Thursday, October 31, 2013
First Cup: Thursday
By Nick Borges
- John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Daily News: Maybe, at some point later in the season if the Sixers are out of it, hoping for more pingpong balls in the draft lottery may become the primary focus. But for at least one night, Sixers fans cheered their team to a victory they desperately wanted. … There weren't a whole lot of things to get excited about coming into this season, but seeing Michael Carter-Williams play was. Even if you're focused solely on the 2014 draft, you wanted to see if Carter-Williams had the stuff to justify trading a young All-Star point guard in Jrue Holiday. Maybe it was fitting that Allen Iverson was in the house after officially retiring earlier in the day, because the last time this building saw a debut of this quality was from Iverson in 1996. MCW was phenomenal, with 22 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and franchise record-tying nine steals. He had just a single turnover. One game does not make a season, but in a season where not much is anticipated, one good game makes for a good night.
- Terry Pluto Boyer of The Plain Dealer: It's was more than Gritty-Grimy-Ugly. It was one huge human being defending the basket and setting some cement-truck picks. He is 7-foot, 280 pounds with arms that seemingly reach to the clouds. Two seasons ago, before his knees became inflamed, Bynum averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds. That was with the Lakers under a coach named Mike Brown. He missed all of last season due to those knee injuries, and Brown is unsure how much he'll play this season. This was a Mike Brown type victory where no one scored 20 points, but six players had at least 10 points next to their name. It's a game he called "ugly" at least three times, a game where the Cavs out-hustled the far more experienced and talented Nets. Brooklyn came to town with seven players who have been All-Stars and an $189 million payroll. "I wanted us to fight, and I thought our guys did," said Brown. "It was our ability to defend and rebound (that did it)." And getting a little Gritty-Grimy-Ugly made the final score look very pretty on this opening night.
- Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: This was the Kings' opener of openers, a purple carpet ride for the decades, an evening when the past and future converged on a cleaned-up old barn just north of the city. Fireworks in the parking lot. A cricket demonstration featuring a 7-footer and a diminutive owner. High-tech videos. VIP banquets. Tours of the facilities. An almost overwhelming global vision presented to a small-market community that is delighted just to keep a basketball team. It was a bit of a circus but in a charming, Sacramento sort-of way. There was chanting and cheering, hugging and high-fiving, and several moments of some serious deep breathing. … Amid all the pomp and circumstance, the celebrity sightings and excitement generated by the dynamic ownership group headed by Vivek Ranadive, some of the most enthusiastic reaction was reserved for Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and NBA Commissioner David Stern. During a midcourt presentation between the first and second periods, KJ ran the point, and Stern stood in the middle, per the pattern of the recently turbulent times. "You could be anywhere tonight, but you chose to be here in Sacramento," an impassioned Johnson said as he gave the commissioner a key to the city, "so let me say as loudly as I can, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you."
- Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: Klay Thompson's father can be awfully tough on him, but the third-year guard's opening-night performance Wednesday was so spectacular, it earned a handshake from even one of the harshest of critics. "He was probably proud," Thompson said after his father, Mychal, found his way to the Warriors' postgame locker room to offer congratulations. "It was a special moment." That special moment followed a series of special moments orchestrated by Thompson. He had a career-high 38 points on 5-for-7 three-point shooting in leading the Warriors' 125-94 trouncing of the Lakers. Thompson made 15 of 19 field-goal attempts, becoming the sixth Warrior in the West Coast era to score at least 38 points in an opener. He joined Monta Ellis as the only Warrior to do it while shooting at least 75 percent from the floor and Kiki Vandeweghe as the only other player in NBA history to do so. "It's the best feeling in the world, especially when you win and the crowd is into it," Thompson said. "When you're scoring like that and your teammates are finding you, there's nothing better."
- Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: Knicks president Steve Mills would neither confirm nor deny that Garden Chairman James Dolan delivered an edict to the coaching staff that he expects the Knicks to win the NBA title this season. “In terms of an edict, we try to win every year,” Mills said prior to the Knicks season opener against Milwaukee. “And our goal is to try to win a championship and try to be as competitive as we can possibly be.” The Daily News reported on Wednesday that Dolan met with head coach Mike Woodson and his staff in early October and informed them that he believes the Knicks have the talent to end their 40-year championship drought in June. Weeks earlier, Dolan made the stunning decision to fire Glen Grunwald as general manager and reassign him to the role of advisor. Grunwald, of course, is responsible for assembling the roster that Dolan believes is capable of winning a championship.
