The Golden State Warriors were supposed to need time to develop their chemistry, but as we pass the first quarter of the NBA season, the Dubs are on pace to win 71 games. That’s definitely noteworthy.
Also noteworthy is the topsy turvy play of both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls. The Central Division foes seem to lose games they should win. When they count, though, they tend to show up. Case in point: the Cavs making the New York Knicks look like a junior varsity squad on Wednesday night and the Bulls being the first team to hand the San Antonio Spurs a road loss this season.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers and Atlanta Hawks drop like hot bricks while the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics each make a power move.
The last time the Mavs won back-to-back games was on November 6 and November 8. At this point, the question is not when they will do so again, it’s whether they actually will. The bright side is that the 2017 draft class is said to be somewhat strong.
The Suns haven’t won back to back games in over a month. Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight are pulling their weight for the most part, but the Suns are at a talent deficit and are seeing Devin Booker come back to earth a tad.
A 15-point third quarter featured a mesmerizing display of dunks and shots from Karl-Anthony Towns in Thursday night’s contest at the Raptors, but the T-Wolves couldn’t get it done. They haven’t won in Toronto since January 2004, and Towns couldn’t change that.
Stop the presses! The Sixers won a road game! On Thursday night, in defeating the Pelicans by a final score of 99-88, the Sixers snapped a 23-game road losing streak that dates back to January! Either these guys are turning a corner or the Pelicans are really bad. Or both.
The bad news? The Rockets decided to match the offer sheet tendered to Donatas Motiejunas. The good news? The Nets were paid a visit by the Nuggets, whom Kenny Atkinson’s team beat to get just their second win over the past three weeks.
Three straight losses at home hurts, especially when you lose one to a Sixers team that hasn’t won a road game in almost a year. Many are beginning to wonder whether Alvin Gentry will last all season long. One reporter even asked him directly on Thursday night. He snapped. It was awkward.
The HEAT will carry a three-game losing streak with them as they pay a visit to a few old faces. On Friday, they’ll visit the Cavs before heading to Chicago to see Dwyane Wade on Saturday. The week will end with home contests against the Wizards and Pacers and we expect them to get one victory from those four games. Sorry HEAT fans.
Losers of four of five, Thursday’s 92-85 loss to the Wizards drops the Nuggets to 1-3 on their current road trip with stops in Orlando and Dallas to come. After 23 games, they’re jostling with the T-Wolves for last place in the Northwest, and we expect that to be the case all season long.
The world has begun talking about DeMarcus Cousins and whether or not the franchise is going to trade him. Word on the street is that they won’t, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. When was the last time the Kings actually did something smart?
John Wall’s 52-point, eight-assist effort couldn’t get the win for the Wizards against the Magic on Tuesday, but they did manage to get one versus the Nuggets. They’ve won two of their last three, but if things continue going this badly, we should expect some changes to be made in D.C.
With four straight losses, the Lakers have fallen and they may not be able to get up, especially as they begin a SEVEN-GAME road trip on Monday. The schedule makers didn’t do the Lakers any favors, as they are set to play nine games over the next 15 days. And again, seven of those are on the road.
The three-game win streak ended at the hands of the Celtics on Wednesday, but the bigger story for the Magic has to be that they won four games on their five-game road trip. Only good teams do that, and for what it’s worth, the Magic are just 3.5 games outside of first in the division and 1.5 games out of the eighth seed.
Just 5-8 since beginning the season 7-4, the Blazers lost a hard-fought contest in Memphis on Thursday night. Damian Lillard has begun the month of December shooting just 41 percent from the field as the squad drops to 1-2 on the current five-game trip. They’ll see the Clips and Thunder over the next week, so we’ll circle those two.
Clocking in at .500 after the first quarter of the season, the Pacers are 25th in points allowed and don’t stand to improve very much so long as Monta Ellis is scoring 9.6 points per game as he has been over their past 10 games. They did score a win over the Clippers on Sunday, though, which gives them a sweep of the season series. Go figure.
