Miami Heat James smiles after making a basket against Charlotte Bobcats during their NBA game in Charlotte

100 early season observations

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We lost basketball this year. Precious, sweet basketball. And even though most of the lockout happened in the offseason, those days were still slogs through disappointment and frustration. So to mourn those days and celebrate the first week of professional basketball this season, here are 100 observations on the early season.

1. Lob City’s a work in progress like all teams thrust together are, but there are also career developments that have to happen with Griffin and Jordan’s defense.

2. The Bulls are going to be really great when they win, which is most of the time, and really ugly when they lose.

3. The Heat are just going to be really great even when they’re losing. Sorry, it’s true.

4. The Cavaliers are a lot better than we thought they’d be. They’re going to lose a metric ton of games when the rush of early season wears off, but they’ve got a foundation there to build on.

5. Boston has problems that go beyond Pierce, on both ends.

6. But Boston also has some things going for it, especially the play of Brandon Bass.

7. James Harden has not locked up the 6th Man of the Year by any stretch of the imagination, it’s been three games for crying out loud. But he definitely looks like the strongest candidate early on.

8. The Blazers are much better than I expected. They’re not getting bullied inside and they’re doing the bullying on the perimeter. It’s a strong combination of players.

9. The Lakers will be winning, but they’ll be winning ugly. Mike Brown is getting the most out of a weak roster outside of the Big 3, but that means playing some ugly basketball the Staples faithful might not enjoy.

10. Vinny Del Negro has some done some bizarre things early on. Running pick and rolls with Blake Griffin as ball-handler and putting Griffin on Joakim Noah are only a few examples. It’s a learning process for him as well and I’ve never been as down on Del Negro as others, but some of it is just perplexing.

11. Tristan Thompson is going to be better than most of us thought. Lots to learn, though.

12. Enes Kanter is going to be worse than most of us thought, at least for a while. Lots of rebounds, though.

13. LeBron James’ post game has improved maybe just enough for him to not rely on it but to make a significant difference.

14. Wade, at least early on, is the tip of the spear for Miami’s offense, which is what makes James’ scoring totals so outrageous.

15. The Kobe Bryant you’ve seen is what you’re going to get. Nights of sheer brilliance and a lot of of inefficient scoring nights where he handles the load.

16. That said, Bynum could make all the difference. If he can get to the arena with all the traffic tickets he gets.

17. The Pacers have a really good team that can play consistently, score, and defend, and may still wind up a five seed.

18. Ho-hum, another year where the Hawks keep winning games and no one stops to notice how well they’re playing.

19. Ho-hum, another year where the Hawks play really well for long stretches and still don’t make an impact in the playoffs.

20. If the Wizards had any sense of poise whatsoever, the Nets would be the worst team in the league in just about every category right now.

21. Deron, big market Brooklyn, owner that wants to win, I get it. But if Howard looks at this roster and says “I can win with those guys this year” he’s out of his mind. Unless he wants an early summer vacation, no way he should go to Brooklyn.

22. Chris Bosh is more aggressive than I’ve ever seen him, even in Toronto.

23. Speaking of which, early on, the Raptors aren’t bad. Competitive, playing hard, rebounding, and some balance. Long way to go, but I like what Casey is doing there.

24. Memphis will figure it out eventually, but this team is going to have to find the gear it had from February on last year and that’s really difficult. Missing Arthur hurts.

25. The Sixers, despite a loss to Utah, are one of the most impressive teams I’ve seen. There’s something to be said for experience together.

26. Flip Saunders, here’s some ice for that hot seat.

27. Andrew Bogut doesn’t look healthy, but he doesn’t look injured, you know?

28. John Wall has to play better.

29. Taj Gibson does an unbelievable amount for the Bulls off the bench.

30. Phoenix has looked really bad at both ends. Maybe they’ll get it together, but the lack of offense is a huge concern. That’s what they’ve got. If they don’t have that, they’re in trouble.