- Bruce Arthur of the National Post: This wasn’t much in terms of evaluation, though. It’s early. Things are new. The first pre-game video featured a Drake song and an appearance by Drake, and the main pre-game video showed the Toronto rapper twice more, every time in the blue suit he wore he was named the team’s global ambassador, whatever that title means. It’s early enough that nobody is sick of Drake yet. This team will be reshaped, sooner or later, because the mandate is that it will be reshaped. The new guys are aiming for something that lasts, and the only thing that has lasted during Toronto’s time in this league is disappointment. So, cheer for these guys, and enjoy it when it’s fun, and remember that it could all change tomorrow, or in six weeks, or in three months. Drake and the team released a polished, well-constructed video of him talking earnestly about his deep love for both Toronto and the Raptors, and it was finely crafted, and seemed to come from his heart. On both counts, his previously professed admiration for the Miami Heat aside, you believed him. And even if you remembered so much of the ridiculousness that has occurred here over the last 10 years or so, it was a fine example of the fans who have stuck with this hapless franchise for so long, through so much. Here’s the guess: You’re going to have to wait a little longer, before you find out what it will be. You will have to wait a little longer before it’s good.
- Dan Bickley of The Arizona Republic: A new era begins with an unexpected question mark: Maybe the Suns aren’t so bad, after all? On opening night, a team earmarked for the NBA draft lottery staged a surprise party at US Airways Center. The Suns toppled the visiting Trail Blazers 104-91, showing some very promising signs in the process. They pushed the ball. They played with intensity. A pair of undersized point guards — Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic — had no problems co-existing in the same backcourt. And rookie head coach Jeff Hornacek looked perfectly comfortable in his tailored suit, like he was born to lead a basketball team. Most encouraging was the performance of their athletic new center, Miles Plumlee, whose first name was previously used to describe the enormous distance between the Suns and a championship trophy. Now, “Miles” is a reason for hope. “It’s extremely gratifying,” Plumlee said. “I’ve been waiting for this opportunity.” Plumlee used his athleticism, quickness and size to collect 16 points and 10 rebounds in the first half, becoming the first player to record a double-double in his Phoenix debut since Shawn Marion.
- Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star: The top teams in the NBA will arrive in a new city under the cover of darkness, drop their bags inside ritzy hotel rooms and walk into a foreign arena as the enemy but also, the favorite. The best teams win road games – defined by their road toughness, able to stretch out inside tiny visiting team locker rooms like the one at New Orleans Arena and wear the black hat while breaking the hearts of the home crowd. On Wednesday night in New Orleans, the Indiana Pacers transformed into that kind of team by ruining the debut of the Pelicans with the 95-90 victory. “A couple years ago,” center Roy Hibbert said, “we wouldn’t have gotten this win but tonight we did.” Hibbert added five more blocks to his season total, overcoming five fouls to stay on the floor as the Pacers climbed out of a 16-point deficit.
- Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press: Tom Gores told reporters before the game that he wants a more public role this season. Let the masses see him. That’s fine. But seeing his unbridled enthusiasm isn’t a substitute for seeing more wins. He’s this team’s biggest fan. And he should be. When the Palace cameras captured one of the stadium security team busting some Jurassic moves out of a Soul Train anniversary special late in the fourth quarter, Gores jumped up from his courtside seat and danced along. He pumped his fist like most of the crowd following a Drummond thunder jam off an offensive rebound and following Billups’ back-to-back triples midway through the fourth quarter that stymied a potential Washington comeback. Gores acknowledged that the public abandonment of his product was a kick to his stomach as well as to his checkbook. He reiterated what he declared following last April’s regular season finale — making the 2014 playoffs was an organizational mandate. “It will be a huge disappointment if we’re not in the playoffs this season,” he said. “That’s the expectation.” It will be a huge disappointment because the Eastern Conference is much weaker this season. There’s Miami clearly at the top, Chicago, Indiana and maybe New York occupying a diminished second tier, and then it’s a race for the fifth between a number of teams with varied flaws. The Pistons are one of those teams — as are their opening night opponent, the Wizards.
- Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The Rockets shot badly for most of the night, but it really didn’t matter. They didn’t move the ball or themselves, but they didn’t need to. The Rockets were barely recognizable, and not just because of the smiling, broad-shouldered celebrity big man gobbling up rebounds inside. They did not look like the team that took the floor last week. Yet, for one night, they could be a different team, almost as if they were taking their new, two-headed monster frontcourt out for a spin to see what it could do. Instead of relying on a Ferrari offense, they rolled with a Hummer defense and made that work. As much as Dwight Howard’s 26 rebounds, matching his career high and the most for a Rockets player since Charles Barkley’s 27 in 1996, said about why he had been the Rockets’ obsession since Yao Ming’s career ended, Rockets 96, Charlotte Bobcats 83 on Wednesday night at Toyota Center said more. It demonstrated that the Rockets can win this way. They can win when players are hobbled and the offense bogs down and the shots misfire. The Rockets demonstrated what they can do with their two-fisted frontcourt — and also what they better do differently.
- Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: It tends to be an ugly affair when the Spurs and Grizzlies match up. It was even more so in Wednesday’s season opener, with both teams struggling through stretches of incompetence. Their poor defense in the second half notwithstanding, the Spurs could feel pleased with their execution after shooting 52.6 percent, including 11 for 20 on 3-pointers, against one of the league’s toughest defensive teams. Of greater concern was the condition of future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, who left little more than a minute into the second half with a chest contusion. It didn’t appear to be serious, but the Spurs won’t no for sure until his checkup on Thursday. And so it begins for the aging-but-deadly Spurs, who count Father Time as perhaps their greatest foe as they attempt to survive the marathon that is the regular season in pursuit of their fifth championship. … The Spurs improved to 16-1 in season-openers in the Tim Duncan era, while the Grizzlies dropped to 0-13 since moving to Memphis in 2001.
- Tim Cowlishaw of The Dallas Morning News: The Mavs gave us much to ponder in good ways more often than bad during the evening, but there is only one thing I can tell you with any certainty. The changing of the guards here is going to make for much more entertaining basketball this season. Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon proved they can produce points in bunches, even if Calderon was mostly restricted to doing it with his passing, not his shot. Meanwhile, the suspicion that neither is going to deliver much in the way of defense got opening-night support when Hawks point guard Jeff Teague had an All-Star’s night (24 points, nine assists, six steals). Ellis led the Mavericks with 32 points to Dirk Nowitzki’s 24. When they traded 3s on back-to-back possessions in the final two minutes, it put the game away for Dallas and raised fans’ hopes of seeing offensive fireworks on a nightly basis. Time will tell on that one.
- Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Derek Fisher said it best. “It was not pretty, but this is something that we can build on. “You just have to figure out a way to win sometimes, and that’s what we did tonight.” It was just the first of 82 games. Always remember that when judging this sloppy, head-scratcher of a season opener. Just the first of 82 games. Add to that Utah was on its home court, playing its season opener in front of an amped crowd. Jazz players, meanwhile, had spent all day (if not all month) answering questions from local reporters about being a projected bottom feeder. Mix all that up and the result was what we saw tonight. Still, you had to think the Thunder would get off to a better start than this. I mean, 1-0 is a dang good start and, at the end of the night, is all that truly matters. But who among us can claim the Thunder looked and played like it had an entire preseason to prepare for life ithout Russell Westbrook? That was the most disturbing thing. Sure, a win is a win. But this looked more like a Game 6 that never came against the Grizzlies rather than a Game 1 that was supposed to signal a fresh start.
- Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press: They were exasperating, frustrating, maddening. They fired up the crowd, then rained ice water just a few minutes later. They charged forward ferociously, then backslid without the slightest resistance. Your 2013-2014 Minnesota Timberwolves did all this and more in their opener against the Orlando Magic. In the end, they were successful, winning in overtime, 120-115. And an exhausted crowd filed out to try to unwind. The folks at Target Center had their hearts lifted euphorically, ripped out and stepped on, then properly restored. Eighty-one more of these? Better stock up on antacids. "We had some really good moments," coach Rick Adelman said. "But then in the second half, you know, some guys who did well in the first half didn't do well in the second half." And vice versa. … Clearly, the crafty Adelman knows exactly what he has. His team went out and demonstrated that he was correct in all of his assumptions. Now he just has to get to work smoothing over the rough edges. Because nobody will be able to survive too many of these. "That was a lot," Nikola Pekovic said. "A roller coaster," Brewer noted. It can only get smoother. I think.