October 29, 2009
Quite a bit went down in this bad boy.
For one, the Jazz looked good. They didn't deserve to win, and the team's play won't have me rethinking my win prediction, but the Jazz looked like a tough out. And for the last few years, they haven't really acted like much of a tough out on the road. To come out and play strong right away was good to see.
It wasn't as good to see Carlos Boozer(notes) (3-14) stink it up from the floor. Those were mostly makeable shots, shots he tosses in without a moment's hesitation in years previous. He swayed a bit on those jumpers, and the result was a lot of front rim paint. He nails a few more, and who knows what happens? A couple of times down the stretch, Boozer passed on either putting the ball on the floor or calling for the rock.
Deron Williams'(notes) opener was a little different. It was fantastic to see him play superb basketball, even if we expect superb basketball. Lots of letdowns in pro basketball, from time to time, so merely coming to terms with your promise often leaves us giddy enough.
Five turnovers from Williams and a bum foul on Chauncey Billups(notes) to end the third quarter (sending CB to the line for three free throws) helped turn the tide in Denver's favor, but overall Deron looked all the part of the clear second-best point guard in our league.
Denver was beastly, though, and it was great to see absolutely no letdown in the face of making the Conference finals last year.
I know that letdowns usually occur midseason, on the road, against crummy teams, and anonymously. More or less the opposite of a home opener on national TV against the Utah Jazz. But watching Carmelo Anthony(notes) (still in shape, by the way) continue to progress, Billups staving off age-influenced regression, Nene and Kenyon Martin(notes) act the same, and the brilliance that will be Ty Lawson(notes)? That was fun.
Utah's offensive execution dried up down the stretch, and Denver just seemed to get whatever shot it wanted in that fourth quarter.
This is going to be a hellacious team. I'd forgotten about the addition of Joey Graham(notes), who isn't much, but someone who can ably come close to making up for the loss of Linas Kleiza(notes) in a few minutes per game. Nene and Martin both had 16 points, Martin couldn't be kept off the offensive glass (five caroms, 11 total), Anthony Carter's(notes) D was shot but he passed well (five assists), Billups had 25, Carmelo looked like a leaders, and Ty Lawson! Ty Lawson!
17 points and six assists in 26 minutes off the bench, one turnover, one steal, four rebounds.
I have to bring this up.
You've got the current cast, the 1990s holdovers, and now? You have Ty, DaJuan Blair, Chase Budinger(notes), Blake Griffin(notes) (eventually), Stephen Curry(notes), Omri Cassipi, Terrence Williams(notes) and others coming in from what was termed a weak draft class.
It's a good time to be a fan. Nuggets, Jazz, or otherwise.
(Also, I saw a five-second call tonight.
I watch a fair amount of basketball, and I don't think I've seen a five-second call since it was instituted back in 1999-00; created so players like Charles Barkley, Mark Jackson, and Vlade Divac couldn't take the air out of the ball with 15-second post-ups. And yet, there Deron Williams was. Five-second'in it up. Thanks for that, mate.)
Once the Magic figured out how to at least slow Philadelphia's transition game after an up-and-down first quarter, the rout was on. Philly had no answer for a Magic team that made 16 of 29 three-pointers, shooting 55 percent from both long range and the floor.
The spacing was so, so pure for Orlando tonight, and that was against a 76ers team that can often frustrate with its length (not necessarily changing shots, but making you think twice about that skip pass). 28 assists for Orlando, who managed a balanced effort that made everyone look good. Everyone.
(Well, the D from the reserves in the fourth quarter was pretty poor - Philadelphia outscored Orlando 37 to 22 in the final frame -- but the Magic starters were long gone by that point.)
Cleveland's crummy defense with either Shaquille O'Neal(notes) or Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes) or both (Big Z as the world's tallest power forward has to stop) on the floor will likely be the story coming from most outlets, and it should be talked about. This team has major issues with any big man that can outrun a Collins Twin.
But the offense, I'm sorry, it's the problem. Cleveland scored 94.8 points per 100 possessions in the team's second straight loss, that's down from 112.4 per 100 last year (good for fourth in the NBA), and downright miserable against a Toronto team that really shouldn't be holding anyone to a mark like that.
