by Brett Weisband | @weisband
Teams around the league kept it close all night as the new season shifts into gear.
76ers 114, Heat 110
Nobody could have seen this coming. Projected by everyone to be not just one of the worst teams in the league, but of all time, the Sixers came out and blitzed the Heat from the opening tip. With Miami coming off their Opening Night win over Chicago and resting Dwyane Wade, the Sixers raced to a 19-0 lead, and were up 33-14 after the first quarter.
Snap back to reality and that lead was cut to two points by halftime, with the Heat taking their first lead with about eight and a half minutes to go in the third quarter. Somehow, though, the Sixers hung around for the remainder of the game, despite having just six NBA players on their roster (coach Brett Brown’s words, not mine). They grabbed the lead late in the fourth thanks to a five-point spurt by Spencer Hawes and managed to hold on for the W thanks to some tight defense and clutch free throw shooting.
Rookie Michael Carter-Williams put up an absurd 22 point, 12 assist, 7 rebound line and threw in a whopping 9 steals, a record for an NBA debut, while Evan Turner chipped in 25 points on 10-19 shooting. LeBron James and Chris Bosh both posted double-doubles for the Heat, who hit 16 threes in the loss.
Even if this is the only Sixers win on the season, it will keep the fans warm on some cold nights this season. As will the Extraterrestrial throwing down on the King.
Cavaliers 98, Nets 94
It was a restart of an era for Brooklyn as they kicked off their season in Cleveland, with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry making their Nets debuts. The Cavs, with no. 1 pick Anthony Bennett and the mostly injured Andrew Bynum playing in their first games with Cleveland, weren’t about to let the former Boston bullies push them around.
The Nets showed they’ll need some time for their revamped roster gel. They struggled to score late in the fourth, with Deron Williams on the bench nursing his sprained ankle and new Cavs coach Mike Brown’s defense clamping down. Anderson Varejao hit a go-ahead 15-footer with 28 seconds to go and Kyrie Irving sealed the win with four free throws at the end. Tristan Thompson led the scoring with 18 points on 8-13 shooting, while Kyrie put up a well-rounded 15 point, 7 rebound, 9 assist line despite shooting just 25 percent from the field.
Raptors 93, Celtics 87
What is sure to be a rough year for Boston started out just that way in Toronto. The eminently available Rudy Gay led a team effort from the Raptors, handing Celtics coach Brad Stevens a loss in his NBA coaching debut. The Raptors defense forced 22 Boston turnovers, not surprising when considering that Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee and Jordan Crawford are the Celtics’ top ball handlers with Rajon Rondo still recovering from ACL surgery.
Raptors fans got to see Jonas Valanciunas flash the potential that makes him such an intriguing prospect, as he put up 8 points, 13 boards and 2 blocks in just 31 minutes. Jeff Green was one of the lone bright spots for the Celtics, dropping in 25 points on an efficient 8-16 shooting effort, including 2-3 from long range.
Pistons 113, Wizards 102
When Detroit signed Josh Smith over the summer, plenty of folks raised concerns about the Pistons’ ability to spread the court and put the ball in the hoop. At least for one night, Detroit put those questions to rest. The front line of Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe combined for 55 points and 29 rebounds. Monroe put up a monster 24-16 line, Smith somehow hit 3-7 treys and Drummond hammered down a few nasty dunks for all of the League Pass junkies out there. The Wizards backcourt of the present (and future) still put up numbers in the loss, with John Wall putting up a 20 point, 11 assist stat line and Bradley Beal managing 17 points on a poor shooting night. Trevor Ariza led the Wiz with 28 points.
Knicks 90, Bucks 83
The Knicks looked like they were going to start this season with an easy one, opening up a 22-point lead on Milwaukee at halftime. Even leading by 10 early in the fourth quarter, the Knicks were poised to coast to the finish line against Milwaukee. The Bucks showed that they might be feistier than they look on paper, though, pushing back to tie the game up late at 80.