The Hawks broke the losing streak that reached seven games with a 103-95 win over the HEAT on Wednesday, but the damage has been done. Losers of 10 of 11, they’ve inexplicably fallen to a game beneath .500. Their next 10 appear winnable, though, so we’ll be watching.
The Pistons have quietly gone 6-3 over their past nine to clock in at 12-12 through 24 games. Reggie Jackson made his long-awaited season debut in Sunday’s 98-92 loss to the Magic, but things are looking up for the squad.
The Knicks were humbled by LeBron and his Cavs on Wednesday night, 126-94. Even with the loss, the Knicks are 9-4 over their past 13 games as they embark on a five-game Western Conference road trip that has stops at the Kings, Lakers, Suns, Warriors and Nuggets. The goal should be at least three wins.
Al Horford’s missed layup at the buzzer cost the Celtics a win against the Rockets on Monday, so they were that close to riding a four-game winning streak into Friday’s battle with the Raptors. The Celts trail by two games for the division lead, so it’s a fairly important game.
Since beating the Cavs last Friday, the Bulls lost three straight and lost Rajon Rondo to a suspension for conduct detrimental to the team. They then follow that up by beating the Spurs and handing Kawhi Leonard’s team their first road loss of the season. The best words to describe this ride thus far? Topsy Turvy.
Jason Kidd’s team has very quietly won five of six, including wins over the Cavs and Blazers. Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to impress. From Wednesday’s triple-double to his 22 points, nine rebounds, six assists, two blocks and two steals per game, we must point out that no other player in NBA history has ever accomplished those numbers for an entire season. He’s 22 years old.
Winners of three of their last four, Team Kemba begins a five-game road swing on Saturday and will pay visits to the Cavs, Celtics and Hawks along the way. They lead the struggling Hawks by 2.5 games out in the division as Walker closes in on what will likely be his first All-Star berth.
Gordon Hayward missed Thursday’s 106-99 loss to the Warriors, ending the club’s three-game win streak. They’ll see the Kings, Thunder and Mavericks to end the five-game home stand. When they see the Thunder (on Wednesday), they could actually be playing for the division lead, so that’s one worth watching.
Marc Gasol’s season-high 36 points helped the Grizzlies outlast the Blazers on Thursday night, but it was the newly signed Toney Douglas’ two clutch free-throws that made the difference in the 88-86 victory. They’ll need more of these epic efforts without Mike Conley, even if they’re 5-1 without him so far.
After last Thursday’s impressive win over the Dubs, the Rockets rolled into Denver and crushed the Nuggets. After besting the Celts and Lakers, Russell Westbrook and James Harden will have a good old-fashioned shoot out. Winners of four straight and nine of 11, we have zero complaints.
Let’s be honest here, as impressive as Russell Westbrook’s six straight triple-doubles are, what’s more impressive is that the Thunder are 6-0 in those games. He’s averaging 31 points, 10.9 rebounds and 11.3 assists per game and has 11 triple-doubles in 22 games. That puts him on pace for 41 for the season, which would tie him for Oscar’s single-season record.
A six-game win streak came to an end on Monday when the Cavs rolled into Toronto, but Thursday’s 124-110 win over the visiting T-Wolves means they’ve won seven of eight. Jonas Valanciunas’ 20-point, 10-rebound double-double went a long way toward pulling that one out, as well.
After dominating the Knicks on Thursday night to the tune of a 126-94 beating, the three-game losing streak is a distant memory. When these guys are dialed in, no team out East has a chance. That includes the Raptors, who are nipping at their heels but yield their top 4 spot from last week after losing to the Cavs on Sunday. Kevin Love is averaging 21.4 points per game—a full five points higher than last season.
Last week’s win at the Cavs was impressive, and it’s the main reason why the Clips keep the third spot, despite having lost their last two and five of seven. They were embarrassed by the Warriors in Wednesday night’s 115-98 loss, but that doesn’t mean much since the Dubs are clearly the top dogs in the Association. Sunday’s loss to the Pacers bothered us much more than the one to the Dubs, but the Cavs haven’t been world beaters, either.
