With a historically unprecedented opening-night eruption, Anthony Davis bellowed at the fickle basketball world that had forgotten him.
It was a 107-102 loss to the Denver Nuggets, but Davis did everything imaginable to reestablish his status as the game's best young talent—a status he'd lost following a disappointing 2015-16 campaign: He scored 50 points, snared 16 rebounds, gifted five assists, swatted four shots and swiped seven steals.
That has never happened before:
Davis was ultra aggressive, taking 34 of his team's 92 shots. No other New Orleans Pelicans player connected on more than six field goals. Davis made 17.
He moved freely, showing no sign of the preseason ankle injury that, for a while, put his opening-night status in doubt. Working for space off the dribble, finishing at the rim, connecting on difficult in-between flips through contact—AD displayed everything, from everywhere, offensively.
So dominant and so clear was Davis' scoring mentality, point guard Tim Frazier quickly developed tunnel vision, searching for him whenever possible.
Frazier, pressed into duty by Jrue Holiday's absence, had 11 assists on the night.
Defensively, Davis' length and quickness were all the way back. Though he made a few positional mistakes, the lapses in attention and sporadic effort that contributed to a major step backward last year were gone. He was locked in, aggressive and committed on both ends.
Yet we're still here talking about a loss and, more dispiritingly, a possibly season-defining trend, as Scott Kushner of the Advocate observed:
All that statistical brilliance didn't amount to anything because the Pelicans are too injured (again), too invested in talent that can't help AD (as always) and too painfully lodged in a half-rebuild that shows no sign of producing a second star.
The lottery pick, Buddy Hield, had four points in 17 minutes. The biggest free-agent acquisition, Solomon Hill, had two points in 27 minutes.
And this loss didn't come against the San Antonio Spurs or Golden State Warriors or Cleveland Cavaliers. This came at home against the Nuggets—an up-and-comer, sure, but still a team that'll be lucky to reach .500.
So while it's fair to expect slightly better efforts from the supporting cast, it's difficult to project different results when the competition improves.
Finally, let's get back to those 41 minutes Davis played; they're important.
Because if this is what it takes for New Orleans to be competitive against middling opposition—Davis lugging a weighty load while cutting previously untraveled swaths through the NBA's statistical frontier—how quickly could this go south?
Davis hasn't played more than 68 games in any season, so pushing him like this (even if he's the one doing the pushing) feels like a recipe for the only thing worse than disappointing losses: another injury.
New Orleans should have tanked last year when a dreadful start foreclosed playoff hopes by December. It should have gunned for better lottery odds and a shot at the sidekick Davis needs. But it didn't, and now Davis is a year older (and seemingly better), with even less help than before.
What we saw Wednesday was the clearest evidence yet that Davis is in the middle of a truly breathtaking prime—one the Pelicans seem hellbent on wasting.
Indiana Is Different, But Is It Better?
The Indiana Pacers' rebranding is off to an exciting start, but if Wednesday's 130-121 overtime win against the Dallas Mavericks is any indication, changes in style may not lead to improvements in result.
Myles Turner verified the breakout buzz with 30 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks. His jumper and the spacing it created will be major assets to Indiana's offense all season. Dallas' bigs were reluctant to chase him on the perimeter, and he punished them for it.
Paul George, who scored 25 points and handed out six assists, took advantage of the breathing room with timely cuts like this:
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For the old Pacers, who plodded and defended and used two bigs frequently, opportunities like that were hard to come by. Now, with Turner and Thaddeus Young up front, Indiana will get buckets in a wide-open attack.
The defense is gone, however, and its absence was the reason a Mavs team that most have pegged for the lottery managed to make a game of it. Dallas flung up 48 three-point shots, and the vast majority were quality looks. If a few more of those go down, this is a different story.
For now, Indiana is a whole lot more fun to watch, and Turner looks like a developing star. The jury's still out on whether these Pacers are any better than the old ones, though.
Frank Vogel's Magic Mostly Invisible
The Orlando Magic got half of the Frank Vogel experience in a 108-96 loss to the Miami Heat on Wednesday, and it wasn't the good one.
With Aaron Gordon a predictably ill-fitting option at small forward, the Magic shot just 38.6 percent from the field in their new coach's first game at the helm.
Given the size and rim protection the Magic have, it will still be a shock if Orlando doesn't easily finish among the league's top 10 defenses—regardless of how shaky it looked in allowing a Heat team without many perimeter threats to post 48.5 percent shooting and just 10 turnovers.
Vogel always fields a great defense. The reminder here, though, is that his teams also struggle to score. His best offense in Indiana peaked at ninth during a strike-shortened 2011-12. In every other year, the Pacers scored comfortably in the league's bottom half.
To avoid that fate, Vogel may have to relent and use Gordon more at the 4—which would necessarily compromise the size and interior D he prefers. Either that, or Gordon will have to show major strides as an off-the-dribble shooter, ball-handler and pick-and-roll weapon.
Despite posting 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists, Gordon looked uncomfortable in all three of those areas Wednesday, and he failed to earn a single trip to the foul line. NBA analyst Nate Duncan didn't like what he saw:
Vogel has forever been loath to compromise his defense for any reason. We'll see if he relents in the interest of offense this time around.
The Revolution Is Upon Us
I guess this is a youth-centric angle, since it starts with Boston Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown, who became the first 2016 draftee to score a point this season.
