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NBA Opening Day: Key Matchups in Each Game

Zac WatneCorrespondent IIDecember 24, 2011

NBA Opening Day: Key Matchups in Each Game

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    The NBA opening day is finally upon us. Five games lead off the season on Christmas Day, with the opening tip off at Madison Square Garden between the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics. The day ends with the Los Angeles Clippers visiting the Golden State Warriors.

    An NBA Finals rematch highlights the day when Dirk Nowitzki and the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks host the Miami Heat in the American Airlines Center.

    Here are predictions for the winners in each of the most important matchups on opening day.

Boston Celtics at New York Knicks

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    Though the New York Knicks’ recent acquisition of Tyson Chandler will have many eyes focused on how well he does against the Boston Celtics’ Jermaine O’Neal, the key matchup is between Boston’s Kevin Garnett and New York’s Amar'e Stoudemire.

    Both big men are aggressive in the paint and can pile up big points in a hurry. Stoudemire averaged 25.3 points per game last season (near his record high of 26.0 points per game in 2004-05 with the Phoenix Suns), while Garnett's averages have steadily declined over the last couple of years (down to 14.9 points per game in 2010-11).

    These two are fierce competitors that will be happily getting after one another to start off the NBA season. Playing in Madison Square Garden will help Amar'e get the best of KG, though, and the Knicks will get the season rolling with a win.

    Matchup Winner: Amare Stoudemire

    Game Winner: New York Knicks

Miami Heat at Dallas Mavericks

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    The NBA Finals rematch between the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks is sure to draw a lot of attention, both for the superstars taking the court, and because of the favorable time slot (good planning, NBA).

    The matchup between Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Bosh will be entertaining to watch, but the most exciting matchup of the day will be between Dallas' newly acquired Lamar Odom (from the Los Angeles Lakers) and LeBron James.

    Odom has the length, strength and veteran know-how to be able to stay in LeBron James’ pocket, but since it is not the NBA Finals, LeBron will actually contribute for all four quarters in this game and help the Heat win the game and the matchup.

    Matchup Winner: LeBron James

    Game Winner: Miami Heat

Chicago Bulls at Los Angeles Lakers

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    Two storied franchises that seem to be moving in opposite directions face off in first game in California of the new NBA season when the Los Angeles Lakers host the Chicago Bulls.

    While the Bulls finished last year with the best record in the NBA (62-20) and have added talent to help their chances of making an NBA Finals appearance this year, the Lakers shipped off the 2010-11 Sixth Man of the Year, Lamar Odom, to the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.

    While last year’s NBA MVP Derrick Rose (Chicago) will be sliding around, and likely over, aging PG Derek Fisher (Lakers), the Bulls’ recent addition of Richard Hamilton will make his regular season debut against five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant (LA). This matchup of seasoned shooting guard should be interesting for both fanbases.

    While Lakers fans will be curious to see how badly Kobe’s shot is affected by his ailing wrist, Bulls fans are anxiously waiting to see how well Hamilton adds to an already potent team. A favorable LA crowd will help Kobe win this matchup, though the Lakers will fall short against the deeper Bulls team.

    Winner Prediction: Kobe Bryant

    Game Winner: Chicago Bulls

Orlando Magic at Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Much speculation has swirled around the future of the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard, leaving the franchise’s future in question, while the Oklahoma City Thunder are poised to make a deep run in the Western Conference playoffs on the shoulders of all-star Kevin Durant.

    The matchup between Durant and Orlando’s Hedo Turkoglu, in his second stint with the Magic (also with Orlando from 2004-2009), will be the key matchup in this game.

    Durant will make a strong case for NBA MVP this year and this matchup will help him start that journey as he scores at will against Turkoglu, and the Thunder will get the season started on the right foot with a win.

    Matchup Winner: Kevin Durant

    Game Winner: Oklahoma City Thunder

Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors

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    The final game of the day will feature the Los Angeles Clippers' new superstar duo of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin dismantling the Golden State Warriors in the Oracle Arena.

    Much like the other games on opening day, there are several good matchups in this one, but the main focus will be on Golden State's Stephen Curry and Los Angeles' Chris Paul running their respective squads. Both are smart, versatile point guards and it will be exciting to watch them go at one another.

    In the end Paul and the Clippers will win out due to a stronger overall lineup and trade-induced re-energized team.

    Matchup Winner: Chris Paul

    Game Winner: Los Angeles Clippers

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