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NBA Opening Night--Boston-Cleveland and LA-LA
Boston vs. Cleveland and LA vs. LA
What I saw on Opening Night in the NBA
It’s opening night for the NBA, and I just watched the Boston Celtics beat the Cavaliers in Cleveland. I thought the first televised game of the season was interesting in a lot of ways. My initial observations:
Cleveland looked good with Shaquille O’Neal, especially early. He brought court savvy and surprising energy to the lineup, and he might be a better acquisition for the Cavs than I originally believed. I have to admit, I was surprised to see Shaq and Zydrunas Ilgauskas on the court at the same time. Ilgauskas shouldn’t park himself on the perimeter quite so much, but that might have been by design to allow O’Neal and James room to operate. Shaquille O’Neal still can’t guard the pick-and-roll, and it will be fascinating to learn how this deficiency affects his playing time. I am interested in seeing what some of the younger players like J.J. Hickson and Darnell Jackson can do, but I’m afraid we’ll need a bigger rout for them to get a chance to get into a game (I know, Hickson got in for awhile but he didn’t get to do much.). Oh, and LeBron James looked good, too. The form on his shot looked really consistent, and if Cleveland can put all the pieces together, he might lead them to the top.
Boston suffered from opening night jitters as they sputtered out of the gate, but they righted their ship in time to take the lead by halftime. Paul Pierce played well early, faltered in the middle of the game, and made some huge shots in the fourth quarter. It was nice to see Kevin Garnett back in action after missing a huge chunk of the 2008-2009 season due to injury. Rasheed Wallace has never been among my favorite players, but he performed acceptably with 12 points, as a talented big man with experience off the bench. Boston’s bench intrigues me, with several players I think could eventually help them: Shelden Williams, who has yet to find his niche in the NBA; J.R. Giddens and Bill Walker, two young players who showed considerable potential in college but need time to develop; and guys the Celtics depended on a lot last year: Eddie House, a talented 3-point shooter and Glen “Big Baby” Davis, a wide body on the interior with a surprisingly soft touch. Marquis Daniels helped as well, and Boston’s bench looks to be a real positive for them.
One thing I saw tonight that I hope does not become a trend was the road team wearing their white (home) uniforms. Putting the home team in white allows the fans in attendance to see new and different uniforms every night. If the home team wears their road uniforms, Cleveland fans will see red and white jerseys every game. It doesn’t matter to me—on television, one team wears light colors and the other dons dark or brightly colored uniforms every night, but the variety of road uniforms is part of the appeal of watching games in person.
I was disappointed in Doug Collins for talking about playoff positions for these two teams with 81 games to go. Collins is a reliable broadcaster and I respect his perspective and opinions, but can’t we just enjoy the game without worrying about who will get home court advantage next May? The first game of the season doesn’t have to be promoted as a big game. If the only point of watching an NBA game is playoff implications, why show the bottom third of the league at all? It would be better to tell us why we saw a good game than always alluding to what the game means down the road.
Game two on TNT between the Lakers and Clippers has already begun. My early thoughts on these two teams (and this broadcast):
Did I miss something, or were former Lakers and new players that didn’t suit up for Los Angeles last year receiving championship rings? Why would guys that haven’t played in 25 years and others who have yet to play a minute for them receive a championship ring? Ok, I was typing while some of this was going on, but what was up with all that?
Ron Artest is an interesting acquisition for the Lakers. After his meltdown in Indiana a few years ago, I considered him a cancer for any team he played on. Will he mature like Latrell Sprewell finally did and contribute to a winning team? Can he blend in with Kobe and the rest and be a positive force, or will he become a divisive influence on the court and in the locker room?
I worry for the Los Angeles Clippers. I wondered last June if they purchased damaged goods when they drafted Blake Griffin out of Oklahoma with the number one pick in the 2009 NBA draft. He was injured during both seasons he played for the Sooners, and he sustained an injury landing on the floor after dunking in his final NBA exhibition game. (No one touched him during the dunk, so dirty play wasn’t a factor.) Blake Griffin is credited for his superior work ethic, but is he pushing his body too hard? Should these kids take it a little slower and allow their body to mature naturally? I would rather see him develop more slowly than burn out before he turns 30 years old. Will Griffin join the likes of Danny Manning, Michael Olowokandi, and Shaun Livingston as Clipper picks that never lived up to potential due to injuries? I hope not. I’m not as convinced Olowokandi would have been great, but Manning could have been one of the best ever if he remained healthy. Griffin's injury ended his rookie season before it began, so let’s hope Griffin gets the chance to show what he can do in 2010-2011.
