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African Blogtable writers give insights on NBA Xmas battles

THE African Blogtable brings together some of the top basketball minds from across the continent to answer some of the league’s most pressing questions ahead of the 2023-24 NBA season.

The NBA launched their Christmas Day campaign, “The Gift of Game”, celebrating the timeless tradition and magic of holiday hoops which will this year see five games for the 16th consecutive season on December 25.

Games will reach fans across the world in more than 200 countries and territories including Africa. The 76th edition of the NBA on Christmas Day will see Golden State Milwaukee Bucks vs. New York Knicks, Warriors vs. Denver Nuggets, Boston Celtics vs. L.A. Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers vs. Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks vs. Phoenix Suns.

All five games will air live on ESPN, Canal + and NBA League Pass, while SABC (South Africa), ZAP (Angola/Mozambique), NTV (Kenya), Afrosport TV, NTA, Silverbird, TVC and ITV (Nigeria) and Clouds (Tanzania) will air a showdown between Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors and Nikola Jokić and the Denver Nuggets at 21:30 CAT.

  • In the spirit of the Christmas Day brand campaign, The Gift of Game, what gift has basketball granted you?
  • Which Christmas Day matchups are you looking forward to?
NBA Xmas battles
LeBron James will lead the Lakers against Jayson Tatum’s Celtics. Pictures: Getty Images

Manyehlisa Lehohla & Sindiswa Mabunda, The Big Tip Off (South Africa)

Manyehlisa Lehohla: Basketball gifted me the dream of starting a media platform, The Big Tip Off.  For the last five years, The Big Tip Off has been one of the leading contributors of basketball content on the African continent. We have featured NBA Academy Africa and great servants of African basketball like Thierry Kita Matungulu and Emmanuel Mavomo. One of our most significant achievements is covering the Basketball Africa League’s (BAL) Nile Conference in Cairo, Egypt, earlier in the year. We have also started providing up-and-coming content producers a chance to exhibit their writing skills. And as operations grow, we hope to pass that gift on to others.

Sindiswa Mabunda: I’m excited about the stacked Christmas Day schedule, which is always a great way to end a day spent with family. I particularly look forward to the third match-up between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics.  Despite the Celtics having a better record and the best defensive rating in the league, their lack of depth will disappoint them down the stretch. The Lakers, on the other hand, have more scoring options beyond the arc and the ability to attack both sides of the ball. Led by Anthony Davis and James, who keeps raising the bar in his 21st season, the Lakers have been playing phenomenal basketball. When they’re in sync, they are almost unstoppable.

Alex Isaboke, Capital FM (Kenya)

Basketball has gifted me a lot especially in building up to this festive season: seeing the game I love open an NBA Africa office in my country Kenya was a delight. I will be able to see the game develop and more talent from the country have an opportunity to be discovered especially as the interest of the game continues to grow.

Secondly, the NBA In-Season Tournament was the best thing to happen to any basketball lover, that meant more games to enjoy and eventually seeing LeBron cement his ‘King’ status by adding another title!

A definite clash to watch out for is the Golden State Warriors vs Denver Nuggets. Both teams considered as the powerhouses of the West, it will be interesting to see who will help their team to glory. Will it be Steph Curry for the Warriors or reigning MVP Nikola Jokic?  It will be a closely contested affair, but I will go with the Nuggets for the win because they are a young team; they will have home-court advantage and with Jokic’s performance expected to be a game-changer coupled by sharpshooter Jamal Murray – it will be good see them extend their recent dominance over the Warriors.

 

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Tosin Abayomi, Pulse (Nigeria)

Basketball has provided a unique opportunity to dream. Growing up I took an interest in basketball in my teenage years which has fueled my desire as a journalist to be versatile. The excitement basketball has provided me over the years has contributed to my passion for staying up late at night to watch the NBA and I won’t have it any other way.

The Lakers won the In-Season Tournament but have since suffered a dip in form.  Facing off against the Boston Celtics, 17-time NBA Champions, and long-term rivals, LeBron James has an opportunity to galvanize his team to make a statement against the title favorites on Christmas Day.

The Phoenix Suns vs Dallas Mavericks match-up provides an incredible spark of excitement with the offensive talents on display. The rivalry between Devin Booker and Luka Doncic makes this a tantalizing affair to end the Christmas Day slate. The Suns team has not lived up to the hype this season. But they have an opportunity to remind the world why they are among the favorites in the West against a resurgent Mavs.

Damas Sikuwabo, The New Times (Rwanda)

At a tender age, sports played a crucial role in my daily activities. Basketball has given me a whole career.  I have had the chance to learn from the best, I have also had a chance to connect with some of the legends of the sport.