But there the Cavs were, just clanging away. 34.9 percent shooting from the floor. Mo Williams(notes) had another bum game, missing 10 of 14 looks. Anthony Parker(notes) (4-12 from the floor) has had to shoot way too much thus far. And Shaq and Big Z's touches seem like afterthoughts. Honestly. When the Cavs actually send it toward their bigs, the team looks like teams look when they dump it off to a small forward who just caught Jose Juan Barea(notes) in the post on a switch.
LeBron James(notes) registered a triple-double (23 points, 11 boards, 12 assists), but you never got the feeling he was in charge. Two steals, but the defense wasn't there (he was even faked out of his shoes by Andrea Bargnani(notes) in an up-and-under). Four turnovers. His one three-pointer looked like a thing of beauty. The four misses were just wrong, wrong, wrong. And wrong. Forgot the fourth one.
Cleveland is all wrong. It's early, excuse away, but Mike Brown is a deer caught in the headlights working in a merciless conference (the Magic and Celtics have won their first three games by a combined 53 points), with no time to lose. I don't care if LeBron James has yet to turn 25. The time to win is now.
Toronto? Fantastic work. Excellent spacing, ball movement, and superb shooting. Cleveland upped its defensive intensity in the third quarter, and was actually able to contest shooters in a lineup that featured James at big forward and Anderson Varejao(notes) at center, but you rode with that and pulled out the win.
Bargs was the story with 19 points in the first half, 28 overall, in under 30 minutes of play. Just five rebounds, but ... he's Bargs! He's incorrigible!
The trick was the team's defense, though. Sure, Brown and his Cavs aren't much right now, but the Raptors made Cleveland work. It took them out of sets and denied good spacing for 75 percent of the game. This can work. This can really work, Toronto. Keep at it.
The Pacers can preach defense all they want, and they have been a passable defensive team at times under Jim O'Brien (with different, better, players), but I don't understand how a roster and rotation like this can be counted on to defend at the sort of clip needed to make the playoffs.
Atlanta scored 120 points per 100 possession in their win, and had clear lanes to good shots all night. With relative neophytes starting at two positions, the diminutive T.J. Ford(notes) at point guard, the slow and flat-footed Troy Murphy(notes) at big forward, and the depended-on-for-offense Danny Granger(notes) on the wing, how can the Pacers compete?
Toss in turnovers on a full quarter of the team's offensive possessions (it's like the Hawks had five Deion Sanders' out there, at times), and it was only the sweet shooting of Earl Watson(notes) (you read that right) that kept the Pacers in contention.
The sweet shooting of Earl Watson. I like that. Let's try that again.
The delicate stylings of Napalm Death.
The cogent musings of Gary Busey.
The rapier wit of Jay Leno.
The definitely not stabbing anyone of O.J. Simpson.
Don't complain about O.J. Simpson jokes. I learned from the rapier wit of Jay Leno.
Atlanta looked good. Joe Johnson(notes) (25 points) looked active and springy. Al Horford(notes) (24 points, 16 rebounds, two blocks, one turnover) had his way around the paint and the glass. And the wood. And the rubber, I guess. Marvin Williams(notes) spread the floor without spreading himself too thin, if that makes sense, and Josh Smith(notes) (18 points, eight assists, five blocks) was all-around lovely.
There should be no surprises here. This isn't a "you read that right, 59 points" situation.
The Charlotte Bobcats will be a legendarily-bad offensive team this season. They might surprise and not be 30th in offensive efficiency at the end of the year, that's not me being flip, but this team is truly, truly bad. I wonder if you can bet on a fixed amount of sub-70 point games in Vegas. I'd do it, if I were you.
The team hit 31 percent of its shots. It missed all 10 attempts from behind the three point arc, and 12 of 25 free throw attempts. Tyson Chandler(notes) missed all five of his looks, and you know what? He was one of the best things going out there for Charlotte tonight. Pair him with a real point guard, and he was free for several clean looks in the lane.
The Bobcats don't have a real point guard, though. They barely have a real team. They barely have half of a real team. And while they will compete and can really defend (Boston just wore them down, off of all the misses, after a while), this team is miserable offensively.
Boston, meanwhile, is quite good.
I didn't see as much of this game as I would have hoped, but I hope it does help to readdress something that's gotten away from us recently in all the talk about New York's resurgence under Mike D'Antoni.