I didn’t watch the entire game between the Lakers and the Clippers. The score was relatively close at the end, but the Clippers looked beaten from the opening tip. Hopefully Blake Griffin can prove durable enough to play most of the season because his team needs him. The Clippers were inept at passing and defending, and rushed to take the three-point shot on offense far too often. I never got the feeling the Clippers believed they had a chance to win, and their play proved them right.
If Griffin can provide meaningful minutes, the Clippers have the talent to become a decent team. Baron Davis, Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman are good players. The question becomes whether this group can transcend the mindset that has plagued this team since they arrived from Buffalo and think like winners. It is astonishing to me that decades can pass without anyone dragging the Clippers from its mediocre origins. Larry Brown and Danny Manning teamed up to give them a decent year or two, but no more.
Every team I watched on opening night should be better than they were a year ago, and I think San Antonio, Portland and Dallas will be improved, also. The trend that seems to be developing, however, is one lacking in parity. Good teams are improving and bad clubs are getting worse. Where is the player who steps up, changes the culture of a losing team and proclaims they are going to become a winner? The last time this happened was approximately ten years ago when Chris Webber decided it was okay to play for the Sacramento Kings, and Vlade Divac and Mike Bibby joined him. That was the foundation of a good team that said, “We don’t have to be losers just because we play in Sacramento!” That’s what the Clippers, the Golden State Warriors, the Toronto Raptors, and a bunch of other hapless teams need: a winning mentality. It won’t come from the high school (now one and done) players. It has to come from the underachiever—the good player who decides to become great. Usually it will be someone who came from a winning program in college like Joaquin Noah or Brandon Rush or Chris Douglas-Roberts. Who will it be? Who will decide that they will make themselves AND their team better? Who will decide they like winning better than losing, but choose a path other than bolting to the Lakers or Spurs when they become free agents?
Maybe we’ll get a clue with tonight’s games, which is what the early season games should be about—not playoff positions.
Post-season update: The Celtics and Cavaliers are about to duel in the second round in the 2010 NBA playoffs. It has been a difficult year for Boston in some ways, but they still seem to have the best chance to block Cleveland's march to the NBA Finals. LeBron James is troubled with a sore elbow, and if he isn't at full strength, Boston will prevail.
Boston beat Cleveland and Orlando to reach the NBA Finals but fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in a hard-fought seven-game series.
Summer-update: Paul Pierce resigned with the Boston Celtics early in the summer. Joe Johnson and Dirk Nowitski also resigned with their teams, while Amare Stoudemire moved on to New York and Carlos Boozer inked a deal with Chicago. The winner of the LeBron James derby was Pat Riley and the Miami Heat, who unloaded everyone on their roster except Dwayne Wade and Mario Chalmers to make room for Chris Bosh and King James. Can they build a team around three superstars in time to compete in the Eastern Division? Many feel James would have been better served staying in Cleveland or signing with Chicago. The move will certainly make for some drama in the 2010-2011 NBA season.
Who will be the best this year?
Who will win the MVP award this season?
Opening Night: A 2012 Update
Opening night in the NBA for the 2012-2013 season will seem very similar to the night I wrote about in this article. Boston will play against LeBron James (this time with the Miami Heat), and the Lakers will play in the second game (against the Dallas Mavericks instead of the LA Clippers).
Miami will be defending their title, and this season Ray Allen will be on their side instead of playing for the Celtics. I am not certain how I feel about that yet--it seems Allen abandoned his Boston teammates.
The most intriguing team playing on opening night will obviously be the Lakers. Kobe Bryant will team up with recent acquisitions Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in an effort to bring a title back to Los Angeles. The Lakers will provide some must-see entertainment as fans watch to see how these three stars will mesh. While not wanting to seem like I don't care about the regular season, a Lakers versus Heat NBA Finals matchup would be some fun basketball to watch. I would love to watch the Lakers play Oklahoma City to get there, also.
Can teams improve enough to knock the Heat off their throne as the champions of the NBA? The Lakers are trying, and I will be watching.
Who will win the 2012-2013 NBA Championship?
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