December 29, 2011
We can and probably should mock Mark Jackson for his frustrating turn teaching all of our family members about pro basketball on ABC/ESPN, and for ascending to the ranks of head coach of the Golden State Warriors without deigning to take an assistant coach's position for a short term. And while three games of post-lockout basketball should be nothing to go on, we should also recognize what he's done for the Warriors and their fans thus far.
This is a team that wants to play hard for Jackson, and though there's been quite a bit of roster turnover since Don Nelson was let go a year and a half ago, you couldn't say that for Nellie's last few years, and last season's needless lame-ducking of coach Keith Smart. The Warriors will make no big moves in their first year under Jackson, but for now this team is playing hard and attempting to get stops defensively. That, if only for the opening week, is an accomplishment.
Golden State completely took New York out of its offense in this win, forcing the Knicks into a series of one-on-one moves after aborted, broken plays. Too many jumpers, not enough good looks, and plenty of finishes on the other end as the Warriors slowly pulled away. I doubt very much that the Warriors players had much recollection of Jackson's two stints as a Knick, or about the time he was passed over for the Knicks' head coaching job in 2008, because this has been a hallmark of Golden State's two wins. This team, a squad full of good athletes, actually gets after it.
The Knicks? They have a lot to work out. If this crew is going to head into 2011-12 hoping its rare defensive parts can make up for limited potential on that end, then they really need to get it going offensively.
Encouraging mettle on both sides in this game, the Pacers had plenty of chances to let the Raptors full back into this contest, and the Raptors had plenty of chances to let this one slip away. Instead, we got a relatively competitive contest, even as the Pacers kept Toronto at arm's length for most of the game. No Pacer stood out as, say, Toronto's DeMar DeRozan did as he led his team back into the swing of things with 16 fourth quarter points, but the ball was moving and Indiana did well to score in delayed transition (despite the lowish score).
Just seven free throw makes in 13 tries for Toronto, and I can't say they deserved much more. The Raps line up for jumpers, and most drives eventually turn into pull-ups instead of contact-earning hack-baits.
Yes, Dwyane Wade traveled on his game-winning jumper. And, yes, the Heat should be managing a more effective time out against a terrible Bobcats team, but both teams impressed in this close one.
The Bobcats really appeared up for this game, as they looked against Milwaukee on Monday, and credit has to go to coach Paul Silas for leading what could have been a depressed roster out of the gate so enthusiastically. More impressive to me, though, was LeBron James' ability to do his damage from the free throw line in. Throughout the win, which saw Charlotte leading Miami by double figures for most of the night, James was able to efficiently score in the paint both in the half court and in transition.
By the time Chris Bosh got his fourth quarter act on, the Bobcats were just about out of consistent options, if not figurative gas. This doesn't mean they should feel OK with the close loss, but … come on. Just not getting blown out is accomplishment enough. What we have, in the face of those Pyrrhic victories, is a solid little rotation for Charlotte featuring an ever-improving backcourt of Gerald Henderson and D.J. Augustin plus an impressive Kemba Walker coming off the bench. If Corey Maggette could get his act all tight, then you'll see more of these tough outs as the season moves along.
We're really supposed to be lauding the Cavaliers, and how youngsters Kyrie Irving and Samardo Samuels really came on in this win, but we can't get over just how lousy the Pistons looked in this loss. Even with Ben Gordon playing well for the first time in what feels like ages, Detroit really had no shot against Cleveland from the outset, and that is far from encouraging. The Cavs are a threadbare roster at this point, rebuilding and working in young talent. The Pistons are loaded with veteran help and the odd promising youngster, and they seem outclassed in most regards on Wednesday night.
57 percent shooting overall and a 7-12 mark from long range for the Cavs, who also dominated the glass and only allowed 11 free throw attempts for a team that was, again, playing at home.
The Hawks consistently put the pressure on the referees to make calls in this win, and as a result the squad earned 35 free throw attempts and tossed in 28 freebies. Against a team like Washington, which relies on fadeaways and mid-range jumpers? That's just certain death for the Wizards. Washington is supposed to be the younger, more energetic team; but Atlanta was dominant from the outset.
All of which makes sense. The Hawks are notoriously streaky, especially for such a middling team, so the fact that they've taken down two terrible teams in New Jersey and Washington by a combined 54 points to start the season should be no surprise. This isn't to dismiss Atlanta, it's just something to keep in mind when they, perhaps, lose by a combined 32 points to Washington and Charlotte in back to back games sometime in March.
