Kurt Helin

C.J. McCollum scores 28 in first half, 37 for game in Blazers’ win

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C.J. McCollum is going to win a lot of fantasy team owners games this season.

In Portland’s opener against a weary New Orleans team on the second night of a back-to-back, McCollum dropped 28 points in the first half (you can see that above) and 37 for the game, as Portland picked up a quality win to start the season 112-94.

His jumper was falling, he was 10-of-15 outside the paint on the night and hit 6-of-9 from three. He shot 14-of-22 overall and even when defended it didn’t matter much, he was 5-of-7 on contested shots (according to NBA.com stats). Damian Lillard added 21 points on 21 shots for Portland, plus had 11 assists.

Five Takeaways from NBA Wednesday: Welcome back, fear the Thunder

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, LaMarcus Aldridge, Danny Green
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It’s the first full slate of the season for the NBA — 14 games — but in case you couldn’t hang out in front of the TV because you had to coach one daughter’s soccer practice then go to a fundraiser for another (parents out there are nodding their heads), here are five takeaways from a night around the NBA.

1) Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant are back — fear the Thunder. You could see it through the preseason, but Wednesday might they made it official — the Thunder are back. There was Russell Westbrook putting up 19 first-half points plus dishing out four assists to keep the Thunder in it. Then with the game on the line in the fourth Kevin Durant and Westbrook combined for 16 points on nine shots. With that the Thunder beat the Spurs, 112-106 in a tough season opener.

Durant didn’t have a monster night — 22 points on 6-of-19 shooting — although a big part of that had to do with him being guarded by Kawhi Leonard much of the night (Leonard had a monster night of his own, 33 points on 23 shots). Westbrook finished with 33 points on 23 shots, plus 10 assists.

Here’s what should make fans of other contenders nervous: Billy Donovan was brought in to make sure the Thunder were more than Westbrook and Durant. That’s the only way they can win the ultimate prize next June. Wednesday, with the game on the line late, Dion Waiters hit two huge jumpers. Steven Adams made a great switch and contest on the Spurs’ shot attempt to win the game the buzzer. For all his defensive flaws, Enes Kanter put up 17 points and 16 boards. The point is those other guys did step up and make plays, and that makes the Thunder far more dangerous.

2) Kobe Bryant started his 20th season and looked exactly like what we should expect. Like expecting your grandmother to understand Halo, expecting Kobe Bryant to change at this point in his career would be foolish. Kobe is who he is — he doesn’t get to the rim much anymore, his shot selection isn’t ideal, however his footwork and fundamentals are impressive, and when those shots fall he’s dangerous. And those shots were falling in the first half Wednesday night as Kobe put up 15 points early.

Kobe started the game 8-of-16 shooting, but he missed his final eight shots. Bryant — and the entire Lakers team — ran too much isolation down the stretch as they blew a 16-point lead and lost to the Timberwolves 112-111. To be fair, it wasn’t just down the stretch, the Lakers’ offense was stagnant and isolation heavy all game, they just hit shots for stretches. Kobe finished with 24 points on 8-of-24 shooting, going 3-of-13 from three. Maybe a little of that is rust coming off all his injuries, but the reality is he’s not an efficient scorer anymore and his challenge will be sustaining the success he does have. The Kobe of Wednesday night is a Kobe we could see a lot this season.

By the way, both Karl-Anthony Towns (14 points, 12 rebounds) and Julius Randle (15 points, 11 boards, and fearlessly went right at Kevin Garnett) showed promise. They are two young players to watch.

3) Detroit beat Utah and is off to a surprising 2-0 start. The last time the Pistons were 2-0, they were so underwhelmed, they promptly traded Chauncey Billups for a washed-up Allen Iverson. After that deal led to seven dismal years, Detroit is surely more pleased with its fast start this season. The Pistons have beaten the Hawks and Jazz, relying on energy and defense. Detroit’s offense has sputtered, but Stan Van Gundy’s revamped lineup has at least shot well on 3-pointers. It’s too early to overreact, but for a Pistons team that began the season on the playoff bubble, this fast start might nudge to inside-looking-out status. —Dan Feldman

4) Did NBA’s new replay center miss a goaltending call that cost Orlando the game? Welcome back to the NBA Scott Skiles, good luck sleeping after this game. His Magic were up by one point when John Wall made what would ultimately be the game-winning shot.

That gave the Magic 10.7 seconds to try to hit a game winner of their own. Tobias Harris drove past Otto Porter and put up a floater that bounced and hung on the rim while guys jumped up thinking tip — and on the floor the referees called goaltending on the Wizards for one of those tips.

However, once the NBA’s new replay center got a good look at it, they reversed the call and said Bradley Beal‘s touch of the ball — after the game he admitted he touched the ball — was incidental and not when the ball was over the cylinder (and after Nikola Vucevic had hit it). Man that is close. I think this is the angle that might have sealed Orlando’s fate — the ball was certainly coming out but was it still over the cylinder when Beal hits it?

Magic fans, this is not why you lost — you had a five-point lead with two minutes to go and couldn’t hold it. That is what is going to keep Skiles up more than the call.