In a span of two years, I have had the opportunity to travel more than 10 times from Rwanda to other countries in the region and beyond.  I have also won myself several accolades because of covering basketball.

I am looking forward to the Celtics and Lakers game because both clubs compete at a high level and share a long-standing history. Equally important, both teams are potential contenders in the East and West, respectively.

NBA Xmas battles
Joel Embiid has been phenomenal for the 76ers and he will be expected to lead past Jimmy Butler and the heat.

Mor Bassine Niang, Record (Senegal)

Basketball gifts me every day- it is a game that provides a lot of emotion. It’s always a pleasure to follow the games, Christmas or not. The greatest gift is to fully experience what you love. Basketball is Santa Claus every day. And that explains the love fans have for the sport. Personally, I am spoiled to have experienced for the past 15 years the atmosphere of the arenas in Senegal, Africa and the world. I can cite, as an example, the Basketball Africa League which offers its share of joy and great atmosphere.

I believe that the Boston – Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers – Miami Heat games will be exciting matchups.  These two games will keep basketball fans in suspense given the quality of the squads. The Heat are in good shape and will be up against the 76ers who are 19-8. The Lakers have just come off winning the first NBA In-Season Tournament and the Celtics lead the East 21-6.  Exciting player matchups to watch out for are Jimmy Butler vs Joel Embiid and Jayson Tatum vs LeBron James. These are duels which I believe will light up the floor.

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African writers have their say about NBA opening night

African Blogtable: 2023-24 NBA Season Tips Off Tonight

The African Blogtable brings together some of the top basketball minds from across the continent to answer some of the most pressing questions ahead of the 2023-24 NBA season opening night.

These are the questions that were posed to the writers:

  • What are you looking forward to the most this season and what are your opening-night predictions for the two matchups featuring the defending champions Denver Nuggets at home against the L.A. Lakers and the Phoenix Suns going up against the Golden State Warriors? 
  • Will we see yet another international league MVP this season or will the MVP be from the US?

Manyehlisa Lehohla & Sindiswa Mabunda (South Africa)

I look forward to seeing how all the different trades have breathed new life into the different teams, such as the new look Phoenix Suns who added Bradley Beal to their roster. There quite a number of injuries last season. In this instalment of NBA, I am excited to see the likes of Khris Middelton back in action and exciting rookie Chet Holmgren. Number 1 draft pick Victor Wembanyama looks phenomenal and he’ll breathe life into San Antonio Spurs. I believe that I echo the sentiments of many when I express my enthusiasm about the likes of Steph Curry, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant persistently carving their legacies, defying time and age and still giving us the best of basketball.

I think the Lakers-Denver game will be an intense matchup. My prediction is that the L.A. Lakers will beat the Denver Nuggets on the opening night.  With healthy Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, coupled with the addition of Bradley Beal, the newly formed Big 3 now ranks among the league’s best offensive trios, the Suns will beat the Warriors.

Alex Isaboke, Capital FM (Kenya)

The Lakers are losing. Jokić has had his time but the Nuggets, through Jamal Murray, they are just looking too good… I will go with Kevin Durant winning against his former employer, the Warriors. 

I am looking forward to two things this season: how the Bucks will look with Damian and the return of Zion Williamson.  

And I think we just might see an international MVP once again. I know Jokić will always be in the running, because he is just something else. I would not be surprised if it’s him again, but if not him, it might be Giannis Antetokounmpo.

 

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Amin El Amiri, Le Matin (Morocco)

There are many things to look forward to this upcoming season. I like the depth of the Nuggets, I think they have another title in them. They (Nuggets) were strong throughout the regular and postseason last year. In the East, the Bucks look like the favorites after bringing Damian Lillard to the Deer Herd.

Oddly enough though, my expectations are centered around a rookie and a veteran. Victor Wembanyama’s first season in the league and LeBron James’ 21st campaign. Regarding the opening games, I think the Nuggets and the Warriors can overcome the opposition and start the season with the right mindset.

I think trend of international players winning MVP will continue. If you add Luka Dončić and a record 25 international players participating in this year’s All-Star Weekend, the race to the MVP will be very tough for American players. Yet again, basketball is about challenges and the pride of local stars is still hurting with what happened at the FIBA World Cup. 

