by Jeremy Bauman | @JBauman13
The real opening night certainly didn’t disappoint. It’s time to recap the night’s events through the lens of the three points I made yesterday. Once again, I am trying to make this a daily column and will do my best to keep it up all throughout the year.
1. Who will come out of the gate ready to prove that they belong?
Teams that came out of the gate with a resounding confidence: The Golden State Warriors beat the Houston Rockets 132-128 behind Monta Ellis’ unconscious 18-24 shooting and 46 point effort along with Stephen Curry’s smooth 25 points and 11 dimes. Anybody that thought the Warriors would score less now that Don Nelson is out should think again. The Portland Trail Blazers weathered the Blake Griffin storm (20 points, 14 boards, 9 of which were on the offensive glass) on the road with balanced scoring from their starting lineup (everybody in double figures). Cleveland came out strong with a 95-87 victory behind JJ Hickson’s 21 points and 6 boards at home. Boston will surely struggle on the second night of back-to-backs this season because of their lack of youth. Atlanta looked sharp running their new offense with more movement and kept the Grizzlies, who must be disappointed with their effort, at bay for most of the contest and ran away comfortably with a 119-104 win. Despite the Pistons having seven players in double figures, the Nets proved that it is indeed a new year as they won their first game of the season 101-98 behind Brook Lopez 25 points and 9 rebounds and Devin Harris’ 22 points and 9 assists. Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki combined for 50 points on 21-26 shooting while Jason Kidd finished with 18 assists and Dallas was just too strong for the Bobcats, walking away with a 101-86 win. After a perfect preseason, the Jazz started off with a blemish to the Nuggets, who looked strong behind six players in double figures. Carmelo Anthony had 23, Arron Afflalo had 22, and Shelden Williams had 16 rebounds for Denver and they held the Jazz to 36% from the floor.
Teams that squeaked by: The Knicks got the 98-93 W but they certainly let Toronto hang around for the whole game, as Leandro Barbosa had a chance to tie the score at 96 with 3 seconds to play. New Orleans won a tight one at home with the Bucks by the score of 96-91. Chris Paul finished with 17 points and 16 assists while Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut both had double-doubles of their own for the Bucks. Sacramento pulled out a 117-116 victory on the road against the Wolves in a battle of two teams who are trying desperately to improve. Francisco Garcia and Carl Landry both had 22 points in the win while Luke Ridnour dropped 20 in the loss. San Antonio won by 13, 122-109, but for most of the game Indiana was fully engaged in the affair. Tim Duncan scored 23 and scooped 12 boards while Manu Ginobili had 22 and Tony Parker dropped 20.
2. How will the Heat bounce back against the Philadelphia 76ers?
The Miami Heat looked better against the 76ers but they are still light-years away of where I expect them to be in a few weeks. Their offense hasn’t been as potent as it will be but their defense has only given up 88 and 87 points respectively on 44% and should continue to improve with reps. Dwyane Wade finally got going, scoring 30 points and LeBron James scored 14 points, had 7 assists and 6 rebounds, but he also had 9 turnovers. Through two games James has 17 turnovers, a number that he normally has over a stretch of about 4-5 games. This signals to me a few things; that he isn’t sure where all of his teammates are cutting without the basketball and that he is trying a little too hard to make things happen. As I stated yesterday, I believe the Heat will rely on their fast break and secondary break to facilitate easy points whenever possible, and I expect ‘whenever possible’ to be quite often due to their ability to create turnovers and push the ball because they have multiple players that can push the ball and make solid decisions/plays. Their half-court offense is based on Wade and LBJ’s ability to get into the lane and make plays for themselves or for others and Chris Bosh’s versatility and presence in the high post the Heat could prove to be quite unconventional this year because they do not have a true low post scorer-Bosh is not this type of player. The Heat might rely on Wade, LBJ and Bosh to get into the paint and score easy points instead of actually having a true post presence.
3. Who will win the Thunder/Bulls matchup?
I called this one pretty well. The Bulls looked great for most of the game but just didn’t have enough in the tank in the fourth quarter on the road against a Thunder team that I expect to fully dominate the competition at home this year. Kevin Durant had 15 first quarter points, slowed down a little bit in after that, and finished with 30 in the game. Russell Westbrook was dominant in every area of the game, finishing with a full stat line of 28 points (8-15 shooting), 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals. Derrick Rose (28 points, 6 assists, 4 boards) looked solid as well, flipping passes to cutting teammates all over the place, finishing tough reverse layups regularly, and knocking down jumpers off the dribble consistently although he did seem to press at times (not necessarily a bad thing). When the Bulls get Carlos Boozer back they are going to pose a major threat to any team in the East but until then they are going to have to fight to stay in games with other top flight teams that they face, especially on the road.
Tonight’s three points:
1. Can John Wall top Blake Griffin’s stunning performance last night? As I mentioned earlier, Griffin commanded the glass like he was a veteran yet it was only his first regular season game in the NBA. The way he rebounded and scored off of second chance opportunities in the first quarter was nothing short of breathtaking. He continued to battle for every offensive rebound throughout the rest of the game and the way in which he competes is something special. Furthermore, Griffin proved that he was more than comfortable leading the break off of a defensive rebound. In the third quarter he threaded the needle with a one-handed bounce pass on the break and looked poised bringing the ball up quickly other times. Tonight against the Magic, Wall will have some highlight reel plays scoring and assisting the basketball as usual, but the key will be how he manages the game-can he finish the game with three or less turnovers in his first outing running the show for Washington? We shall see soon enough.
2. What, if anything, kinds of new offensive weapons will we see from Dwight Howard? For comparison’s sake, at this point in his career Shaquille O’Neal had already averaged 23 points during his rookie season, 29 points twice, 26 points twice, and 28 points per game. This was all before his seventh season in the League. Dwight Howard is one hell of a force on the boards and blocking shots on the defensive end, but for him to really and truly take the next step in his game he has to develop the ability to become a go-to player at all times in the game. Will he start to knock that 15-foot banker down with more consistency or will he use hook shots across the lane more frequently? Whatever he chooses, Superman needs to continue to make strides on the offensive end because as his career average of 17.5 ppg shows, there is certainly room for development.
3. How will Steve Nash adjust from his 9 turnover first game outing? I didn’t watch the Suns first game, but by the looks of things Steve Nash got off to a somewhat shaky start in the first game of the regular season. Passes that he would normally be zipping to Amar’e Stoudemire in the middle are now going to players like Hakeem Warrick and Robin Lopez. In order for Nash to excel this season he will have to bring his teammates along slowly by teaching them about how he expects them to move without the ball while running the floor. Nash is going to throw those nifty lead passes; his teammates have to be ready for them as well.
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