The Knicks are full of inefficient offensive players.
Even the potentially efficient ones, while they were efficient tonight, gave off the stink of inefficiency.
Danilo Gallinari(notes) made seven of 14 shots, all but one of which was a three-pointer. When he missed his first, I thought, "shoot ‘em every so often, Danilo, but you're an athlete. Get at that baseline." And then I flipped to other games, I'd flip back to see him shoot some more, flip away, back for some more, and then the box score. Appreciate that 21 points on 14 shots is pretty good, but it's too early for this guy to turn into Dennis Scott.
So, yeah. Just because they run a ton, it doesn't mean that this team is lights out on offense.
That's OK, mind you. The team is rebuilding, and few of these guys will be back next year, whether the team brings in some franchise studs or not.
But in Miami, against a so-so defense and up against a Heat team that can be taken advantage of, the Knicks just weren't up to it.
The Heat were. Dwyane Wade(notes) was his bad self with 26 points, five boards, five assists and two steals. Jermaine O'Neal(notes) came out of nowhere for 22 and 12 boards after watching Darko Milicic(notes) score twice on him early in the contest. Darko waved to the Knick bench and celebrated after nailing his second shot, giving him four points. Darko finished with four points.
Michael Beasley(notes) still spent a good chunk of time away from the rim even as Miami's power forward, but he attacked the paint with ferocity, and finished with 21 points on 14 shots. Just three rebounds, but we were kind of blinded by the sight of Beasley playing as well as he did. It was nice to see. Almost goes without saying that I hope he builds on it.
As it will be all year, the Kings have too many players taking up too many possessions resulting in too many poor shots and/or decisions to be taken seriously, and they can't stop anyone.
Tyreke Evans(notes) was terrible in his first NBA game, forcing the issue and finishing with 10 points on 16 shots. Kevin Martin(notes) shot poorly but scored 27 by getting his ass to the line, and for some reason Jason Thompson(notes) only took four shots all night (making three).
Rookie Omri Cassipi, however, is fantastic. A pure scorer who tried to defend. 15 points on nine shots in 19 minutes. Three boards, a steal, a block, a turnover.
The Thunder were hot from the outset, Jeff Green(notes) (24 points on 13 shots, eight boards, three blocks) ran circles around whoever Sacramento had out there, Kevin Durant(notes) had 25 points and 11 rebounds (!), and Nenad Krstic(notes) looks stronger with every passing day. 20 points and seven boards. Great to see.
I missed just about all of Minnesota's comeback while trying to catch up on other games, and I'm a bit bummed. I think I'll have another chance, though, because these Timberwolves figure to be a tough out all year.
Jonny Flynn(notes) can get to the line, Al Jefferson(notes) will only get stronger and sturdier as the year moves along (I'd put him at 70 percent), Kevin Love(notes) returns once winter hits (for most of us, at least, not Minneapolis), and the sideline triangle offense will continue to evolve.
The Nets looked passable for a while, Brook Lopez(notes) had a monster night (27 points, 15 boards, four assists, four turnovers, five blocks), and Terrence Williams had an active debut (15 points and 10 rebounds), but Flynn (13 points in the final period, 18 overall) apparently exploited a hole in the fourth quarter that just wasn't there for the preceding 36 minutes, most of which were comfortably led by the Netsies.
New Jersey's backcourt of Devin Harris(notes) and Courtney Lee(notes) combined to shoot six of 24, and I almost inadvertently used a very appropriate curse word in place of the word immediately following "to" in the first part of this very long sentence. The Nets turned the ball over on 22 percent of its possessions.
The pace of this game was quite slow, just 81 possessions all night, but don't let that dissuade you from thinking that the Pistons (over 118 points per 100 possessions in the win) weren't fantastic offensively tonight, or that the Grizzliers aren't utter, utter crap.
This was a 40-point blowout wrapped up in a 22-point one-sided affair. The pace was just so damn slow that an initial take will have you thinking it was closer than it was. Rip Hamilton (25 points) went off early, Ben Gordon(notes) (22 points on 12 shots) went off late, and the Pistons managed 20 assists on 37 field goals.
Marc Gasol(notes) has lost quite a bit of weight, and he put up 21 points, 15 rebounds, and three blocks in the loss. Meanwhile, the center the Grizzlies drafted last June even though they already have Marc Gasol on their team missed both shots, both free throws, and managed two rebounds and two fouls in 12 minutes of "play."
