by Leo Sepkowitz | @LeoSepkowitz
In a near-full slate of games last night, the Knicks silenced some critics, James Harden gave Sam Presti and the Thunder the finger once again and the Lakers continued to look terrible. Let’s get to it.
Heat (1-1) 84 at Knicks (1-0) 104
This one was a shocker for anybody who watched the Heat dismantle the Celtics on Tuesday night. The Knicks dropped 33 points in the first quarter and led by 16 after one, but the Heat cut the lead down to 11 at halftime. Miami came out of the gate playing well in the second half, but the Knicks three-point shooting thwarted any chance of a Miami comeback, and ultimately made this one a laugher. New York drained 19 threes, more than Miami hit from the stripe and from downtown combined (18). Steve Novak (5), Carmelo Anthony (4), Raymond Felton (3), Jason Kidd (3), JR Smith (2), Ronnie Brewer (1), and, yes, Rasheed Wallace (1) all hit from deep last night.
The Heat played an alright game (The Big Three went a combined 20/39 and Rashard Lewis contributed 16 off the bench), but this one was all New York. This many shots won’t fall every night, and so you can bet that the next Miami-New York matchup (Dec. 6 in Miami) will be a whole lot closer. For the time being, though, the Knicks and their fans can sleep well and dream big.
Nugets (0-2) 89, at Magic (1-0) 102
This offseason, the Nuggets took a step forward with the acquisition of Andre Iguodala. Meanwhile, the Magic took a Shaq-size step back when they shipped Dwight Howard to LA. It didn’t look that way last night. The Magic jumped out to a 21-point halftime lead and held on in the second half. Glen Davis (29 & 10) and JJ Reddick (21) led the way for Orlando. The Nuggets got 23 points out of Danilo Gallinari, but not much from the rest of the team. As a whole, they shot just 38 percent from the floor and 28 percent from downtown. Magic rookies Andrew Nicholson (11 minutes) and Mo Harkless (0 minutes) failed to make an impact in their debuts.
Pacers (1-1) 89 at Bobcats (1-0) 90
Who would have thought the Bobcats and the aforementioned Magic, owners of the NBA’s two worst rosters, would both start 1-0? To be fair, the Bobcats didn’t play the prettiest game, shooting just 36 percent for the game, but they got it done. Kemba Walker led the way for Charlotte with a big 30 points—hopefully a sign of things to come after last year’s OK-but-not-great rookie season. Second overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored just two points in his first pro game, but pulled in seven boards in 20 minutes. Danny Granger’s absence was felt for the Pacers, who had four double-digit scorers but none over 15 points. Expect bigger things from Indy this year. For Charlotte, this might be the only time all season they’re above .500, but should surely celebrate after breaking a 23-game losing streak.
Bucks (1-0) 99 at Celtics (0-2) 88
You can add Boston to the group of good teams off to slow starts, along with Denver and the yellow Los Angeles team. Boston’s great depth was displayed in last night’s loss—six guys in double-figures—but nobody really thrived offensively. Paul Pierce shot just 3-of-11 from the floor in 26 minutes, while Kevin Garnett went 6-for-14.
For the Bucks, Brandon Jennings, who is a restricted free agent at year’s end and openly admitted he’ll be auditioning for other teams this season, dropped a big 21 points, 14 dimes and six steals. Second-year man Tobias Harris drew the start at small forward, and came through with 18 and 6. If the Celtics are Finals contenders like some believe, dropping home games to lottery teams like the Bucks can’t happen. You better believe they’ll have things turned around shortly.
Bulls (2-0) 115 at Cavaliers (1-1) 86
Derrick Rose’s absence will be big down the road for Chicago, but, for now anyway, they’re rolling. With Kirk Hinrich (9&6) and Nate Robinson (16&12) filling in, the Bulls crushed the Cavs last night. They jumped out to a 16-point lead after the first quarter, and, coupled with Kyrie Irving’s 6/15 shooting night, Cleveland didn’t have a prayer. Rip Hamilton and Carlos Boozer led the way for the Bulls with 19 points each. Rookie Dion Waiters scored seven points to go along with four assists for Cleveland.
The Bulls shot a very impressive 63 percent from the floor to go along with 30 free throw attempts. They’ll need to play balanced games with everyone knocking down shots and getting to the line to make up for Rose’s injury this season. Last night they did just that.
