The NBA preseason gets underway this weekend. Although the results leading up to opening night are virtually meaningless, certain things that happen within the games do carry some value, especially for teams with questions to answer.
Perhaps the biggest question mark of all is whether or not any team is capable of knocking off the two-time defending champion Miami Heat. The San Antonio Spurs came close last season, but couldn't finish the job. Now, the journey to the title begins again.
With that in mind, let's check out the schedule for the opening weekend of preseason play and make some predictions for the main storylines that will emerge.
Derrick Rose Will Be Rusty
The good news for the Chicago Bulls is that Rose back practicing with the team and the early signs are positive. He hasn't suffered any setbacks and is starting to work his way back into game shape as the long layoff nears its conclusion.
That said, it's still a process that's going to take time. Fans shouldn't expect him to come anywhere close to the dynamic level he showcased en route to becoming the MVP two years ago for quite some time, and definitely not during the preseason.
Right now, it's about regaining confidence and getting his legs back under him after not playing a competitive game in so long. Once those two things are taken care of, Rose should be able to ramp things up. Only time will tell how long that takes, but it won't happen in the exhibition opener.
Reggie Jackson Shines
The Oklahoma City Thunder will be without Russell Westbrook for at least the first month of the season. The star point guard had to have another surgery on his injured knee, which wasn't the news the Thunder wanted to hear so close to the new season.
Now, the task is finding a way to replace his production. It starts with Reggie Jackson. The 2011 first-round pick averaged 14 points, five rebounds and four assists while filling in for Westbrook during last season's playoffs.
He proceeded to light up the Orlando Summer League with a 35-point showing. So while he might not be able to replace Westbrook all by himself, he's certainly capable of making sure the injury doesn't derail a promising season for Oklahoma City. He'll continue to prove that in the preseason.
Panic Begins in Laker Land
Los Angeles Lakers fans are a diehard bunch. They are hoping for a bounce-back season after the hyped squad failed to live up to expectations last season, needing a late surge just to make it into the playoffs. Whether the Lakers can deliver is unknown.
Dwight Howard is gone and Kobe Bryant is still recovering from an Achilles injury. It's going to take some time for the Lakers to find their stride without those two stars, but the patience level among fans is going to be razor thin from the outset.
Add in a pair of matchups against tough Western Conference foes and there's a strong chance some supporters will be ready to push the panic button by Monday. It won't be warranted, of course, but it shows the type of pressure the Lakers are under this season.