Tyson Chandler wasn’t trying to hear that, though. The Olympic gold medalist and former DPOY made his presence known with the game on the line, putting the Knicks up 82-80 on a putback. He followed that up a few minutes later with an alley-oop dunk from Raymond Felton and a block to seal it for New York. As will be the case all season, Carmelo Anthony took the scoring lead for the Knicks with 19 points and completed the double-double with 10 boards.
Rockets 96, Bobcats 83
It wasn’t always pretty, but Houston started its Dwight Howard Era on a winning note. Dwight is out to show last year’s very weird, injury-riddled season was a fluke, and put up a very Dwight-like line to prove it: 17 points, 26 rebounds and 2 blocks. James Harden, battling a sore back, put up a quiet 17 on just 7-16 shooting. Howard wasn’t the only big man playing in new threads for the first time; Al Jefferson made his debut for the soon-to-be Hornets, but struggled going against the Rockets monster front line of Howard and Omer Asik.
Timberwolves 120, Magic 115 (OT)
Yeah, he didn’t play much last season, but you can’t let Kevin Love get open beyond the arc. The big man proved that again Wednesday night, hitting a game-tying triple with just 10 seconds to go against the Magic, sending the game to OT.
Kevin Martin showed why the Wolves went out and signed him this summer, hitting two big jumpers in OT, including an and-1, and finishing with 19 points. Love posted the kind of line he spoiled us with throughout the 2011-12 season: 31 points, 17 rebounds. Man, it is good to have him back, healthy and generally being awesome.
Orlando dropped their second game in as many nights. Nik Vucevic bounced back from a tough shooting night against Indiana to put up 22 points on 9-15 shooting to go along with his 16 rebounds. After a down year last season and rough start to this one, Arron Afflalo came to play, with 28 points on 50 percent shooting, knocking down 3-5 threes in the process.
Pacers 95, Pelicans 90
New name, new jerseys, same results. In their first game as the Pelicans, New Orleans hung tough after blowing a 16-point halftime lead and eventually succumbed to the Pacers, who were playing the second of a back-to-back set. George Hill put the nail in the ‘Cans’ coffin, drilling a three to put Indiana up by four points with about 30 seconds to go. Hill and Paul George were the catalysts for Indiana. George once again showed why he’s one of the fastest-rising stars in the league, putting up what’s becoming a commonplace (for him) 32 point, 6 rebound, 5 assist line. Hill contributed 19 points, including 4-7 shooting from deep. For the Pelicans, Anthony Davis kept up the crazy pace he set for himself in the preseason, throwing up 20 points, 12 boards and 3 swats in the loss.
On top of their new nickname and threads, the Pelicans have a new-look backcourt to boot. Jrue Holiday, acquired from the Sixers on draft night, put up 24 points in his debut, while high-priced free agent signing Tyreke Evans was limited to 4 points on 2-8 shooting in just 22 minutes off the bench. How those two mesh with a hopefully healthy Eric Gordon (25 points, 8-19 shooting, 3-5 on threes) will go a long way in determining how this season goes for the ‘Cans.
Mavericks 118, Hawks 109
Dirk is back, and it looks like he’s got some help.
After losing a big chunk of last season to injury and playing the year with a weak supporting cast, the big German partnered with new teammate Monta Ellis to lead the Mavs to a season opening win. Dirk was very much his old self, knocking down 4-6 threes en route to 24 points. Ellis, signed away from the Bucks over the summer, truly had it all against the Hawks. Monta was knocking down jumpers all over the court, making 11-17 shots and even draining 2-3 three pointers after being one of the worst shooters from distance in recent memory last season. Atlanta’s new addition, Paul Millsap, put up 20 points in his Hawks debut, while Jeff Teague went for 24 and 9 assists after some interesting contract negotiations with the Hawks over the summer.