Manyehlisa Lehohla & Sindiswa Mabunda, The Big Tip Off (South Africa): I look forward to seeing how all the different trades have breathed new life into the different teams, such as the new look Phoenix Suns who added Bradley Beal to their roster. Injury plagued a large part of last season, so I am excited to see the likes of Khris Middelton back in action, exciting rookies like Chet Holmgren and Victor Wembanyama. I believe that I echo the sentiments of many when I express my enthusiasm about the likes of Steph Curry, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant persistently carving their legacies, defying time and age and still giving us the best of basketball.

I think the Lakers-Denver game will be an intense matchup. My prediction is that the L.A. Lakers will beat the Denver Nuggets on the opening night.  With healthy Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, coupled with the addition of Bradley Beal, the newly formed Big 3 now ranks among the league’s best offensive trios, the Suns will beat the Warriors. 

Tosin Abayomi, Pulse (Nigeria)

Looking forward to the Bucks vs. Celtics Eastern Conference matchup. Excited about the return of the NBA and the several storylines for players and their respective franchises.

For me, it is the battle in the Eastern Conference between the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks. Both teams made blockbuster trades this season, but only one will represent the East in the NBA Finals. The Bucks have gone all in with Damian Lillard. But the acquisition of Jrue Holiday by the Celtics brings added pressure for the Celtics to win the title.

My opening-night predictions? The Lakers have expressed disappointment with how the Denver Nuggets celebrated their sweep in the Western Conference semifinals en route to their first NBA Championship. When they match up on the opening night, it won’t matter. The Nuggets are the better side and should comfortably take care of the Lakers after receiving their championship rings.

The other opening game between the Phoenix Suns and the Golden State Warriors should be a masterclass on the offensive end of the court. Kevin Durant returning to face the Warriors for the first time since he left should be a treat. The Suns will also be too strong for the Warriors missing their best defender in Draymond Green and trying to integrate Chris Paul into their system.

Luka Dončić (Dallas Mavericks) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City Thunder) will put up big numbers, but their teams stand no chance of topping the Western Conference. That means Nikola Jokić (Denver Nuggets) should be the favourite  to be MVP. But the sleeper pick will be an American in Jayson Tatum. Tatum is surrounded by elite talent at Boston. Kristaps Porzingis, Jaylen Brown, Holiday, and Derrick White. If the Celtics take the number one seed in a weaker Eastern Conference, Tatum could win his first MVP trophy.

Mor Bassine Niang, Sports News Africa (Senegal)

I think we are going to see a crazy 2023-2024 season. All the franchises have prepared well and made clever trades.  Milwaukee will be a tough competitor with Antetokounmpo and Lillard.

The season opener featuring the Lakers and the Nuggets is a rematch of the Western Conference Finals. I think the LeBron James and the Lakers will want their revenge. I see them getting a W on opening night.  The Suns-Warriors game will be a well contested matchup where both franchises will want to mark their territory after their disappointing 2022-2023 season exits.

The NBA always has surprises in store for us. But I think an international player will take the league MVP, perhaps Jokić or Dončić?  They are complete players and they’ve proved it over the past few seasons.

My MVP candidate for this season is Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics. Why? I love a good underdog story. In every NBA season, Brown has exceeded expectations and played consistently at a high level, and I believe this is his MVP year.

Damas Sikuwabo, The New Times (Rwanda) 

It’s going to be quite a competitive season. I am looking forward to key players showing up for the games and cutting down on their load management in order to make the season more interesting.

The opening day will be action-packed. I think Denver and GSW will win their games.

Denver went 3-2 in the pre-season against the Bulls, Clippers and Suns. In addition to this, they are the defending champions and therefore come into this season with a lot of confidence. I think they will beat the Lakers, who have to fix some defensive issues and the rotation, besides struggling with chemistry.

After acquiring CP3 who will be playing alongside Steph and Klay, they have such a great combination of guards. In addition to this, Kuminga, who was in top form during the preseason, will be important their entire season. That being said, I see GSW taking the W.

We can see another international MVP. We have lots of great international players who can pull off a great season. Giannis, Dončić and Jokić are in their prime and it won’t be a surprise to see an international MVP. Furthermore, if the preseason is anything to go by, we are seeing more of the international players come into the picture. Such players are in teams with better rosters, and this gives them equal chances with their American counterparts.

The 2023-24 NBA regular season will tip off in the early hours of Wednesday, 25 October (Tuesday night) with a doubleheader on NBA League Pass when the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets host the Los Angeles Lakers in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference Finals (1:30 a.m. CAT), followed by the Phoenix Suns visiting the Golden State Warriors (4 a.m. CAT).  All the NBA games of the 2023-24 NBA season, live and on demand, and more, are available on NBA League Pass.

Photo: (credit NBAE/Getty Images)

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