HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Who in the name of Naismith would be crazy enough to try to watch all 13 games on Wednesday night’s NBA schedule, completely ignoring Game 1 of the World Series, Modern Family and whatever else was going on last night?
You know we did.
The crew here at the hideout managed to view significant portions of all 13 games and we must admit, we came away impressed more often than not, even by some teams that ended up on the losing end at the end of the night.
The most anticipated season in league history? However preposterous it might have sounded to hear that in recent weeks, we’re warming up the idea now.
Back to Wednesday night’s games, though. It was an absolute embarrassment of basketball riches on display from coast to coast all night. Did you see what we saw?
Looking good: Now you know why the Cavaliers refused to part with J.J. Hickson last year in a proposed Amar’e Stoudemire deal. He was a force (21 points on 8-for-11 shooting) and is poised for a breakout season. Boobie Gibson rebounded from an ugly start (0-for-8) to finish with 16 points and a team-high eight assists.
Sound the Alarm: The Celtics can’t afford many off nights in the revamped Eastern Conference, where the Magic, Heat and even the Hawks plan to push the pace. There was bound to be an emotional letdown, of sorts, after Tuesday’s season-opening home win over Miami. There just can’t be many more like it.
HT’s Take: They say the best way to get over a breakup is to dive right back into the game. And the scrappy, LeBron James-free Cavaliers proved they’ll do just that by out working the Celtics down the stretch. But I wouldn’t go making travel plans for the NBA Finals yet.
Looking good: All those new additions, rookies and otherwise, showed well in the Nets’ debut in their new arena. Even Jay-Z and Beyonce showed up, a rare occurrence compared to last season when, our Twitter family informed us, Jay never showed up. You expect an Avery Johnson-coached team to play a certain way and the Nets did that down the stretch. He’s already got the Nets 18 games ahead of last season’s win pace.
Sound the Alarm: The Pistons’ inability to finish this thing off, they were up seven with 1:40 to play, doesn’t bode well for a team that enters this season without a whole lot of confidence in each other.
HT’s Take: We tuned in hoping to see something from Nets rookie Derrick Favors and he didn’t disappoint. The eight points and 10 rebounds are fine, but he was much more physical around the basket than even we expected. Our initial fears about the Pistons were confirmed. They just don’t look like a team on a mission of any sorts.
Looking good: Welcome to the season, Dwyane Wade. We knew he needed more than those four minutes he played in the preseason to get warmed up. His 30-point outburst against the Sixers is much more like normal. When James Jones sinks six of his nine 3-pointers against anyone, the Heat become nearly impossible to deal with for anyone other than the league’s elite.
Sound the Alarm: As NBA.com’s Andy Jasner pointed out, the Sixers’ starting five did not attempt a single free throw all night. That’s either some sever disrespect for their games or a serious lack of force being used by Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala, Jason Kapono, Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes.
HT’s Take: The Heat will do the same things they did to the Sixers to most of the teams in the league. The fact is, few teams will be able to match their firepower and depth. And any team that can’t protect the rim will see Wade, James and Chris Bosh have their way attacking the basket. We did see another solid rookie debut, this one out of the Sixers’ Evan Turner (team-high 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists).
Looking good: Who needs Steve Nash anyway? Stoudemire doesn’t need anything but the ball and a crease, as the Raptors found out last night. The only thing different about Stoudemire now and the past few years was the jersey, though the nine turnovers were a somewhat new accessory Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni won’t mind Stoudemire shedding the rest of the way.
Sound the Alarm: The Raptors identity the last seven seasons was wrapped around Bosh and now that he’s gone, there is no one on the current roster that appears ready to take his place. Recent high draft picks Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan are solid, but neither seems like a potential franchise player at this stage of their respective careers.
HT’s Take: While we’re not crazy about D’Antoni’s choices for his starting five, we can’t argue with the results. Wilson Chandler was fantastic off the bench, finishing with a team high 22 points, and rookie Landry Fields was solid in his debut with 11 points and four rebounds in his 30 minutes. The Knicks have the tools to battle for a playoff spot.
Looking good: Larry Drew‘s new offense looked great as the Hawks pillaged our Grizzlies, basically from start to finish. Joe Johnson was able to get going (22 points and seven assists) without having to dominate the ball relentlessly. Josh Smith was in midseason form on the defensive end, blocking five shots and altering several others. But the Atlanta bench stole the show, outscoring the Grizzlies 50-28, led by Zaza Pachulia‘s 17 points and 11 rebounds.
