Our first word of advice for this game — wear sunglasses. Yes, we know you are watching on television. But the Hornets are going with a “sea of yellow” look (all the fans getting yellow T-shirts) and it will the Hornets uniforms themselves (they got permission to wear the alternate yellow jerseys). It will be like looking into the sun. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
You want to save those retinas because this should be a game to watch.
Because this is a big game where the big stars may well be the key.
Often in big road games, Kobe Bryant comes out aggressive and tries to shut the crowd up himself with a fast start. Sometimes it works, but it also can take the Lakers out of their flow. Just to reiterate the point everyone knows — the Lakers strength is their length and skill on the front line and the triangle is much better working inside out. Not that there will not be a time for Kobe to do his thing, but he has to play well with others.
You can bet Chris Paul is going to come out with that same kind of fire. If the Lakers try to defend him as individuals as they did in Game 1, he will carve them up again. Paul has flat out been the best player in this series. The Lakers big men are key here, they cut off his angles of attack off the pick-and-roll well in Game 2. You can bet Paul will adjust. Or he could just get hot draining jumpers.
You’re also not going to see a full night of Kobe on CP3, fighting over the top of picks. But you can bet Kobe will be on him for key stretches.
The guy who may be the real key is the Lakers No. 2 option — Pau Gasol.
The Hornets have kept him in check through two games — he has averaged 8 points per game on 21.1 percent shooting. The Lakers are not going to win games in New Orleans without more from him. Expect the Lakers to run some screens along the baseline to get Gasol more room to catch the ball without having to fight Emeka Okafor and Carl Landry for space. Expect to see Gasol put the ball on the floor a little more and try to get to the line. If he gets going the Hornets will have a hard time containing the Lakers attack. If the Hornets can keep him uncomfortable they have a real chance.
One other thought — best bench may get its team enough of a lead that the starters will hold it.
Charles Barkley: Klay Thompson is a better player than Kevin Durant
You know the NBA season is back when Charles Barkley is just talking out his… er, saying ridiculous things.
On Inside the NBA before the tip off of San Antonio thrashing Golden State, Barkley said then tried to defend the idea that Klay Thompson is a better all-around player than Kevin Durant. It was vintage Barkley — and it’s what makes the barbershop feel of Inside the NBA must-watch television every week.
The flaw in Barkley’s argument is that he tries to use the “two-way player” argument to try and balance out Durant’s and Thompson’s offensive contributions. Is Thompson a better defender than Durant? Yes. Even though people underestimate Durant’s defense a little, I will stipulate Thompson is a better defender. But does that defense make up for how much more offensive versatility and shot creation Durant brings to the table compared to Thompson? No. Again, Thompson is an excellent offensive player and probably the second best shooter in the game, but he does not create shots or force a defense to adjust the way Durant does. KD’s amazing offense tips the scales more than Thompson’s defense. KD is the better overall player.
And The Jet is way too quick to dismiss Kawhi Leonard as maybe the second best player in the league. But Leonard made his case just after these comments.
This was the exclamation point on the Spurs thrashing of the Warriors on opening night.
Jonathan Simmons — who was a beast in the first half and finished the night with 20 points off the bench — was pounding the ball out top, then as the clock wound down blew by rookie Patrick McCaw, got into the lane looking for the two-handed slam. When JaVale McGee slid over to contest Simmons switched to the one-hander and finished over the big man.
That’s the way to start an NBA season.
Three things we learned Tuesday: Kawhi’s Spurs are not to be trifled with
The NBA season has returned, and we are back with our morning recap of what you need to know from the night before around the NBA — three things we learned. So if you were busy watching the Cubs bats go cold, here is what you missed.
1) The Spurs are Kawhi Leonard’s team — and they are magnificent. Every year we give lip service to the “don’t sleep on the Spurs” idea, and then we get wrapped up talking about some other bright, shiny new object. Like say a move from Oklahoma City to the Bay Area. We do exactly what we said we weren’t going to do.