The Spurs won their first 13 road games of the season but fell short in Chicago. One more win would have tied the Warriors for the best road start to begin a season, but the Spurs managed just 91 points—17 below the 108.1 they’ve averaged on the road thus far this season. Still, it’s tough to complain, especially since this was the third game in four nights.
The Dubs have three guys who are capable of scoring 60 points on any given night. One of them recently did, but forget about that. These guys have averaged about 132 points per game over the past week and very quietly, through 22 games, are on pace to win 71.
In the end, it appears that the Warriors are separating themselves from the pack, though they only lead the Spurs by 2.5 games for the lead out in the Western Conference. Christmas Day is just a few weeks away, though, so we will continue to look forward to the Dubs and Cavs renewing their rivalry. Be sure to keep an eye on our weekly power rankings each and every Friday.
NBA AM: LeBron James’ Quest For Eighth Straight Finals
Despite playing 30 minutes in preseason, LeBron James dazzled in the season opener with an impressive stat line.
Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star forward LeBron James has been known for his durability ever since entering the league in 2003. Despite a heavy annual workload, James has played less than 70 games just twice in 14 seasons. One of those campaigns was the strike-shortened 2012 season, in which in he appeared in 62 out of 66 contests.
Heading into the season opener on Tuesday, there were concerns that James wouldn’t be able to lace them up due to an ankle injury suffered during a preseason in which he logged only 30 minutes. However, James not only suited up, he was the primary driving force in the team’s 102-99 victory over the Boston Celtics.
James finished the contest with 29 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists on 12-for-19 shooting from the floor. Yet, after the game, James was transparent about his physical conditioning – or lack thereof.
“I’m out of shape, very out of shape for my expectations,” James told the press after the Cavaliers’ defeated the Celtics in Tuesday’s season opener. “Rightfully so. I haven’t been able to play during the preseason. I played one game [and] reinjured my ankle. I don’t like where I’m at right now.”
James has a reputation for going to extreme lengths to keep his body in tip-top shape, but Tuesday night’s performance didn’t appear to be the work of a man struggling to keep up.
While the Golden State Warriors are the favorites to once again hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy at season’s end, the Cavaliers are expected to make their fourth straight appearance in the NBA Finals.
But Cleveland has plenty of question marks to start the season.
The Cavaliers are still integrating former league MVP Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Jeff Green into the rotation. Two starters from previous seasons, J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson, are now adjusting to roles off the bench and presumably reduced minutes. This doesn’t even take into consideration the impending unrestricted free agency status of James, Rose and Thomas next summer, which will become a daily outlet of speculation.
James acknowledged the team is still adjusting on the fly and building chemistry where possible.
“The most important thing is we got the win,” James said. “It’s going to be a learning experience for us because we got seven new guys, putting in a new system and every game is going to be a learning experience.”
James has been able to avoid serious injury throughout his career and the preseason ankle injury appears to be a thing of the past.
“It’s a little sore,” James said about his tweaked ankle. “But I’d figured that much.
“We don’t play again until Friday, so I get a couple of days. But I have to get some conditioning in as well. So it’s going to be a fine line for me—rest my ankle trying to get in healthy or do I continue to get some conditioning in because I need it? We have a great support staff and I’ll be fine.”
Other Opening Night Observations
Boston Celtics (99) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (102)
- Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward, one of the team’s marquee offseason acquisitions, suffered a fractured ankle early in the first quarter
- Celtics forwards Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum combined for 39 points and 16 rebounds
- Celtics guard Kyrie Irving recorded 10 assists in his Boston debut. Last season with the Cavaliers he posted just eight games of 10+ assists
- Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson played 20 minutes off the bench. Last season the forward averaged 29.9 minutes per contest
Houston Rockets (122) vs. Golden State Warriors (121)
- The Rockets outscored the Warriors 34-20 in the fourth quarter to stole a victory at Oracle Arena on ring ceremony night
- Rockets role players P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon combined for 44 points on 15-for-25 shooting from the floor in the victory
- Rockets guard Chris Paul recorded 11 assists in his debut, but shot just 2-for-9 from the floor and totaled four points
- Warriors forward Draymond Green left the game in the second half due to a knee sprain. At the time of his departure, Green had posted nine points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists
- Veteran guard Nick Young led the Warriors in scoring with 23 points on 6-for-7 shooting from three-point range in the opener
The gross majority of the league’s teams will open up their seasons on Wednesday, and by Friday, everyone will have played one game.
