The 71st NBA season finally got underway yesterday, with 3 games (did you know Utah and Portland played?) to kickoff one of the more anticipated seasons in recent memory.
Here are 3 observations from the 3 games from the perspective of Cleveland, Portland and Golden State.
LeBron looks ready to defend his title. Not that many expected a championship hangover, but the Cavs would have been forgiven for coming out a little slow to start this campaign. LeBron especially, who has previously admitted to having a ‘regular season’ LeBron and a ‘playoff’ LeBron, could have been excused for taking some time to get into game shape.
Just your casual 19/11/14 TD with a game high +26 on/off rating, on Ring Night no less. Despite some sloppiness with the ball, James was playing at a different speed to the Knicks. Repeatedly beating them to loose balls or just sprinting past the down court for dunks. Not that this is anything new, but after 13 years, 40,000+ minutes and a ridiculous workload in the past 2 post seasons, James apparently “has the body of a 19yr old” according to Coach Lue. This should scare the crap out of everyone not named Kawhi Leonard.
I guess chasing the ghost of Michael Jordan keeps you in good shape.
Portland will need Ezeli. A signature opening game from Lillard – including 16 4th quarter points and some dagger 3s – was nearly undone by Utah deciding to take up residence in the key and play some good ol’ bully-ball. Joe Johnson, in particular, was able to put any and every Blazer on his back and drop paint points galore. Snyder was especially smart in recognizing Portland’s switches on 1-3 brush screens and sending Iso Joe to the block against overmatched guards.
When this happened, Portland missed a big presence to alter shots and provide some intimidation at the cup. Plumlee, Davis and Leonard just didn’t scare Utah inside, and this could be a cause for concern if Portland continues to play small.
On the flip side, the offence looked excellent against one of the leagues best defensive teams. Lillard and CJ were able to get wherever they wanted, and the 3-point shooting was lights out.
Golden State don’t have a bench yet. One of the huge strengths of the Dubs over the past 2 seasons has been their bench play. Wave after wave of offensively potent players would come at you until Curry was sitting on the bench, laughing away while the team was up 30 in the final frame. yesterday was just one game, but man that was ugly.
The Bench Mob accounted for a whopping 16 points (of 100) 7 assists (24 total), 6 rebounds (35 total) and 6 turnovers (out of 16). Iguodala, Livingston and West were completely outplayed when on the floor. Meanwhile..
There will be questions about the interior defence after losing Ezeli and Bogut, especially with the 1st-half-of-last-year-with-Dallas version of Pachulia not really showing up yet. The Spurs got whatever they wanted inside, and feasted on the offensive boards – not normally a staple of Pop’s teams. But the loss of Mo Buckets and Barbosa could prove to be costly if teams only ever think about guarding whichever of the 4 Horsemen are on the court when Kerr goes to his bench.