The Los Angeles Lakers’ bench. The Lakers bench played free, played Mike D’Antoni ball and scored 76 points including the final 46 the Lakers scored to spark an opening night upset win over the Lakers. Xavier Henry had a career high 22, but Clippers coach Doc Rivers said it was the attacking of Jordan Farmar (16 points, 6 assists) and Jordan Hill (12 points and 7 offensive rebounds) that turned the game.
The Indiana Pacers’ defense. The best defense in the NBA picked up where it left off, allowing the Magic just 84.1 points per 100 possessions, with Roy Hibbert blocking seven shots and the Pacers blocking 18 total. The Magic shot just 38.7 percent as a team and 37.5 percent inside 8 feet. Granted, this defensive showing was against what passes for the Orlando offense, but the Pacers are going to make a lot of teams look bad this season.
Miami’s “big three.” They weren’t bad — a combined 46 points on 45.7 percent shooting — but while LeBron James was +8 on the night both Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were even. It was really the Heat bench that won this game for them, it was the bench that made the big run that turned it into a blowout. They’ll take the win, but this wasn’t vintage from Miami’s elite.
Derrick Rose. Welcome back to the NBA, here’s one of the league’s most athletic and best defenses in the NBA to go against, have fun. All night long the Heat seemed to cut off Rose’s driving lanes in a way few teams can. To expect a dominant performance was asking too much, but 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting with more turnovers than assists (5 to 4) was a rough way to return.
Report: Derrick Rose away from Cavaliers, evaluating his future in basketball
Rose has been out with what seemed like a relative minor, for him at least, ankle injury. The 29-year-old could stick in the league for a while thanks to his reputation and ability to attack the rim to create shots for himself. But the guard is a shell of peak form after years of more serious injuries. This isn’t the career anyone expected for him when he was named the youngest MVP ever in 2011.
The Suns made Mike James – a 27-year-old rookie on a two-way contract – their starting point guard.
Though he eventually ceded the role to Tyler Ulis, James – the only player on a two-way contract to start an NBA game – is still a rotation regular. He’s an aggressive defender and possesses plenty of offensive moves.
The problem: Unless demoted to Phoenix’s minor-league affiliate before then, he’ll max out the 45 allowable NBA days for a two-way player Dec. 6.
We’d still like to get him on the 15-man roster and we’re looking at different ways to do that.
The Suns can unilaterally convert James’ two-contract into a standard one-year minimum deal. Both sides could also negotiate a longer contract.
The bigger issue is clearing a roster spot.
Phoenix has the maximum 15 players with standard contracts with no obvious cuts. Derrick Jones Jr. doesn’t play much, but the 20-year-old’s athleticism creates intriguing upside. Second-rounder Davon Reed is hurt, though teams rarely cut bait so quickly.
The Celtics established themselves as one of the NBA’s elite teams, a contender for the Eastern Conference title, during their 16-game win streak.
However, that hot streak to start the season will matter as much as Thanksgiving leftovers in the back of the refrigerator in April by the time the playoffs roll around. This is a team that still has work to do.
“There’s still a lot to accomplish going forward,” Irving said. “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”
This team still needs to get better and more consistent. The Celtics had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in eight of the 16 wins, and while the team defense was impressive the offense still can be hit and miss. Al Horford and Kyrie Irving play well off each other, but this is still the 20th ranked offense in the NBA. They are taking more long midrange jumpers than most coaches want, but the bigger challenge is they have not been finishing around the basket.
Titles are not won in November. Irving gets that. Jayson Tatum will hit the rookie wall at some point (they all do) and he needs to prove he can break through. Al Horford is playing maybe the best ball of his career and needs to keep it up. The Celtics need to keep their defensive focus (the fundamentals are there to have a top five defense). I could go on but you get the point, and so does Irving — there is a lot of work for this team to do.
Boston is off to a fantastic start, but it’s just that.