Rockets (2-0) 109 at Hawks (0-1) 102
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that James Harden probably could have done alright as a starter in OKC. After dropping 37 and 12 in his first game with the Rockets, he was somehow better last night in Atlanta. The Bearded One dropped a whopping 45 on 14-of-19 shooting, and grabbed seven rebounds. He turned the ball over five times, but, let’s be real, who cares? He was at the free throw line all night (15/17 from the stripe), and though he probably could have taken down the Hawks by himself, he got a ton of help from his teammates.
Jeremy Lin dropped 21 points and notched ten boards and seven dimes. Another newcomer, Omer Asik, grabbed 19 boards to go along with a block and a steal. None of these guys were on the team last year, each is in their early-twenties and each is locked up for a bunch of years. That’s promising for Houston.
As for Atlanta, new sixth man Lou Williams dropped 22 in his debut, while free agent-to-be Josh Smith went for 18 points, 10 boards and three blocks. The game was close the whole way and was tied up with less than four minutes to play, but Harden was ultimately too much for Atlanta to handle.
Jazz (1-1) 86 at Hornets (1-1) 88
In an absolute nail-biter, if you’re someone who bites his or her nails over an early November Utah-New Orleans game, the Hornets pulled one out in the final minute last night. The Jazz held the lead, 82-81, with 52 seconds remaining, but the Hornets’ Ryan Anderson knocked down a go-ahead three with 36 seconds to play. New Orleans led by three with two seconds left after a Greivis Vasquez layup, and after Mo Williams missed a three at the buzzer, New Orleans got their first win of the season.
The Hornets frontcourt dominated this one, with Ryan Anderson, Robin Lopez and Al Farouq-Aminu combining for 53 points. Vasquez had his second consecutive great game to open up the season, double-doubling with 13 points and 10 dimes. The only bad news for the Hornets is that Anthony Davis exited after taking an elbow to the face and did not play in the second half. He looked okay on the bench, obviously a great sign, but he’ll be tested for a concussion. Hopefully he doesn’t have to miss more than a game or two, if anything.
For Utah, their frontcourt, which is supposed to be a great strength, didn’t come through. Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter combined for just 27 points. The team’s new backcourt featuring Mo Williams and Randy Foye combined for 36 points, but this team has to thrive in the post to have real success. Utah’s big men will have to be significantly better going forward if they want a chance at a Playoff spot in the West, which is not at all out of the question.
Kings (0-2) 80 at Timberwolves (1-0) 92
Minnesota may be minus their two best players for awhile, but that didn’t stop them from picking up a nice win last night. Despite shooting just 36 percent from the floor and a brutal 11 percent from downtown, they took down Sacramento behind a big effort from the JJ Barea (21, 4 & 5). Andrei Kirilenko (10, 7 & 5) and Brandon Roy (10, 5 & 6) both had solid T-Wolves debuts, and the team played the kind of ball they’ll try to play all season, especially without Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. They have a number of really talented players, and they’ll all have to fit together to be successful this year. In addition to Barea, Kirilenko and Roy, they had six guys score between seven and nine points, they out-rebounded Sacramento by ten and attempted 20 more free throws than the Kings did. It’s a bizarre roster which will put up plenty of bizarre box scores, but this team should be pretty tough.
Meanwhile, the Kings are off to a bad start. Isaiah Thomas put up a strong 20 points on 13 shots, but DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans combined to go just 8/27 from the floor. Simply, Sacramento is going to lose if they keep doing that. They, like the T-Wolves, have a bunch of young, good players, but year after year they struggle to piece together the puzzle. It could be another frustrating year for Kings fans.
Blazers (1-1) 92 at Thunder (1-1) 106
This game was a little closer than the score dictates, but OKC was in control the whole way through. The Thunder took a 49-42 lead into halftime, and closed out the game in the fourth quarter. It’s a welcome sight after losing their first game in the Post-Harden era on Wednesday night. Kevin Durant led the way with a mammoth line, going for 23 points, 17 rebounds, 7 boards, two blocks and a three. However, it was Russell Westbrook who the team’s high-scorer with 32 on 24 shots. Harden’s replacement Kevin Martin kicked in 19 off the bench in 29 minutes. This is the formula OKC will be moving forward with without Harden, and last night it worked out beautifully. More should be expected from Serge Ibaka (7 points, 5 boards) in the future, but everyone else did their job.
For the Blazers, it was a moral victory, if those exist. Rookie Damian Lillard, who dropped 23 and 12 in his debut, followed up with 21 and 7 last night. He looks well on his way to stardom. Meanwhile, JJ Hickson double-doubled and LaMarcus Aldridge put in 22 and 15. The vastly underrated Wesley Matthews added 17 points and knocked down four shots from downtown. The starters played very well save for Nic Batum (who I remain very much unsold on), and it’s becoming clear that the Blazers have some real pieces. They’ve been forgotten about out West, but seem more or less as good as any team vying for the 8 spot.