Then San Antonio reminds us they are fierce competitors and contenders. Tuesday night the Spurs went into Oracle Arena and slapped Kevin Durant and the Warriors around. This was an old-school beatdown. In a game where the Warriors had the winners of the last three MVP awards, Kawhi Leonard was the best player on the court — a career-high 35 points on 21 shots, he got to the line 15 times, and he had five steals. Tim Duncan is gone and this is now Leonard’s team, without question. He was simply unfair, just torturing the Warriors on both ends and leading a physical Spurs team that dominated the glass — the Spurs had 24 second chance points to the Warriors 4.
Games in October are incredibly poor predictors of the outcome of a May playoff series. Both of these teams will evolve over the course of the season, and the Warriors will get things figured out. But we learned on opening night there is no doubt the Spurs are Kawhi’s team — and they are not to be trifled with.
2) Golden State’s defense needs some work. It was easy to see the rough spots in the Warriors offense the team still needs to be smoothed out — the passes to teammates who had already vacated the spot, the threes not being in rhythm (7-of-33 from deep, a number of those looks uncontested), and all those stars playing next to each other rather than with each other. It was to be expected.
However, offense wasn’t the Warriors’ big problem — their defense was atrocious. The Spurs scored at a ridiculous 125.9 points per 100 possessions pace, because literally half of their shot attempts were uncontested (according to the NBA.com player tracking stats). San Antonio had an eFG% of 54.1, and the Spurs grabbed the offensive rebound on 41.2 percent of their shots when they did miss. Leonard had a career-high 35 points, Aldridge 26, and the Spurs time after time got the shot they wanted — and they had 24 fast break points, the Warriors did not get back in transition defense. The Warriors missed Andrew Bogut inside, both as a rim protector and on the glass (this was not Zaza Pachulia’s best night).
The past two years, the Warriors had a top five NBA defense, and that as much as their vaunted shooting was the reason they went to back-to-back Finals. No doubt they made the right move adding Durant to the roster — they are going to figure this all out. This was the first game of 82, and we knew there would be some bumps at the start. But more than the offense, Steve Kerr and his staff need to get the Warriors back to being a defensive force.
3) Damian Lillard’s brilliant offense overcame his defense. Again. Damian Lillard came into this season saying he wanted to be MVP, and on opening night he put up those kinds of numbers — 39 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and he led his team to an opening night win against Utah. Portland did a great job of setting their high picks especially high, then letting Lillard go downhill fast off them right at Rudy Gobert — and Lillard finished around and over the big man all night.
Portland had an eight-point lead at the half and led by double digits for chunks of the second quarter, but in the third Utah took the lead because they exposed Lillard on the other end. Utah started running a George Hill/Joe Johnson pick-and-roll (1/3 action) and when Lillard switched it they got the ball to Johnson and he just overpowered Lillard on his way to 29 points. Johnson shot 6-of-7 in the paint and scored at will all night.
Lillard came back and had 16 of his points in the fourth quarter to help Portland get the win, he was nothing short of brilliant on offense. The Blazers got enough stops to rack up the victory at home. But their small backcourt of Lillard and C.J. McCollum is going to be a defensive challenge all season long.
Opening night bonus note:LeBron James was having fun at the expense of the Knicks’ defense. The Cavaliers cruised to a win over New York, and LeBron James had a triple-double and did whatever he wished. And what he wished was to dunk. A lot.
Watch Jonathan Simmons’ chasedown block on Stephen Curry
While the Spurs were running the Warriors out of Oracle Arena — a 129-100 Spurs win — Simmons had a fantastic chasedown block on Stephen Curry. It was one of the plays of the game (most of the rest came from Kawhi Leonard).
Simmons had 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting off the bench for the Spurs in the win, which included a poster dunk on JaVale McGee late. Just to put some icing on the win.