In it all, though, from here, it still appears that LeBron James is king.
A Few Good Free Agents Left
David Yapkowitz looks at several free agents still remaining on the market ahead of the season.
The start of the 2017-2018 NBA season is finally here, and teams are required to have their 15-man roster (plus two possible two-way contacts) finalized. Every year there are players that are left off a roster. Some are younger guys who maybe haven’t proven they belong in the league just yet. Some are older veterans looking for that one final hurrah.
A few of these players might take open gigs in the G-League or overseas in hopes of attracting the attention of NBA front offices as the year goes on. Others remain at home, working out and waiting for that call that might never come. And sometimes, the waiting and anticipating pays off as playoff teams come looking for veteran help and tanking teams are on the hunt for unrealized potential.
For most of the veteran guys, their opportunities will likely come later in the season when teams gear up for the playoffs. Here’s a look at a few of the top veteran free agents left that could certainly help a team at some point during this season.
Since being traded from the Golden State Warriors to the Boston Celtics three year ago, Lee has adapted to his new role as a veteran big man helping to anchor second units. He is no longer the automatic double-double machine and borderline All-Star he once was, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything left in the tank.
He didn’t really fit quite right in Boston, but in his stops with the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, he still showed he can be a solid contributor off the bench. In 25 games with Mavericks in the 2015-2016 season, Lee put up 8.5 points per game on 63.6 percent shooting while pulling down seven rebounds per. With the Spurs last year, he averaged 7.3 points on 59 percent shooting to go along with 5.6 rebounds. For a playoff team that needs a little big man depth, he is a solid option.
Much was made about Williams’ disappearing act in the Finals last year, and rightfully so, but lost in all the chatter was the actual solid job he did with the Cleveland Cavaliers leading up to that point. Once in the conversation for best point guard in the league, injuries and poor play in Brooklyn sort of made Williams a forgotten man. The Nets bought out his contract and he joined his hometown Dallas Mavericks.
After a so-so first year in Dallas, Williams looked rejuvenated last year to the point that he actually drew some interest around the trade deadline. With the Mavericks looking to get younger and head closer to that rebuilding path, they cut Williams and allowed him to join a contending team. Over the final 24 games of last season, including four starts, he averaged 7.5 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting, 41.5 percent from the three-point line, and 3.6 assists. Of course, his Finals performance is all anyone cares to remember, but if a team needs a veteran backup point guard, they could do a lot worse.
Last season in Indiana, Ellis posted some of the lowest numbers of his career since his rookie season. Heading into a rebuilding year, the Pacers waived Ellis and his name barely came up in free agent rumors during the summer. At his best, Ellis was a borderline All-Star talent who could put up points in a hurry. Despite his reputation as a gunner, Ellis was a bit of an underrated playmaker and was never as bad defensively as most made him out to be.
He never really seemed to find his groove in Indiana. In his first year with the Pacers during the 2015-2016 season, he posted 13.8 points per game, down from 18.9 the previous year in Dallas, and his shooting dropped from 44.5 percent from the field to 42.7 percent. His playoff numbers with the Pacers were down even more than his regular season numbers, despite exploding in the postseason a few years before with Dallas. His starting days are almost assuredly behind him, but as a sixth man type scorer bringing energy off the bench, he’s probably better than a lot of the players currently in that role.
The Brazilian Blur’s best days are behind him, but similar to Ellis, he can still help a team in need of additional scoring punch off the bench. It was only two years ago that he was a key contributor off the Warriors bench. Firmly on the rebuilding track, the Suns waived Barbosa during the summer. Despite still being a capable player, his name also rarely came up in the free agent rumor mill.