Until then, the Hawks acted brash but appeared focus in dismantling the Wizards. And as a result, I clicked away to watch other games.
Fretting over Boston's 0-3 start makes little sense, as the team barely lost to New York on opening day before falling to a buzzsaw from Miami and the Hornets in this loss half a country away (and just one night later). Paul Pierce was out for each of these games, and the Celtics' newish rotation appears to need some time to gel.
Don't worry, sure, but start winning. A 66-game season doesn't exactly replicate the hunt for a BCS berth in terms of won/loss importance, but at some point the C's are going to have to find a way to muck out a win without Pierce. Because even when Pierce returns, he's sure to be gimpy. Heel injuries don't heal, um, easily. And with several Eastern teams looking to move up in that playoff bracket, the Celtics can't afford to spot the NBA a 3-7 record to start the year, much less something worse.
Credit New Orleans. The team was well prepared for this game even with Eric Gordon on the sidelines. Boston was forced into improvising offensively far too often, they don't appear to be trusting themselves or their offense, and the Hornets took advantage.
These two exceedingly young teams acted as if they'd played a tough seven-game series in last year's playoffs, or something. There wasn't anger in this game, but a lot of respect and hard play. Hard feelings, too, in the wake of Russell Westbrook's midgame outburst and refusal to meet the media following the Grizzlies win.
All part of the maturation process, though Westbrook appears to be developing slower than most. His frustration in the midst of an 0-13 night and in the face of Thabo Sefolosha passing up on what was a good look at a corner three-pointer is understandable, but his reaction is to be criticized. Then it's to be forgotten by Sunday.
The Grizz now stand at 0-2 to start the season, but they've been downed by two very good opponents in OKC and San Antonio, and the team played most of this contest without Mike Conley Jr. after the point guard sprained his ankle. Jeremy Pargo wasn't exactly reviled in Memphis after the team traded Greivis Vasquez to open up a spot for the rookie(ish) guard, but he wasn't exactly welcomed with open arms either. Regardless, in Conley's absence, Pargo managed 15 points, seven assists, and some very sticky defense in the loss. Zach Randolph (24 points, 12 rebounds) appears back in the groove, and all could still be right in Memphis provided that Conley's ankle doesn't keep him out past, well, Sunday.
A score like this should be enough to inform you that San Antonio isn't going anywhere any time soon, and that the Clippers continue to prove that they have a long, long way to go to be considered a contender out West.
From a television set up many miles away, it appeared as if the Clippers just were not talking at all on defense on Wednesday night. The Los Angeles closeouts were pretty awful, and San Antonio seemed to get whatever it wanted just as long as the ball was moving. Manu Ginobili looks to be in bouncy spirits, finishing with 24 points on just 10 shots, and Richard Jefferson (closeouts) and DeJuan Blair (ball movement) took advantage of the Clippers on their way toward a combined 18-24 night from the floor.
The Clipper depth is a worry, this season, but that's no excuse for the Clippers starters (mainly) to give up a combined 64-36 deficit in the first and third quarters.
For a 17-point win, this game sure looked more lopsided than the final score would have you believe. For the second straight game, Denver looks quite good. While the Jazz, for the second straight game, look like a collection of trade assets that isn't particularly cohesive. Apologies for ripping on Jazz coach Ty Corbin just two games into the season, but you wonder what a guy like George Karl could do with a team like Utah.
Not that he'd switch. Ty Lawson stirred the Denver drink and Nene looked like he was worth every penny of his new contract on his way toward 25 points and seven rebounds in just 24 minutes. Denver ran like mad after taking advantage of a Jazz team that can be forced into relying on offensive options that just aren't going to click. 22 turnovers for Utah, who then seemed incapable of stopping Denver's transition attack.
The Suns don't appear to be particularly enjoying things right now, and I can't blame them. This is a team that is having a hard time creating good looks offensively, which is just an absolute killer for a team that was hoping that superior offense would help to make up for its subpar defense. This isn't to dismiss Philadelphia, a loaded team that could have a lot of fun this year taking down giants, but this felt like more than a 20-point loss for Phoenix. And Michael Redd isn't going to help, much.
Cheers to Philly, which contested on the perimeter and held their own offensively in the way of all those Phoenix misses. No Sixer had an outstanding offensive game, but the team locked down on the other end and earned this win as much as the Suns frittered it away.