Pistons (0-2) 89 at Suns (1-1) 92
Similar to the Hornets-Jazz game, this one was a nail-biter between two teams that, let’s just say, probably won’t be making deep playoff runs this year. The Suns led 89-80 with two minutes left, but a Brandon Knight three-ball led a 6-0 Detroit run that cut the deficit to three with under a minute remaining. A Phoenix bucket was followed by a Kyle Singler three for Detroit, making it a two-point game with just four seconds on the clock. Sebastian Telfair failed to ice the game at the line—splitting a pair of free throws—but a Knight three was off the mark and Phoenix escaped with their first win of the young season.
Marcin Gortat, out to prove that he can succeed without the help of Steve Nash, paced Phoenix with 16 points, 16 boards and a trio of blocks. Goran Dragic double-doubled as well, going for 15 & 10. Michael Beasley, Luis Scola and Shannon Brown also scored in double figures. The Suns are a weird team, mostly composed of free agent pickups and veterans, but they have a chance to win some games if Dragic and Gortat keep playing this well, which they certainly might.
As for the Pistons, they’ve now dropped two games against mediocre teams (Houston and Phoenix) to start the season—never a welcome sight for a team which obviously needed a fast start to have a prayer. Knight was a bright spot with 13 points and 10 dimes and Tayshaun Prince kicked in 18, but Greg Monroe struggled to get anything going. This team is going to have a very tough time winning when the typically-reliable Monroe doesn’t play well.
Grizzlies (1-1) 104 at Warriors (1-1) 94
This was a tight game in the first half, as Memphis led 51-47 going into the break. The Warriors cut it to three points at 59-56, but a 9-0 third quarter run by Memphis put this one away fairly early. Mike Conley had a massive game, scoring 21 points to go along with seven assists and five steals. More importantly, though, Zach Randolph posted 15 points and 14 boards. Randolph was absolutely crucial in Memphis’ upset of the Spurs in the Playoffs two seasons ago, and his absence was a big reason they couldn’t get past the Clippers in 2011. If he can play like he did last night alongside Marc Gasol, Memphis will be one of the toughest teams in the West. With a backcourt featuring defensive animals Conley and Tony Allen and a frontcourt starring Z-Bo, Gasol and Rudy Gay, they could easily contend for a 2-3 seed this season.
For the Warriors, they can take solace in Stephen Curry’s big night. The oft-injured, mega-talented guard dropped 26 points on 10/20 shooting, and added seven assists and five rebounds. If he can stay healthy, which he was able to do prior to last season, the Warriors can make a little noise in the West. They’ll need Andrew Bogut (4&3, 18 minutes) to get much, much better, but they’re looking pretty good on paper.
Clippers (2-0) 105 at Lakers (0-3) 95
Blame Mike Brown for giving an ineffective Steve Blake 39 minutes. Blame Steve Nash’s injury. Blame Dwight Howard for missing more free throws than he made field goals. Blame Pau Gasol for scoring 10 points. Blame whoever the Hell you want—it won’t change the fact that the Lakers stink right now. They dropped another one last night, falling to 0-3 for the first time in 34 years. Kobe Bryant did all he could, pouring in 40 points on just 23 shots, but it still wasn’t enough. Chris Paul dissected the Lakers D to the tune of 18 and 15, and Jamaal Crawford’s 21 off the bench did the lesser, yes, at least for now, lesser, LA team in.
Crucial team stats were nearly identical in this one. The Clippers shot five percent lower from the floor than the Lakers. The Clippers hit one more three than the Lakers. The Clippers hit one more free throw than the Lakers. The teams were separated by just one total rebound. But turnovers—ah, turnovers—were the difference. The Kobes (I had to change it up somehow) turned over the ball 20 times, leading to 25 Lob City points. The CP3s, on the other hand, turned it over 12 times, leading to 13 Lakers points. That, my friends, is your ball game. The two played very evenly, but having 20 turnovers can sink even the best of teams. And right now, the Lakers don’t look like anything close to that.
It’s easy to overreact to three games, and it’s just as easy to laugh at the people overreacting. Maybe the Lakers have real problems, or maybe the fact that they have Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard will shine through eventually. Frankly, I’m not sure which is true right now. Probably both. The only thing that’s certain is that it will be fascinating to watch them try to figure things out. By the way, if and when they do finally get it together… watch out.