Time to unwrap the present of an NBA season — and just like the gifts under the tree there may be some assembly required. Condensed training camps and just two preseason games is going to mean some sloppy openers on Christmas day.
But they are games, which are vastly superior to antitrust lawsuits. So let’s see what you’ll be watching on that new 60-inch plasma television (or streaming on your phone and trying to watch when your parents and nosy aunt aren’t watching).
Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks, noon ET (TNT): The two teams that will battle it out for the Atlantic Division crown face off to start the season. I think the Knicks will win the war for the division because they will come together as the better offensive team with enough defense, and the Celtics will wear down. However, the battle for Christmas Day may be different with the new-look Knicks trying to figure things out and the Celtics slipping into old, comfortable roles before the wear and tear hits their bodies. If Paul Pierce sits (bruised heel, day-to-day) the Knicks probably have too much firepower.
Miami Heat vs. Dallas Mavericks, 2:30 p.m. ET (ABC): Winning this game does not make up for last June, but the Heat will come out fired up. Dallas is going to be a very good team this season, very versatile, but they are still trying to figure out how all the pieces fit together. Miami knows what it is doing — attack. Get out and run. While Brendan Haywood is solid he is no Tyson Chandler — Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have less to fear driving the lane in this game.
Chicago Bulls vs. Los Angeles Lakers 5 p.m. ET (ABC): All the talk is about Kobe Bryant and his wrist ligaments — the guy is going to play, do you really have any doubt? The bigger issue for the Lakers is Andrew Bynum will sit the game out on suspension (five games) for flattening J.J. Barea at the end of the Dallas series last playoffs. Without Bynum in the paint to alter shots Derrick Rose and company will get better looks. Plus, the Lakers are trying to figure out their new offense and the best defensive team in the league is a tough place to try and learn things.
Orlando Magic vs. Oklahoma City Thunder 8 p.m. ET (ESPN): What is the over/under on time the announcers spend discussing the Dwight Howard situation? As Atlanta showed in the playoffs last year you can defend and beat the Magic if you have a big man who can at least impede Howard one-on-one. Meet Kendrick Perkins. Plus, that Kevin Durant guy is pretty good.
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Golden State Warriors 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN): Hey Mark Jackson, welcome to the NBA coaching ranks. Draw up a system where you can stop Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan with Kwame Brown. Right now the Clippers are having a lot of fun playing and the Warriors have a new system, Stephen Curry is a game-time call and Monta Ellis could get handed a subpoena walking off the court. But watch this because the Clippers are just flat out entertaining.
Phil Jackson goes on vacation, reportedly puts Knicks’ coaching search on hold
Jackson is on vacation at the moment. The interesting thing here is that league sources say that some involved in the Knicks’ coaching search have been informed that Phil is away at the moment, meaning the search is on hold.
This matters only if Jackson isn’t just going to hire Rambis anyway. But if the Knicks are interested in exploring candidates other teams – Rockets, Pacers and Kings – might want, Jackson is missing a valuable opportunity.
Reminder: The Knicks are paying him $12 million per year – money that could have lured someone with a record of front-office success or even just the commitment to delay a vacation until after hiring a coach.
Three Things to Watch in Heat/Raptors Game 2: Will Kyle Lowry’s jump shot return?
The first game went to overtime, and we should see a desperate Raptors team in Game 2, one that knows it can’t go down 2-0 and win this series. Here are three things to watch.
1) Did Kyle Lowry’s late-night shooting work pay off? To put it bluntly (as I did in the series preview): If Lowry isn’t playing at an All-Star level the Raptors are not winning this series. He was 3-of-13 shooting in Game 1. It wasn’t just that game, and it wasn’t just the first playoff series with George Hill draped on him, Lowry was not shooting well as the campaign wound down — his 57.8 true shooting percentage for the season dropped to 51.1 (below the league average) in April. That has to change fast.
It wasn’t just Lowry, however, a lot of Raptors players were missing wide open looks — as a team they were 4-of-17 on uncontested threes. Those shots need to fall.
2) Can Toronto defenders stay in front of Goran Dragic? The Miami point guard has felt more and more comfortable in recent months — since the All-Star break when Miami was pushed to small ball — and the Raptors did nothing to make him feel uncomfortable. Well, one Heat player did, Hassan Whiteside (Dragic was 3-of-9 finishing in the paint in Game 1), but if he keeps getting into the paint at will — both in secondary transition actions and in the half court — breaking down the Raptor defense this is going to be a rough series in Toronto. I expect a lot more effort and a better performance from the Raptors defensively, with Dragic as a focal point.
3) “We need more Jonas Valanciunas” — the Raptors must attack Hassan Whiteside and draw some fouls. Whiteside intimidated a lot of Raptors shooters in Game 1 — not only did Raptors guard struggle to finish inside, but they also pulled up and didn’t take shots in the paint at times just to avoid Whiteside. However, Toronto’s Valanciunas has the size advantage inside and put it to good use with 24 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks. The Raptors need to feed him early and try to get Whiteside in foul trouble — that also means attacking guards like DeMar DeRozan can’t pull up, he has to risk some blocked shots to go into the body of Whiteside and draw fouls. If Whiteside is allowed to dominate the paint, the Heat will take the series, the Raptors need to go at him.
Cavaliers’ 3-point shooting was excellent. THEN, they made 25 in a game
That’s right, the Cavs needed just five games to set a record for 3s through six playoff games. Then, they piled on 25 3-pointers – a record for any NBA game – in their Game 2 win over Atlanta on Wednesday.
Cleveland’s 97 3-pointers through six postseason games absolutely crushes the previous record:
The difference between the Cavs and second place equals difference between second and 88th.
In fact, Cleveland has already demolished the record for 3s through EIGHT playoff games (previously 90 by the 2014-15 Hawks). Again, the Cavaliers have played just six games this postseason.
Where is all this outside output coming from? The key long-distance shot makers:
The Washington Wizards announced that guard John Wall underwent a successful procedure today to excise calcific deposits in his left patella tendon in order to eliminate pain and assist healing. He will begin the rehabilitation process immediately and is expected to be available for the start of the 2016-17 season. Wall also underwent an arthroscopic lavage on his right knee in order to remove loose bodies.
If the Wizards are just using the next date most fans care about, this might not be such a big deal. That would open the door for Wall being healthy at any point over the summer.
But if the start of next season is his targeted return, that’s more troubling. Sitting an entire offseason is a big deal, and that means potential complications are more likely to cause him to miss games. It’s also a worse indicator for his long-term health.
As the Wizards enter free agency primed to spend, the last thing they need are questions about the length of their franchise player’s prime.