31. New Orleans’ effort under Monty Williams is admirable, even if the performance isn’t sustainable, which, who knows?

32. All of these observations are based under a handful of games and only a small amount will seem valid in March.

33. Ricky Rubio: Worth the hype.

34. Rick Adelman: Worth the hire.

35. Michael Beasley: Worth neither of the two above.

36. Charlotte has the effort and has a lot of guys improving.

37. Diaw has been particularly impressive considering, you know, Diaw.

38. Kemba Walker and Jimmer both have a place in the league when I had reservations about both. The place may not be big, but it’s there.

39. Mark Jackson storming out of the gates is not something I expected.

40. The Warriors’ defense with that roster is yet another sign that defense in this league is as much systemic as personnel dependent.

41. Carmelo Anthony at point forward is a disaster.

42. And the worst part is it’s limited Amar’e Stoudemire’s role which hurts just about everything.

43. San Antonio looks like it’s gotten the defense back in its gameplan early on. That’s big.

44. Conditioning has been a lot better than most expected.

45. Defensive 3-seconds, not so much.

46. Shaun Livingston has impressed in limited minutes for Milwaukee. His first game was the best I’ve seen since before the injury.

47. The Kings are about what you’d expect. Fun to watch, losing every night.

48. Denver has been monstrous.

49. Al Harrington shooting better? Expected. Al Harrington defending better? Not expected.

50.  DeMar DeRozan has not started as well as I thought he might.

51. Ty Lawson is a speed demon and you should probably get a hand up on him.

52. Nene has struggled offensively. He’s making an impact defensively but the Nuggets need a pick and roll partner.

53. Danilo Gallinari needs to find his range, like, right now. Great aggressiveness, but missing the arc.

54. LeBron James won’t average a triple double. It’ll just feel like it.

55. Lawrence Frank has not gotten through to Detroit yet.

56. Which means Lawrence Frank has lost about 22 games in a row.

57. The Pistons’ refusal to play younger lineups is baffling.

58. The problem in OKC isn’t Russell Westbrook vs. Kevin Durant, there is no Russell Westbrook vs. Kevin Durant.

59. The problem is Russell Westbrook vs. being No.2. He’s not and will not be.

60. Gerald Henderson has shown a really impressive ability to find space in the flow of the offense. He’s not going to create off the dribble much outside of layups, but he spits around screens and catches and shoots really well.

61. Luol Deng looks just about as good as he did last season, if not better, which should terrify everyone.

62. DeJuan Blair is still not a good enough interior defender.

63. Tiago Splitter might be, though.

64. It’s not so much what David West is giving the Pacers as what he’s allowing them to do.

65. I’ve crowned Paul George Mega-Man. The guy came into the league with very few abilities and it seems like every game he defeats and gains the powers of his opponent. I’m expecting him to have a buzzsaw for an arm soon.

66. Gerald Wallace has been good at just about everything involved with playing basketball. Shooting, scoring, defense, steals, blocks, rebounds, you name it.

67. Ryan Anderson, Most Improved Player?

68. Turns out Stan Van Gundy can still coach a team up. Even one featuring Chris Duhon in a big role.

69. Luis Scola, pretty good.

70. Denver is 26th in points allowed per game, but 10th in defensive efficiency, which is points per 100 possessions. Stats are good, people!

71. Jason Kidd is shooting a lot of threes, which is not how the Mavericks offense should work, even if his clip is pretty good the last few years.

72. Kevin Love drawing fouls is just weird.

73. Kyle Lowry has been even better than last year, and that’s saying something.

74. Greg Stiemsma, block machine.

75. Marvin Williams is averaging 14 points per game and 20 per 36. My mind = blown. I don’t care if it’s three games.

76. The Hawks are first in offensive efficiency and second in defensive efficiency. Weak schedule, but still. Impressive for three games.

77. It’s been really good to see Anderson Varejao back on the floor.

78. I’m trying to think of something that the Jazz do well. I’ll be back in an hour.

79. Russell Westbrook has had an emotional rollercoaster of a first week.

80. Would the Celtics have been better if they’d worked out together this summer? Or is it just Pierce?

81. I miss Jeff Green. I know most of you don’t, but I do.

82. Ben Gordon is actually passing really well and running an offense. It’s like Soviet Russia. Ben Gordon should be point guard and Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey should be shooting guards.

