NBA

An Opening Night You (Only Partly) Saw Coming

The NBA’s Opening Night festivities did not disappoint. Three of the league’s best teams, a punching bag, a two middleweights duking it out. Some was expected, a lot wasn’t. Here’s a breakdown.

The Cavaliers Are Good

This one was pretty obvious. Sure, there was the possible championship hangover and anyone can come out flat at any time. But betting against LeBron James on a night when he got a championship ring in Cleveland is, to put it kindly, foolhardy. His 19-11-14 triple double signaled he’s ready to get another one of those gaudy-ass rings a year from now.

The Knicks Could Be Bad?

You can’t draw conclusions after one game, but New York’s performance may have been a surprise to those who think they’re a sure playoff team. Or even, ahem, a superteam. Yes, it is a lot of new players running a new system. There are going to be growing pains. But there’s a lack of cohesiveness and depth for the Knicks that are apparent right away. Luckily they won’t have to play an uber-motivated Cleveland team 82 times, but these are legitimate concerns against any opponent. This team needs to settle in quickly or risk becoming just another in a long line of Knicks teams that implode – to the delight of everyone outside NYC.

League Pass Scorers

Utah and Portland faced off away from the eyes of national television and provided the closest game of the night. As anyone could have guessed, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combined for nearly 60% of the Blazers’ points in their win. You also may have guessed Joe Johnson leading Utah, now that he has to (gets to?) cover Gordon Hayward’s production during his injury. But look out! Here comes Rodney Hood with 26 points. Also, look out because here comes Hood to burn your village to the ground:

https://vine.co/v/5dXvqDnupZP

With Hayward out, scoring will need to come from elsewhere. Hood going toe to toe with Portland’s potent backcourt was a good sign he can handle that role.

The Defending Runner-Ups

There were flashes of the team Golden State can be with the addition of Kevin Durant, but they were just that. Flashes. The weaknesses showed much more than the strengths. Several of his buckets looked more like they came from Oklahoma City’s playbook than the Warrior’s smooth system. Ball-stopping can get buckets but it kind of ruins the whole point of joining this team in the first place. Durant also showed his rim-protector potential, but the team defense clearly wasn’t ready yet. It was thrown into the fire against one of the few real challengers Golden State will face this year and came out charred like bad BBQ. Rotations, switches, and help all require precise communication and synchronicity that were lacking too often last night. It’s not entirely their fault, though, because…

Kawhi Leonard Is That Dude

A 35-3-5-5 stat line. Lightning bolts in his cornrows. 15-15 on free throws. Dunks and threes and (gasp!) smiles. It was NBA Finals MVP Kawhi showing up on opening night. It probably wasn’t his plan to make his case for regular season MVP in the first game, but that’s what happened. If this is a regular thing, the Warriors chokehold on the West may loosen up a bit. Especially if he gets help from the likes of

JONATHAN SIMMONS

https://vine.co/v/5dXVaX9gt5d

That’s two of his 20 points. His plus/minus of +33 was the game’s highest. Not even Simmons saw that coming. Speaking of not seeing people coming, he had a block, too.

Beautiful. This doesn’t mean that Simmons is the new Durant, but it doesn’t NOT mean that, either. Only time will tell.

If last night was any indication, it’s going to be a hell of year in the NBA.

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