Sound the Alarm: Al Horford battled injuries in the preseason, so a slow start to the regular season isn’t a surprise. But the Hawks will need him to find his rhythm soon, because the pace quickens now and this team can’t keep up without its All-Star center at his best. Grizzlies All-Star Zach Randolph was injured early and limped through the rest of the game.
HT’s Take: We had no idea defense had been outlawed in Memphis. How else to explain our Grizzlies being shredded the way they were? The Hawks did look better than we expected, and certainly better than their preseason showing indicated they would. Rudy Gay is going to need much more help than he got in the opener (anyone seen O.J. Mayo?) if HT’s Grizzlies are going to mount a serious playoff push this season.
Looking good: The Kings’ rugged new frontcourt tandem of Carl Landry and rookie DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins opened plenty of eyes around here. Tyreke Evans didn’t even play and the Kings were able to pile up 117 points, albeit against a Timberwolves team not known for its defensive prowess. Francisco Garcia, Beno Udrih and Luther Head combined for 54 points and showed off some backcourt depth you might not have realized the Kings possessed.
Sound the Alarm: David Kahn almost had us sipping the Kool-Aid on Darko Milicic … almost. Then the season started and the $20 million man went to work (six points and four rebounds), reminding us all while he’s so forgettable. And Kevin Love couldn’t get on the floor during crunch time, Wolves coach Kurt Rambis said something about defense. The end result was a gaping hole in the middle for the home team.
HT’s Take: The Kings just might be on to something. We’ll have to wait and see what it looks like when Evans returns from suspension. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves impressed us even in defeat. Also, HT fave Luke Ridnour was able to quiet the Ricky Rubio talk with a solid 20 points, six assists and five rebounds at point guard.
NEW ORLEANS 95, MILWAUKEE 91 (A Prime Minister Special)
Looking good: Were Chris Paul and Andrew Bogut even injured last season? Because based on their play in the opener, both looked perfectly fine to us. Paul put up 17 points and 16 assists — and just one turnover! — while going toe-to-toe with young buck (or is it Yung Buck?) Brandon Jennings (who countered with 15 points and 10 assists). Bogut was a little rusty early on and had trouble finding his shot, but had a solid double-double and played well with new post pal Drew Gooden.
Sound the alarm: The Bucks’ end-of-game execution left something to be desired, surely. After cutting the Hornets’ lead to one with 1:23 to go, Milwaukee had: a shooting foul on Jennings, a missed jumper by Gooden and John Salmons had the ball stripped from him on a jumper. Not a good way to close things out, Milwaukee.
HT’s take: We tuned in to this one to see if the spry Bucks could show they’ve become residents in Contender-ville, but they still have a few kinks to work out on the road to that destination. Still, Carlos Delfino was impressive and that Corey Maggette trade is showing returns already at the line (eight FTAs) that the Bucks were hoping for. We couldn’t help but be impressed by the always-reliable (when healthy) duo of CP3 and David West.
Looking good: How anyone can watch the Thunder and not be impressed remains a mystery. They have everything any elite teams could want — an elite talent leading the way in Kevin Durant, one of the best young point guards in the game in Russell Westbrook, a completely underrated third star in Jeff Green, a tireless defensive stopper in Thabo Sefolosha, a bench filled with quality role players, a defense-first mentality and … we’ll stop there so folks in other cities don’t get jealous.
Sound the Alarm: Derrick Rose needs help on the offensive end, folks (yes, we’re talking to you Kyle Korver, among others). Any time Rose has to take 31 shots in a non-overtime game, we have a problem Chicago. Carlos Boozer isn’t taking that suit off anytime soon, so in the meantime someone else needs to step up their game.
HT’s Take: Both of these teams looked exactly the way we thought they would when found out they’d open the season against each other. The Thunder are clearly ready to take that next step, joining the Lakers and others at the head table in the Western Conference. The Bulls, however, remain a work in progress. They’ve most of the pieces in place. But there is still something missing.
Looking good: Dirk Nowitzki was a defensive stopper. No, really. Dirk put the clamps on Stephen Jackson (14 points), working on both ends while also assisting Jason Kidd in taking the Bobcats’ feeble defense apart. Kidd is still turning back the clock. Piling up 18 assists on opening night is a feat one of his younger point guard brethren might do, not the godfather, who had just one turnover and was one dime shy of John Stockton‘s record for assists in an opener.