Here's hoping the Grizzlies can sustain their surprisingly good play.
New Orleans actually improved on offense as the night went along. This wasn't the barren cupboard that we saw finish the season against Denver last season.
But it is a team that's a clear step behind the elite of the West right now.
San Antonio, meanwhile, shot 52 percent, had nearly three assists for every turnover, and just outclassed the Hornets from the beginning until the end.
Manu Ginobili(notes) (16 points on 11 shots) looked springy and healthy off the bench. Not quite what he was two years ago, but mighty fine nonetheless. Richard Jefferson(notes) kind of stunk, missing six of seven shots, and Spurs CENTER Matt Bonner(notes) actually outscored Spurs POWER FORWARD Tim Duncan(notes) 11-9.
Don't care, don't care, not interested.
14 and 11 in 22 minutes, with three assists.
The Spurs just aren't fair.
Chris Paul(notes) managed 26 and nine assists, with five turnovers, but he has nobody else on the perimeter with him. Emeka Okafor(notes) shined with 18 and 10; but the team's defense is just abysmal. Julian Wright's(notes) a sieve, David West(notes) is pretty average, Morris Peterson(notes) can't check anyone anymore, and Peja Stojakovic(notes)?
He put up the line of a defensive stopper (four points in 20 minutes), but there was a reason San Antonio put up over 124 points per 100 possessions tonight.
It was a hole-riddled game between two teams that struggle to defend and often frustrate with the shots they take, but it hardly mattered in the end once you realized that Steve Nash(notes) is back. Or that Steve Nash never went away. Or that we're all going to be safe, and that it's going to be a warm winter. Steve Nash.
Apologies for drooling, but he pumped in 15 fourth quarter points (24 total) in this win, shooting and driving his Suns to the comeback victory. It was lovely.
The Clippers tried. I saw Marcus Camby(notes) on the floor six times before the half even ended (David Eckstein would have been on the floor six times before the half even started), and reports out of Los Angeles had Baron Davis(notes) on the court well before any of his teammates or the coaching staff on Wednesday morning, working on the shot that betrayed him during the Clippers' opener.
Davis was OK. He needed 11 shots to score 12 points, but had five steals and 12 assists to only three turnovers. Active defense, too, despite Nash's great game.
Camby was brilliant, coming through with 23 points, 11 boards, three assists, two turnovers, three steals, and three blocks. All over the place. And Chris Kaman(notes) (22 points, nine rebounds, five turnovers, two blocks) absolutely destroyed Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) (16 and five, six turnovers, one block, terrible defense).
This was truly a fun one to watch.
And the new-hero-a-day-even-when-they-lose-by-12 Rockets are just as fun. Especially now that the team is running more. After two games, the Rockets average the seventh highest amount of possessions per game in the league, up from 19th last year.
That doesn't exactly make them better, but quite a bit has to go into that. 46 transition points for the Rockets, according to GM Daryl Morey, and that was a month's worth last season.
Great spacing, followed by strong passing and able finishing allowed the team to make its first 11 shots on its way to a 35-point quarter. A night after a disappointing debut, Luis Scola(notes) was huge in the quarter and finished with 21 and 11.
This is how it's going to be for Houston all year. It doesn't mean that someone like Scola was dragging or not giving effort in the opener, it just means this team has to take what the opponents are offering. Houston has to work so hard for good shots that they'll just have to rely on the relative weaknesses of the opposing defenses night in, and night out.
Every team does that to a degree, ‘natch, but I can see what happened to Scola over the last two days happening quite a bit to various Rockets throughout this season. Also, Chuck Hayes(notes) was +10 - highest on the Rockets - for a reason. For a bunch of reasons. He's not nervous any more, and he helps to win games.
As smart as the Houston offense was during that turn, the Golden State offense was pretty dull. And though Stephen Curry (14 points on 12 shots, seven assists, four steals, two turnovers) helped to make it a game in the fourth quarter, the Rockets were just too patient, too exacting, without being too slow.
Both teams turned the ball over too much, and Anthony Randolph(notes) just doesn't look healthy at this point, but it was a fun watch. I've a feeling that this will be a consistent theme for both teams, all year.
Thank you for reading.