Kevin Durant begins his 17th season by experiencing a first when the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors tip off their 2023-24 campaigns at the Chase Center in San Francisco on Tuesday night.
Immediately following the NBA opener between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets, with the Nuggets to receive their 2023 championship rings, the TNT spotlight will shine on the Suns and Warriors, both of whom will be beginning a quest to dethrone the defending champions.
Seeded fourth and sixth, respectively, in the Western playoffs last year, the Suns and Warriors saw their championship bids end in the conference semifinals, the Suns falling in six games to the Nuggets, the Warriors likewise losing four of six to the Lakers.
The opening matchup also gives the 35-year-old Durant a chance to perform in front of the fans he thrilled for three seasons while leading Golden State to championships in 2017 and 2018.
He eventually left the Warriors in a sign-and-trade deal with the Brooklyn Nets, and has made just one return to the San Francisco Bay Area, that coming in February 2021 while fans were not allowed to attend games at the Chase Center due to COVID-19 precautions.
He has never faced the Warriors anywhere since joining the Suns in February in a blockbuster four-team deal.
Durant won’t see Golden State defensive ace Draymond Green on the floor. Green missed the entire preseason with a sprained his left ankle and was ruled out of the opener on Monday.
“He’s doing really well but we don’t feel like it would be wise to throw him out with so little scrimmage time on the floor,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters. “We’ll reassess as the days go.”
The new season begins with Durant surrounded by Devin Booker and Suns newcomer Bradley Beal, giving Phoenix as much frontline firepower as any team in the league.
“It will be a change for everybody,” Beal said. “None of us have played on the floor with three guys who can score the ball anytime. It will have to be a little sacrifice for everybody.”
Durant was last seen teaming with veteran guard Chris Paul. But two offseason trades later, Paul is scheduled to make his Warriors regular-season debut Tuesday.
Durant, Paul and Golden State star Stephen Curry have been consistently outstanding on Opening Night over their careers.
Durant has scored 20 or more points in his last 12 Opening Night outings, tying Karl Malone for the NBA’s longest streak.
Curry will be seeking a 10th straight 20-point opener. If successful, he would tie Kobe Bryant and Bob Lanier for fifth place on that list, with Paul Pierce and Michael Jordan just one more ahead with 11.
Paul, meanwhile, will be attempting to compile his ninth career Opening Night double-double. Only LeBron James has more (10) among active players, all of whom are chasing Tim Duncan, who retired with 14.
With Paul and another former Sun, Dario Saric, joining the mix this year, Green knows the sooner he gets back, the sooner he and his mates can work on chemistry issues that plagued the club last season.
“Last year we weren’t a great defensive team, and the way our season ended was indicative of that,” Green said. “So we know what it takes to win and the things you have to be great at. Additions like Chris Paul, Dario and guys like that, you see how they’re going to help and make a difference.”