NBA Opening Week: 5 Things We've Learned so Far
There has been something missing this summer ever since one of the most exciting, albeit one of the shortest, NBA seasons ended. Sure, it was great to see Team USA dominate the world once again, but isn't it so much sweeter to see those guys going at each other rather than working together?
Thankfully, NBA basketball is back.
With teams in new cities, players on new teams and cities looking to become relevant again in the basketball world, this season is looking primed to meet the expectations that have been building ever since the final buzzer of last year's Finals.
Three games kicked off the action Tuesday night with another nine Wednesday night to start some of that excitement that will play out this year. While these games are a small sample size for this year's 82-game schedule, they left us with a lot to take in going into the rest of this season.
Here are five things we've learned so far.
Cleveland Is Continuing Its Progress Back to Relevancy
The Cleveland Cavaliers showed a lot of good stuff in their 94-84 win over the John Wall-less and Nene-missing Washington Wizards to kick off their season.
Anderson Varejao put up monster numbers in a near triple-double effort, Kyrie Irving led with 29 points and the team overall started to look like one that won't be hanging around the cellars of the league for too much longer.
Who needs LeBron, right?
Well, no. Obviously, beating a Washington team without its two best players in John Wall and Nene is nothing to get extremely excited about, and Cleveland still has a lot of work to do. But the pieces are starting to fall into place.
One of the biggest factors this season may be the performance of first-rounder Dion Waiters, whose high pick confused some around the league. If he can add a more well-rounded game to the 17 points he put up Tuesday night, Cleveland's attack is going to start looking real balanced.
The Celtics Look Strong, but the Heat Are Still Better
Last year, I couldn't imagine anything more stressful than seeing LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on your upcoming schedule. Now with Ray Allen added into the mix, it's hard to imagine anyone looking forward to play the Miami Heat.
Miami confirmed the notion more when the action started Tuesday night, reasserting its dominance over the Boston Celtics right from the start with multiple blocks on the very first play. Wade ended up scoring 29, LeBron put up a double-double and the Heat overall just looked like the Heat.
But the Celtics stuck it out a lot better than most originally gave them credit for Tuesday night. Indeed, the game was nothing close to a stressful one for Miami, who led by as many as 19 at one point, but Boston has to be happy with a lot of what they saw.
For one, Rajon Rondo reaffirmed that he is no longer the fourth-best player on the Celtics, and his near triple-double numbers stated that hey may be one of the biggest competitors for James in the MVP voting come this spring. If his teammates can't stay healthy (specifically Kevin Garnett, who put up solid numbers Tuesday), the well-balanced attack won't be going away this year at least.
It could very well be Boston and Miami duking it out for the Eastern Conference crown come this summer again. But if that ends up being the case, don't expect the Heat to let it go any farther than five games.
Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard Are Hype-Worthy
Anthony Davis didn't need to be the best player in the NBA Wednesday to make the New Orleans fanbase happy, he just needed to be the best player on the Hornets.
And that he was.
Davis led New Orleans in scoring with 21 points, including two crucial free throws in the final minutes to keep the game close. The Spurs pulled away with a late three-pointer from Tony Parker, but by keeping the Hornets in the game with one of the West's best teams, Davis showed that he might be the cornerstone the franchise was looking for.
As for Damian Lillard, he might have been even better.
The rookie out of Weber State helped lead a balanced Portland attack to send the Lakers to an 0-2 start. Lillard became just the third rookie with at least 20 points and 10 assists in his first NBA game. With the way he played Wednesday night, it wouldn't be surprising to see him become a double-double machine.
Be surprised if anyone else contends with these two for Rookie of the Year honors come next spring.
The Rockets Are the Most Interesting Team in the NBA
Beating a Detroit team that had only 25 wins last season is nothing to get too excited about, but just about everything else was pretty exciting for fans of the Houston Rockets.
For starters, newly acquired James Harden put up 37 points and 12 assists in his new leadership role with the team along with Jeremy Lin, who had a near double-double at point guard. Add in others like Turkey native Omer Asik and his 12 points and nine rebounds, and the Rockets may have the best diverse group of players the league has seen in a while.
The Rockets also proved that they're going to have a little fight in them this season. Down by more than 10 early in the fourth quarter, Houston outscored Detroit 33-15 in the final period to take its first contest of the year, 105-96.
If Harden, who just agreed to his five-year extension worth $80 million, can continue to embrace his new leadership role with the team, Houston could prove to be one of the surprise teams to come out of the West this season.
The Lakers Haven't Clinched the West–or LA–just Yet
One of the most exciting lineups in the NBA has yet to win a game together. And that includes the preseason.
Not too many people are freaking out over the Los Angeles Lakers yet, recognizing the fact that with so many stars (and new stars) playing with each other, there will undoubtedly be a learning curve and speed bump on the way to fluid game play. But the way in which the Lakers haven't won yet may be cause for a bit of alarm.
On the flip side, despite committing a gross amount of turnovers early on, the Clippers looked pretty sweet with their revamped lineup. The additions of Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes began to show quick dividends (along with a slimmed down DeAndre Jordan) in their solid win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night.
The Clippers haven't won over the city of Los Angeles yet. But if this week so far is any indicator, it may be a little more difficult than originally thought for the Lakers to keep it.