Sound the Alarm: We’re going to sound it to everyone else in the Western Conference. Don’t assume this Mavericks team has missed it’s chance to contend. We’ve made the mistake all summer of not paying them much attention. But hard as it might be to believe, they have a chance to sneak up on people this season.
HT’s Take: We’re going to go ahead and scratch Jason Terry off of the list of contenders for the Sixth Man of the Year award and pencil him into the Mavericks’ starting lineup at shooting guard. He was deadly against the Bobcats, draining 10 of his 15 shots and showing that the JET still has plenty of fuel in his tanks.
Looking good: Who says Tim Duncan is over the hill? Not us. The Big Fundamental must have been sipping from the fountain of youth this summer, because he looked downright frisky against the Pacers with 23 points (on a wicked 10-for-12 shooting) and 12 rebounds. The Spurs don’t plan to head to the NBA retirement village without making a little noise. And you can expect Duncan to lead the charge.
Sound the Alarm: We’ve been warning the world about our guy “McBob” (Govt. name Josh McRoberts), who was at his high-flying best in defeat. We started the dunk contest campaign for him last year and we need your help in making sure he’s on the invite list for All-Star Weekend 2011.
HT’s Take: The Spurs’ Big 3 all hit the 20-point mark as Manu Ginobili had 22 and Tony Parker 20. These guys are going to be there all year. The Pacers were another of the teams on the losing end Wednesday night that impressed us. Roy Hibbert‘s 28 and 9, Darren Collison‘s seven assists and a typical All-Star showing from Danny Granger. They’re still a work in progress, though.
DENVER 110, UTAH 88 (Another Prime Minister Special)
Looking good: Carmelo Anthony was his usual Jazz-baffling self and aside from his 23 points, he seemed to be having fun with his teammates all night long. Two other guys who stood out? Arron Afflalo was super-efficient, scoring 22, nailing three 3-pointers and making Utah’s thin shooting guard corps look awful. Shelden Williams was great, too, with 16 boards and played some solid defense on Al Jefferson, too.
Sound the alarm: For the Jazz and their offense. As Jerry Sloan said, the season’s not over, but any more games where Utah’s offense looked like it did last night and Sloan will have to revise his quote. Sure, there were the 22 turnovers for the Jazz, but more than that: there was no real rhythm between any of the units the Jazz threw out there.
HT’s take: We know better than to write off a Sloan-coached team and perhaps a trip back to SLC tonight will fix these season-opening ailments. For Denver, the formula that got them to the ’09 West finals (big doses of ‘Melo, solid bench play and some perimeter help) could be on its way back.
Looking good: Monta Ellis announced his candidacy for the scoring title with 46 points on opening night, the most points on Opening Night since Michael Jordan‘s 54 on Nov. 3, 1989, overshadowing a stellar 25-point, 11-assist effort from Steph Curry. Could the Warriors challenge for a playoff spot in the Western Conference with these two driving the bus? We think it’s a legitimate question without a concrete answer just yet. But we’re warming up to the idea.
Sound the Alarm: Yao Ming missed the first of what we expect to be several back-to-back sets for the Rockets. We’ve heard the case for the 24 minutes and we just don’t like it. That said, Yao can only do what his body allows him to do. And if that means we only get to see him in limited duty, so be it.
HT’s Take: We’ve been hyping up Don Nelson‘s high-powered offensive scheme all these years when it turns out that Keith Smart‘s offensive was just as explosive. Kidding aside, the Warriors will remain one of the most entertaining teams to watch in the league in Nellie’s absence. If they want to take the next step, though, they have to start defending with the same zeal.
Looking good: The Trail Blazers stand atop of the league standings after two days, shutting up all of their haters here at the hideout and elsewhere with two impressive efforts to kick off this season. Nicolas Batum looks so much more comfortable out there and Brandon Roy has made a nice recovery from the injury that cost him his flow late last season and in the playoffs.
Sound the Alarm: Blake Griffin did that for us with his highlight-reel opening night effort. Every time a ball came off the rim we were looking to see where he would come from next for a put-back dunk. He’s going to be a 20-10 machine his entire career, so the rest of the league might as well get ready for it. And if he’s not in the dunk contest during All-Star Weekend, we might boycott the festivities.
HT’s Take: We’ll go ahead and admit it now, we might have underestimated the Blazers around here. Sure, it’s a long season and two games is a small sample size for an entire season, but the Blazers are loaded with the right kind of players to help grind through a long season. And we haven’t even seen Greg Oden or Joel Pryzbilla yet.