He didn’t play all that much last season for a Phoenix Suns team that is clearly rebuilding, but he still was able to average 6.3 points per game in only 14.4 minutes per. His role on a rebuilding team would be a veteran mentor, but for a playoff team, he’s not a bad option. He showed that he can still play at the NBA level despite losing a step or two. Perhaps later on in the season when teams start looking for playoff help is when he may find his phone starting to ring.
The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations that come with being drafted that high. He’s only averaged double figures (12.0) in scoring once in his career and that was during the 2012-2013 season. When he came into the league, he didn’t really have much of a set position. He was a tweener, somewhere in between small forward and power forward. That was prior to the changes occurring in today’s NBA with more of a premium on stretch big men.
During Williams’ time in Cleveland last season, he played in 25 games and averaged 6.2 points per game. What stood out most, however, was his shooting. He shot 50.5 percent from the field, including 40.4 percent from the three-point line, both career-highs. Shooting from long range was always a bit of a weakness for him and prior to last season, he had never shot higher than 33.2 percent from downtown. He also didn’t register much chatter by way of free agent rumors, but if he can reproduce shooting percentages like that, he fits right in with the direction of the league.
With league rosters pretty much set, there likely won’t be much roster movement, if any at all, for the next few months. Teams are looking to see how their new summer acquisitions work out. But after a few months of real game action, other roster needs start to become more apparent. Don’t be surprised if come the new year, teams start knocking on a few of these player’s doorsteps.
NBA PM: The Wizards Are “More Than Ready” For A Big Year
Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal says his team is “more than ready” for the start of the NBA season.
With several teams in the Eastern Conference taking a step back, the Washington Wizards will be one of the beneficiaries due to roster continuity. Shooting guard Bradley Beal, one of several key Wizards signed to a long-term contract, said the team is “more than ready” for the season and has large expectations.
“This is going to be a big year for us,” said Beal after a Monday practice. “We’re healthy. There’s no excuse for us [not to] get off to a good start.”
Beal added that, while health is a key for the entire roster, it’s especially important for him after struggling with injuries in the past.
“It’s really a confidence booster, realizing my potential, what I can be, the type of player I can be when I had a healthy season,” said Beal of last year’s campaign. “That’s probably what I was more proud of than anything, playing 70-plus games and then playing in the playoffs every game.”
In Basketball Insiders’ season preview for the Wizards, we noted that Beal was Washington’s most efficient ball handler in the pick and roll last season. Beal said that creating for teammates is something he’s worked on in the offseason and will continue to be a point of emphasis.
“That was great for me and the strides I made throughout the year, working on my ball handling, working on creating for other guys and getting my own shot,” said Beal. “Those are the primary things I’m focused on … being able to create better, getting guys easier shots than before, getting more assists and improve everywhere.”
Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Friday’s preseason finale in New York that he’s been encouraged by the ball movement he has seen since the start of camp.
“I thought a lot of good things happened in training camp,” said Brooks. “The ball movement was outstanding. Guys were sacrificing for one another on the offensive end.”
One thing that should help the ball movement of the second unit is the arrival of backup point guard Tim Frazier, who missed most of the preseason due to a strained groin. Frazier had nine assists and no turnovers in his preseason debut against the Miami HEAT.
“I feel very comfortable with Tim,” said Brooks. “He finds corner threes, which we like.”
Beal added that one area he hopes to improve, both individually and as a team, is rebounding.
“I think I only had like three rebounds [per game] last year,” said Beal. “I obviously love scoring the ball. That’s something I never worry about. I want to continue to fill up the stat sheet a little bit more and contribute to the game in different areas. I think rebounding was something that hurt us a little bit last year.”
The Wizards host the Philadelphia 76ers to open the season Wednesday, and Brooks said it will take a team effort to defend emerging star Joel Embiid.
“He’s a problem,” said Brooks after Sunday’s practice. “His athleticism is off the charts. We’re going to have to do a good job of staying in front of him. You’re talking about a guy that can put the ball on the floor, that can get to spaces and spots that normally a 6-10 guy doesn’t.”
With a revamped bench, roster continuity and good health entering the season, the Wizards look like a team that could challenge the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors for supremacy in the East. Beal certainly seems to think so.