But it's mostly about shorts.
Brown was the first sub off the Boston bench in its 122-117 defeat of the Brooklyn Nets. He scored nine points in 19 minutes and nearly reduced Justin Hamilton to a dusty pile of atoms*:
More important than that promising debut and the Celtics' excellence (until the bench coughed up a late lead), this game proved we're in the middle of a fashion revolution. Yes, there were signs last year, but it's clear now, and probably irreversible: Short shorts are back.
When Brown checked into the game during the first quarter, all five Celtics players had shorts that terminated well above the knee. The rookie's trunks were the shortest.
Jay King of MassLive.com caught this exchange:
This means we've officially reached the point at which long shorts make you an old-timer, where once they signified youth. The world's upside down, man.
Keep an eye on this space all season for more vital updates like this one.
*Note: Brown tries to do this all the time. Get ready for bedlam when he finally connects on one of these angry, low-percentage poster attempts.
Raptors Ticking Boxes
If you were among those expecting a small step back from a Toronto Raptors team that (maybe) overachieved last year, you didn't get much support from their 109-91 dismantling of the Detroit Pistons.
Wednesday's easy victory might as well have been a checklist of items Raptors believers hoped to see.
DeMar DeRozan not coming back to earth after a career year? Check. He had 40 points on 17-of-27 shooting.
Jonas Valanciunas taking a step forward against strong competition? No problem. He had 32 points and 11 rebounds against Andre Drummond.
DeMarre Carroll looking much more like the mobile, versatile version of himself the Raps lacked a year ago? Yep, that too, per Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun:
Carroll's role is only more vital with Jared Sullinger's foot surgery thinning the frontcourt rotation.
Maybe it would have been nice to see more than a 3-of-13 performance from Kyle Lowry, but there's even a positive spin on that. Toronto's reserves performed well enough to completely compensate for their best player's off night.
Boston got all the buzz this summer as the new rising power in the East. Toronto's performance on Wednesday suggests the Raptors aren't interested in relinquishing the No. 2 spot behind the Cleveland Cavaliers so easily.
Behold, the Result
Joel Embiid told Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins: "I really feel like I’m The Process, like The Process is about me."
Wrong. Joel Embiid is The Result.
His long-awaited debut was worth the two years of uncertainty, as Embiid flashed the size and coordination that made him worth the draft risk in 2014.
When his first career bucket went down in the Philadelphia 76ers' well-contested 103-97 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, it was hard to avoid smiling:
Embiid would finish with 20 points and seven rebounds in just 22 minutes, peppering the short stint of playing time with highlights left and right.
Head coach Brett Brown knows something's going on, telling Derek Bodner of Philadelphia Magazine:
There's no telling if he'll stay healthy, and there will be speed bumps. But the jolt Embiid provided and the promise he brings are real: The Sixers are appointment viewing now.
The Process has paid off.
The Grizzlies May Do More Than Grind Now
The optimism levy broke early in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first game, as a 20-3 first-quarter run let loose a torrent of enthusiasm.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Kent Youngblood was joking, but he captured the giddiness of a fanbase so ready to get hyped for their team:
And then the Memphis Grizzlies did something that was both weird...and not weird at all: They knocked down a bunch of threes (that's the weird part) and crushed the dreams of a young upstart (not weird).
Memphis hit 11 of its 24 three-point attempts, a truly off-brand development for a club that made at least 10 triples just seven times last season. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph both banged in a trey, and Mike Conley hit 4-of-5.
The Timberwolves went cold in the third quarter, scoring just 16 points and surrendering all of their nine-point halftime advantage. Karl-Anthony Towns looked initially brilliant, scoring 21 points (14 in the first quarter), while Andrew Wiggins pogosticked his way to the foul line 14 times. But the Grizz just kept defending, and Randolph victimized Minnesota's reserves with 19 points and 10 boards off the bench.
The temptation here may be to question the expectations we placed on the Wolves, but the more interesting development pertains to the Grizzlies. If this team finally (finally!) embraces a more open offensive style, it won't have to rely exclusively on winning ugly.
Don't Poke the Bear
Everything was going great for the Sixers until one fan hit Russell Westbrook with double-barreled birds, prompting an all-time reaction from Russ (warning: NSFW content):
And also a near triple-double: 32 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in OKC's win.
Sure, Westbrook was going to get his numbers no matter what. But why would you ever do anything to fire him up? That's just bad fanning, is what that is.
Steven Adams, who will be featured here any and every time he gives postgame comments (because he's so delightfully nonplussed about everything), didn't dig it, via Royce Young of ESPN.com:
The Lakers Are Undefeated
So it turns out you do have to play both ends.
The Houston Rockets got 34 points and 17 assists from James Harden in a thoroughly dominant offensive performance, but they couldn't stop the Los Angeles Lakers.
Result: a 120-114 loss that illustrated all the highs and lows of life under head coach Mike D'Antoni.
We'll have plenty of time to be wowed by Harden and concerned by the Rockets, though. For now, let's credit the Lakers, who, if they can score like this, will put themselves in serious jeopardy of losing their top-three protected pick this season.
From the sound of it, head coach Luke Walton is more focused on success than ping-pong balls, via Mike Trudell of TWC Sportsnet:
That's probably a mistake, but let's let the Lakers have this one.
Stats courtesy of NBA.com.