in the year, but this season is all about the Kings proving they are now one of the elites in the Western Conference. Sending an immediate message against the league’s current dynasty in their first matchup this season on Friday would go a long way in developing that new narrative.

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