83. Tyreke Evans hasn’t made the jump and that’s disappointing considering the injuries healing were supposed to help.

84. MOAR JEREBKO.

85. Imagine how good the Nuggets will be offensively when they find their range?

86. The Knicks slid back so severely after such a good first game. Says more about Boston than them.

87. The Bulls are 20th in defensive efficiency. Small sample sizes for the win!

88. Manu Ginobili got healthy, which is, you know, death to defenses.

89. At one point this week, Renaldo Balkman was guarding Kobe Bryant. That went about as well as you’d think.

90. Teams are not handling back to backs well early on. Good thing they’ve only got 30 more of them.

91. The Heat are a flying death machine.

92. Deron Williams doesn’t look right, whether it’s injury, fatigue, or disinterest.

93. And the Nets’ problems go so much further than Brook Lopez’ absence.

94. Caron Butler has played better than most thought he would. Hasn’t been a difference maker but has played well.

95. Jeremy Pargo has been better than expected.

96. Defending LeBron James right now is exceptionally difficult. Even more so than usual.

97. Timofey Mozgov has actually played pretty smartly for as inexperienced as he is.

98. John Wall is really struggling at just about everything. He’s just not able to make the plays he should be able to.

99. Brandon Rush…?

100. And in conclusion, Iman Shumpert. Get better soon, rook.

TNT to cover NBA games with only former players, no traditional play-by-play men

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19:  Grant Hill #33 of the Phoenix Suns looks to move the ball as Derek Fisher #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers defends in the first quarter of Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 19, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) — TNT will use broadcast teams featuring only former players and no traditional play-by-play men during five NBA doubleheaders later this season.

The “Players Only” schedule runs Monday nights from Feb. 27 to March 27 and includes matchups such as Golden State-Oklahoma City on March 20 and Cleveland-San Antonio a week later.

Brent Barry will serve as the primary host of one team with Derek Fisher and Grant Hill, while Greg Anthony partners with Kevin McHale and Richard Hamilton on the other.

Lisa Leslie and Dennis Scott will serve as reporters.

Turner Sports says Thursday that Chris Webber will anchor the studio coverage with Isiah Thomas and Baron Davis, and that additional NBA players will contribute to the five-week program.

James Harden presents fan with game ball on her 100th birthday (video)

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden took some time out after the Houston Rockets’ win over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks to give a fan a present on a her 100th birthday.

Video shows Harden signing a ball for the woman and spending a few moments sitting next to her in her courtside seat and posing for pictures Wednesday night.

Harden told ESPN’s Doris Burke in an interview that he told the woman how “blessed” he was to be able to have a chance to meet her.

The Houston guard also put on a good show for the fan during the game, scoring 38 points in a 111-92 victory over the Bucks.

Paul George dunks on DeMarcus Cousins while getting whacked in the face (video)

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Kings center DeMarcus Couins appears set to become the first player to sign as a veteran designated player. The Pacers hope Paul George will follow.

But in the Pacers’ win over the Kings yesterday, George beat Cousins.

Not even Cousins thwacking George in the face could stop this dunk.

Report: Khris Middleton could return to Bucks before All-Star break

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 16:  Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 16, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Bucks projected Khris Middleton to miss about 70 games when he tore his hamstring before the season. That extended absence often leads players just to shut down for the year, but Middleton vowed to return in time for the playoffs.

He might get back far sooner than that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sources told ESPN.com the Bucks think Middleton, who suffered a hamstring tear just days before the season began, “has a chance” to return to the lineup during a three-game homestand next month before the All-Star ‎break.

Whether Middleton ultimately makes his season debut before or after the All-Star Game, he is expected to be kept on a minutes restriction as he eases way his back from the injury, sources said.

The Bucks have started Tony Snell, who has held his own as an outside shooter. But Middleton will upgrade Milwaukee on Snell’s biggest strength and provide massive defensive improvement. After a strong start, the Bucks have really struggled lately on that end.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has led Milwaukee to a 20-21 record, though the team is better than its won-loss mark indicates. The Bucks will be even better with Middleton, who will rival Jabari Parker as their second-best player and fit seamlessly.