Every night the NBA can be a cold hard reality — there are winners, there are losers. It’s the nature of the game. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to bring you the best and worst of the NBA each week night. Here’s what you missed while reading about Game of Thrones’ Mountain…
Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers. Welcome back Damian Lillard, we missed you. If you hadn’t heard, Lillard was off to an ugly start this season, shooting just 26.8 percent and just 31.8 percent from three (where over half his shots were coming from). The old Lillard showed up on Tuesday night with the Cavaliers in town. He had a game-high 27 points on 13 shots, he hit 5-of-10 from three (he was just 1-of-3 inside the arc), and he was attacking getting to the line 10 times. Lillard also dished out seven assists and pulled down six boards. Lillard led a Blazers team that brought it against a rather passive and unimpressive Cavaliers team (after a hot start, anyway) — Robin Lopez exploited Anderson Varejao all night. This was the kind of quality win the Blazers needed after a rough first week, and they really needed Lillard back. They got it.
LeBron James. Guys have off nights, it happens. And LeBron certainly had an off night, he’s not going to shoot 1-of-6 in the paint often. What is more troubling is seeming passivity from the best player in the world — he was 0-of-4 in second half, while Dion Waiters had nine shots (hitting three), Kyrie Irving had 10 (hitting two), and even Tristan Thompson had five shots off the bench (hitting two). Coach David Blatt tried to cover LeBron and say as a team they need to do a better job of getting him shots. That’s true. And LeBron can be unselfish to a fault, plus he’s a guy trying to fill on holes on the team (the versatility of his game lets him do that). But come on, this is the best player in the league and he has to be more aggressive, demand the ball and be willing to just take over at times. The Heat didn’t really find their groove until Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh sacrificed their game to let LeBron be the focal point. The Cavaliers aren’t there yet mentally and it shows. And that’s not even getting into the defensive issues….
Gerald Green. He came off the bench and sparked the Suns with 26 points on 19 shots, as Phoenix flexed its offensive muscle against the Lakers’ “defense” and picked up a nice road win. But that’s not why Gerald Green is listed here as a winner, it’s for this, the dunk of the night.
Houston Rockets. And the train keeps a rollin’ all night long… the Rockets improve to 5-0 with their best win of the season, knocking off a quality Miami team 108-91. James Harden was just one rebound short of a triple double (25 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds) while Dwight Howard had 26 points (on 16 shots) an 10 rebounds. Trevor Ariza hit three keys three late to spark an 18-5 run and seal the win. Tip your hat to them, the Rockets are playing well.
Byron Scott. So how’s that Game 7 intensity coming? The Lakers are 0-5 now and the man seems to use the words “better defense” 100 times a day, but the simple fact is the Lakers defense this season is 9.5 points per 100 possessions worse than last season under Mike D’Antoni (hat tip Zach Harper for that). Yes, it’s small sample size theater so far this season, but still this is ugly. His words aren’t cutting it. Here’s the thing that isn’t discussed much in LA: Scott’s Cavaliers teams were bottom five in defense and when Mike Brown (much ridiculed by Lakers fans) came in the next year Cleveland’s defense improved 1.7 points per 100 possessions, jumping them up fairly close to the league average. Scott’s teams haven’t defended for years, and looking at this roster it’s hard to see where he’s going to suddenly coax good defense out of it.