Tuesday, November 5, 2013

As the Basketball Turns: The Return of the Squeaky Shoes

Now that the doldrums of the summer are over, basketball is in full swing. NBA Free agency being a hot topic is now more than just discussion points- it’s a reality you can watch unfold via ESPN, TNT and NBA League Pass. Normally I’d say this is where the talking stops and the playing starts- but NBA pundits need to keep talking, since stances can change at the drop of a hat (or basketball). Time to see what there is to make of the first week of the 2013 NBA season. Let’s have a look, shall we?

Disappointment is the New York State of Mind

The Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks wanted to remain relevant in the offseason, but how much of it made sense? So far both teams are a combined 3-5 and combine to average 94 points per game. What’s the hold up, exactly?

First and foremost- most of the moves were more window dressing than changing anything on the interior. Joe Johnson is another year older and slower, as is Kevin Garnett. Williams and Pierce will be productive but worn by season’s end. Brook Lopez has yet to have more than 7 rebounds in a game. So much for that 82 million dollar cap penalty being worth it, Nets fans. Granted this is only the beginning, but losing to Orlando by 21 and shooting 38% is not a promising sign at all. The Nets -like the Rockets in the West- have to build chemistry in order to succeed. The difference is that the Nets are supposed to be in “contend now” mode, and don’t have the luxury of time to figure out the identity of their team.

The Knicks seem to view themselves as the “Lakers of the East”: a storied franchise who thinks it is a premiere destination for star players. That couldn’t be further from the truth, as no one is willing to join such a disheveled franchise. Amare Stoudemire continues to struggle through his injury woes along with Kenyon Martin. Tyson Chandler is not the same center who helped the Mavericks hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in 2011. JR Smith was inexplicably resigned, even amidst reports he had just had a knee surgery that would set him back. Carmelo Anthony is still Carmelo Anthony which is good for the Knicks, and bad. Anthony has seemed content in recent years to plateau and be nothing more than a premiere scorer. His defense is average at best, and he still grinds the Knicks offense to a halt when he gets the ball. Case in point: his 32 point effort against Charlotte still wasn’t enough as the Knicks lost, 102-97. They’ll be lucky to make the playoffs. If they do- it’s almost a certain first round exit.

Battle for L.A….What Battle?

Ever since the Clippers turned the corner and began attracting new fans with Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul, the narrative each time they faced the Lakers was that they were fighting for control of basketball supremacy in Hollywood. While the Kobe-less Lakers surprisingly won by 13 opening night, the Clippers have since gone 3-0, their most recent win a dominating 137-118 rout of the 4-1 Houston Rockets. The Lakers have gone 1-3 since. Chris Paul after a handful of games has poll position in the MVP race, weaving in and out of defenses to create shots and find teammates. With Kobe out for an unknown length of time, L.A. officially belongs to the Clippers in 2013.

He’s Back

Russell Westbrook returned ahead of schedule in a Thunder win last week, as they are now 2-1. There is more doubt than in recent years in OKC, and it has almost zilch to do with 0’s meniscus. Some are wondering the lingering effects of last season’s James Harden trade, while also trying to figure out OKC’s draft strategy. No one is exactly sure what to make of the Thunder so far, so for now let’s go with “Ask Again Later”.

The Dwight Stuff

Dwight Howard opened up his season with an eye-opening 17 pt, 26 rebound performance against the Charlotte Bobcats last Wednesday. Since then, he is averaging 15 per game along with 14.5 points. His work with Olajuwon and Kevin McChale is very apparent, as he his faster and nimbler. His go to is a spin move he loses defenders with, and before they can catch up, his shot is in the air and they more often than not end up fouling him. In their most recent win over Portland, Howard finished with 29 pts, 13 rebounds and went 8-10 from the charity stripe. Howard is healthier than he has been in years, and looks to put it to good use with his new team as they sit at 4-1.

Interesting Starts

Raise your hand if you had the 76ers starting 3-0 with a win over the defending champion Heat? Put your hands down, liars. The Warriors brought the Sixer back to Earth on Monday with a 110-90 throttling, but for a team without any playoff expectations- the Sixers will be fun to watch this year with rookie Michael Carter-Williams and veteran Thaddeus Young. Rumble, young men, rumble.

Also random but fun- the Suns’ 3-1 start. Rookie Miles Plumlee looks to make a dent in the rotation, compiling 13 boards and 13 points the other night. Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic will run the show, but they may not be as bad as I and others predicted.

The Wizards are 0-3 and second to last in the East (in front of 0-4 Boston). I don’t see them beating the 76ers Wednesday night, but I do see a chance for a W against Brooklyn this coming Friday. If not then, the Wizards have a tough road ahead of them and a realistic chance to start 0-11, snapping the skid on November 22nd to Toronto.

Week 2 Big Game Spotlight:

November 6th:

Chicago vs Indiana- a possible ECF preview.
Golden State vs. Minnesota- two of the new era’s brightest teams face off.

November 7th:

Lakers vs. Rockets (TNT)- It’s more sizzle than steak. Unless Kobe rushes on court to attack Dwight, Houston should be favored in this anti-climactic primetime showdown.

Clippers vs. Heat (TNT)- A possible NBA Finals preview. Doc Rivers and Chris Paul battle LeBron James and, well….everyone else on the Heat not named LeBron James.

Friday, November 8th

Warriors vs. Spurs: A rematch from last season’s playoffs, except this time Golden State is favored. On a side note, where is Danny Green? (3.3 ppg, 25% from the field)

Saturday, November 9th

Clippers vs. Rockets: Two times in less than a week. Can the addition of Patrick Beverley help disrupt Chris Paul’s dominance? Will the Clippers run over Houston again? Only time will tell.

Pacers vs. Nets: Likely a lopsided affair, but will be played up as a battle of two EC titans.

Celtics vs Heat: Just kidding.

Warriors vs. Grizzlies: Can the Warriors’ uptempo shooting style outdo the Grizzlie’s powerful bigs physical presence?

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Contact me on Twitter @SeanNeutron.

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