Spurs 101, Grizzlies 94
The Grizzlies season flamed out last year in the Western Conference Finals, as the Grit and Grind Gang was swept out of the Playoffs by the Spurs. Their new season started the same way, as the Spurs ground Memphis to a halt. San Antonio used a 30-7 second quarter to subdue the Grizz, holding Memphis to 2-18 from the field in the quarter. Both teams got balanced efforts scoring-wise, with no player scoring more than Tony Allen’s 15 points. Odds are, there won’t be too many more games where Allen is the leading scorer, so let’s enjoy this one. Kawhi Leonard continued his evolution as a full-court terror, pacing the Spurs with 14 points to go with 7 boards and 2 blocks.
Hopefully it’s not an issue going forward, but Tim Duncan left the game after just 17 minutes after taking a ‘bow to the chest. You know Pop will be giving Timmy all the rest he needs this season, and this bruise might give him even more reason to get his ageless superstar some rest. These two teams are in for a long season, and hopefully we get a playoff series that goes more than four games in the spring.
Thunder 101, Jazz 98
Before Wednesday, Kevin Durant hadn’t played a regular season game without his buddy Russell Westbrook since his rookie year. If the Thunder’s opener is any indication, we could be in for a very rare scoring outburst from KD while Russ recuperates. Durant went for 42 points, going 9-24 from the field and hitting another 22-24 from the free throw line. That could very well be the norm with Durant operating as the lone star in OKC. Utah, widely considered to be in tank mode this season, kept it close up until the end. Gordon Hayward had a chance to win it on a heave at the buzzer, but just like against Duke his shot caught iron, adding to a tough shooting night for the former Butler star.
Suns 104, Trail Blazers 91
Turn this tank around! After the Sixers, experts have the Suns pegged to be in the League cellar this season. Phoenix’s new backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic had other thoughts against Portland. Both point guards stuffed the stat sheet in their first game together; Dragic put up 26 points, 6 rebounds and 9 assists, and Bledsoe went for 22-7-6. Last year’s ROY, Damian Lillard, picked up right where he left off, tossing in 32 for the Blazers. Unfortunately, Portland’s rebuilt bench looked just like last year as well, managing to score just 12 points combined. On a feel-good note, Channing Frye returned to the court after missing all of last season with a heart ailment. The sweet-shooting big posted 7 points in his first game back.
Kings 90, Nuggets 88
Out with the old, in with the new for both of these teams. Denver, after the best season in franchise history, lost its Coach of the Year, George Karl, GM Masai Ujiri and top player Andre Iguodala in the offseason. The Kings shed even more: the incompetent Maloofs and the weight of a potential move to Seattle. This one went to the final buzzer, and Denver had two chances to win it in the finals seconds. But Ty Lawson missed a twisting layup, and Randy Foye bricked a corner three as time expired. DeMarcus Cousins went about proving he deserves the fat contract extension he just got, going for 30 points and 14 rebounds for the Kings. New owner Vivek Ranadivé told the crowd, “This is your team and it’s here to stay,” before the game. Let’s hope the effort we saw from Boogie is here to stay, too.
One positive of the Nuggets shake-up is that we’re going to get more JaVale McGee this season. We’ll have more of this, please, Pierre.
Warriors 125, Lakers 94
The Xavier Henry Era’s honeymoon appears to be over for the Lakers. After the Lakers bench put up 41 fourth quarter points on the Clippers in their opener, they barely combined for that many for game in Oakland and got drubbed by the Dubs. The Warriors didn’t need much from Steph Curry, as Klay Thompson decided he’d handle the Lakers himself. The third-year guard had as many points in the first quarter as the whole Lakers squad, and went 15-19 from the field and 5-7 from three on his way to 38 points, a new career high. New addition Andre Iguodala, expected to put the Warriors over the top with his defensive presence and playmaking, had an understated line with 7 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals. David Lee showed no ill effects from his hip injury in last year’s playoffs, going for 24 points on 8-13 shooting and 8 rebounds.