We’re now two weeks into the NBA season and, for the most part, it’s been a fascinating fortnight. The most anticipated season of the post-Jordan era is now underway, with myriad storylines beginning to unfold and develop.
We’ve now gotten multiple doses of the universal curiosity that is the Miami Superfriends, who were the unquestioned engine of the offseason hype machine. At their best, the Heat have dominated opponents with suffocating defense, and at their worst have looked like a disjointed hybrid of the 2009-10 versions of the Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers, only with an emasculated Chris Bosh wandering about.
The Heat’s loss in their “dynasty opener” to the Celtics on October 26 was welcomed by most fans outside the 305. The brash manner in which they assembled and introduced their collection of stars- and possibly ushered in a new era of “super-teams”- rubbed many fans the wrong way. However, as much as the Heat’s opening loss was welcomed and celebrated by NBA fans, diehard and casual alike, it would take something exceptional to maintain the casual fans’ collective interest.
For about a week, they delivered, with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade using their awesome athleticism on defense to rattle off four straight wins, three of them dominant. That only one of these was against a top-tier opponent was rendered irrelevant by the way in which the Heat comprehensively dismantled their talkative in-state rivals, the Orlando Magic, in their (the Heat’s) home opener.
Now that the buzz has died down somewhat, especially in light of the Heat losing to two of their last three games, the honeymoon appears to be over. That Heat suffered their first home loss on Tuesday night- after blowing a 22-point lead to the Jazz- in a half-empty arena (C’mon Miami! You can’t fake being a real sports town for more than a week?).
Now that the Miami Heat buzz has died down, and with the Lakers generally tipping off too late for East Coast fans and casual fans liking the idea of watching the Boston Celtics more than actually doing so, the casual NBA fan has returned to the fringes and will make only fleeting cameos- Christmas Day, All-Star Weekend, the occasional ESPN/TNT game- until late April.
That just leaves us, the diehards. The fans took more than a passing interest in the Pacers’ 54-point quarter on Tuesday. The fans that dissect the development in Dwight Howard’s offensive game. The fans that yell for Eric Bledsoe whenever Baron Davis waddles down the lane for the Clippers.
The free preview of NBA League Pass has come and gone, meaning if you’ve still got it, you love you some hoops! So, a little over an hour before tipoff of the night’s early games, let’s see what we can do about drumming up some interest in what should be a solid 10-game slate- with intriguing matchups early, and a lot of young talent on the floor late:
Milwaukee Bucks at Atlanta Hawks (7:00 PM): The Bucks entered the season with big expectations, and proceeded to lose four of their first five. While they’ve won two of three since, it’s about time they nail down a win against a quality team. Meanwhile, Atlanta stormed out of the gate, winning the first six games on a relatively soft schedule, before losing their last two- at home on Sunday to the Phoenix Sins and in Orlando on Monday.
This game should feature an excellent matchup in the paint, with Andrew Bogut squaring off against Al Horford. Meanwhile, Milwaukee should have a major advantage at the point, with Brandon Jennings- one of the league’s most exciting young guards- free to run wild against the aging-increasingly-immobile Mike Bibby and raw second-year man, Jeff Teague.
Charlotte Bobcats at Toronto Raptors (7:00 PM): Don’t waste your time. Seriously. There is not a single compelling reason to watch either of these teams.
Utah Jazz at Orlando Magic (7:00 PM): The game of the night.
A night after overcoming a 22-point hole to dump the Superfriends in Miami, the Jazz set out to complete the Florida sweep. Jameer Nelson will be back at the point for Orlando, where he'll have his hands full with Deron Williams. D-Will is a safe bet to outplay Nelson thoroughly when the two are at full strength- with Nelson having missed the last two games with a bum ankle, it's not likely to be close.
Meanwhile, on the inside, Paul Millsap will be looking to build on Tuesday's 46-point career night, during which he more than doubled his career tally of made 3-pointers in 28 seconds of game time.
On the other side, Dwight Howard looks to continue furthering the opinion that he's taken "the leap" and that his offensive game has evolved. He should have big night against Utah, since he'll be smaller defenders in a relatively low-stakes game.
Houston Rockets at Washington Wizards (7:00 PM): John Wall. John Wall is the reason to watch this game. Like Allen Iverson a decade and a half ago, irrespective of how well or how poorly he's playing, Wall is must-see TV. Eight days ago, in his home debut against the Philadelphia 76ers, he turned in one of the most electrifying performances ever by a rookie point guard, with 29 points, 13 assists and nine steals (and eight turnovers, but whatever). In the two games since, he's averaged just 13 ppg, 8.5 apg, shot just 36% (9-for-25) from the field and committed 15 turnovers.
With the 1-6 Rockets coming to the nation's capital, look for Wall to get back on track. Not only are Rockets defensively-challenged, allowing 112.7 ppg, they recently lost starting PG Aaron Brooks for at least a month with a severely sprained ankle.
New Jersey Nets at Cleveland Cavaliers (7:30 PM): Given the NBa counter-programming, there's not really a compelling reason to watch this game. However, if you do tune in, enjoy the Cavs' home crowd and the developing feel-good story. Also, be sure to check out a pair of very talented young forwards- potential star J.J. Hickson and Net's stud rookie, Derrick Favors.
Golden State Warriors at New York Knicks (7:30 PM): A Mike D'Antoni featuring Armar'e Stoudemire team taking on a team that features Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry and David Lee? Don't expect a lot of defense here. Stoudemire's been a mild disappointment thus far and will be looking to put up a huge number in front of his new home crowd. Meanwhile, David Lee, a former MSG fan favorite, makes his only return to the Garden- he'll be looking to make the Knicks regret getting rid of him. All this, and no mention of the most offensively explosive backcourt in the NBA. Look for Curry and Ellis to play pick-and-roll with whomever Amar'e's guarding (probably Lee), leading to plenty of Warriors points.
Philadelphia 76ers at Oklahoma City Thunder (8:00 PM):
Dallas Mavericks at Memphis Grizzlies (8:00 PM): I've said it before, the compelling reason to watch this game is simple: these two teams feature a lot of really good players. Dirk Nowitzki is not far from the peak of his power, J-Kidd is struggling to put up points, but is still good for 9+ apg, and Jason Terry has been fantastic, averaging 18.8 ppg on over 50% from the field and from 3. Throw in Caron Butler, Shawn Marion and a rejuvenated Tyson Chandler, and the Mavs are pretty loaded. Meanwhile, The Grizz feature double-double machine Zach Randolph (fresh off a 20-20 game), a questionable max-money signee that seems to be earning his take (Rudy Gay), an extremely talented and productive backcourt (O.J. Mayo and, so far, MikeConley) and a rock-solid man in the middle (Marc Gasol).