5) Knicks, Nuggets pick up impressive upsets wins. There are always some upsets opening night, but Denver and New York gave us head-turners. The Nuggets beat the Rockets on the road 105-95 behind 23 points from Danilo Gallinari, plus a defense that held Houston to 84.6 points per 100 possessions on the night. James Harden was 6-of-21 shooting. Not sure Denver can sustain all that defense, but the Mike Malone era got off to an impressive start.

As for the Knicks, their offense looked uptempo and like a triangle in a 122-97 win over a Bucks team that is supposed to have a strong defense. Carmelo Anthony was off (11 points on 4-of-16 shooting) but Derrick Williams had 24 points on 17 shots, while Langston Galloway added 16 points on 10 shots (4-of-5 from three). Again the question is sustaining it, but that’s a strong start for the Knicks.

Donovan wins NBA coaching debut, Thunder beat Spurs 112-106

Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldridge
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Russell Westbrook had 33 points and 10 assists to help Billy Donovan win his NBA coaching debut as the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the San Antonio Spurs 112-106 on Wednesday night.

Kevin Durant scored 22 points in his first regular-season game since February. He made just 6 of 19 field goals, but hit two critical free throws with 11.5 seconds remaining to put the Thunder in control.

Enes Kanter had 15 points and 16 rebounds off the bench for the Thunder.

Kawhi Leonard scored a career-high 32 points and grabbed eight rebounds for the Spurs. LaMarcus Aldridge had 11 points and five rebounds in his debut with San Antonio after nine years with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Manu Ginobili scored 11 points and Tony Parker added 10 for San Antonio.

Westbrook found Durant for a 3-pointer with just more than four minutes remaining to put the Thunder up 99-97. It was Westbrook’s 10th assist.

After Parker put the Spurs up two, back-to-back baskets by Dion Waiters put the Thunder ahead by two. A 3-pointer by Durant with 54.2 seconds to play put Oklahoma City up by five.

Leonard scored, was fouled and made the free throw with 42 seconds left to cut Oklahoma City’s lead to two, and Westbrook missed a jumper to give San Antonio a chance to tie or win.

Danny Green‘s wild, off-balance 3-pointer was blocked by Steven Adams, and the Thunder gained possession. Durant made the free throws to put the game out of reach.

 

Derrick Rose says he’s still battling blurred vision

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There were some encouraging things to take away from Derrick Rose‘s opening-night performance against Cleveland. At the top of the list, this was the most we’ve seen him attack the paint in a long time — he took 15 shots in the paint and just two from beyond the arc.

On the flip side, he shot 8-of-22 overall and was just 3-of-10 at the rim in the game.

Part of the reason for the shooting woes is he’s still battling double-vision from the fractured orbital bone he suffered at the start of training camp, which required surgery to repair and has Rose still wearing a mask. Here is what Rose said about the issue, via ESPN.

“I wish it was a blink, but it’s all the time,” said Rose, who played 32 minutes and scored 18 points. “Like right now, I see two of you…

“When I’m out there playing, I’m only using one of my eyes,” Rose said. “I close my left eye whenever I’m out there. So I just got used to it from practice.”

“I think I’m all right,” Rose said. “A couple of layups I could have hit, but I think that I’m careful when I’m out there. I’m just trying to get back [to] playing. I miss this game too much.”

At one point Hoiberg said he wasn’t going to play Rose if he had double vision. However, the team doctor’s cleared him for full contact and he is out there. So long as he’s not at undue risk for further injury, it should be his call.

Rose has more lanes to drive in Fred Hoiberg’s motion offense, where Nikola Mirotic helps space the floor with his extended minutes. The ball moved better Tuesday night, and there were plenty of reasons to be optimistic if you’re a Bulls fan.

Rose just has to get to the point he can finish. He’s physically not there yet.

Jazz to start rookie Raul Neto over Trey Burke in opener

Trey Burke
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While Rudy Gobert and the defense deservedly get most of the credit for Utah’s late surge last season (19-11 after the All-Star Break, allowing 89 points per game), another key change was Dante Exum taking over starting at point for Trey Burke. It put a pass-first point guard at the helm of the offense, which meant more shots for efficient shooters such as Gordon Hayward. The ball movement improved.

With Exum out for the season with an ACL injury, Burke spent the preseason trying to prove he should be back in the starter’s role. However, for the Jazz’s opener tonight against the Pistons, coach Quin Snyder is going with Brazilian rookie Raul Neto at the point, reports Jody Genessy of the Deseret News.

Burke averaged 15.3 points a game on 50 percent shooting in the preseason, but he was his usual self hunting for his own shot and averaging 2.5 assists per game. Neto is a pick-and-roll point guard who looks to pass first (and his shot will need some work against NBA defenses). Expect a lot of drive-and-kick, based on what we saw in the preseason — with Haywood and Rodney Hood starting that could work well. There are questions about how well Neto can defend at the NBA level.

Neto is not a better player than Burke, but he is a better fit with the starting lineup.

Burke can come in gunning with the second unit and have the green light.