Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The NBA is underway: Heat spanked at home

The 2006-2007 NBA Season got underway last night with a 2-game slate on TNT. I didn't get to view most of the action due to the Halloween festivities, but I did catch some of each game. Here's what I gleaned from each one:

Bulls 108, Heat 66
Talk about Halloween horror night. As Sammy Davis Jr. would so eloquently put it,"ouch babe!" The Heat opened the season raising their Championship banner, collecting their rings, and basking in the adulation of their home crowd & national analysts everywhere. Then the game started and they proceeded to get blown off their own court by the new kids on the NBA block, the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls laid a 42-point beatdown on the stunned Heat, the worst opening loss for a defending champ in league history. All I can say to that is " I hope so." Because if a champ got beat worse than the listless Heat did last night they should take away their crown. Chicago led 59-30 at the half after throwing in 37 points in the 2nd quarter, Miami only scored more than 20 points in 1 quarter (21 in the 3rd) and were never in this game. It was ugly. Shaq looked every bit his 45 year old age (oh, wait he's only 34) as he struggled to a 3-10, 7 pt, 5 reb performance. Nice. Phenom Dwyane Wade was his usual 'bad self', leading the way with 25, but it was the Bulls who stole the show. Kirk Heinrich(26pts) the double Dukies Luol Deng (12pts) & Chris Duhon (20 pts) and new Bull Ben Wallace (11 rebs) set the pace for Chicago, which has been the fashionable NBA playoff pick for a few years now, but with the addition of the veteran rebounder & NBA champ Big Ben plus the maturation of all those Baby Bulls, these guys might just be ready to take the next step this year. But I guarantee that Miami, with an aging roster (Payton & Walker-combined 189 years old) and without that hunger to win, won't have to worry about collecting any more hardware. Now I see why Shaq usually comes up with an injury in training camp as an excuse to miss the first 1/4 of the season. Note to Shaq: look for a Rocket Clemens-type deal (play half a season, only home games)- it's that time, Big Fella.

Lakers 114, Suns 106
Even with Kobe Bryant (knee soreness) on the bench in stylish street clothes the Lakers still dispatched Phoenix, last year's feel-good team, and their 2-time reigning MVP Steve Nash in a rematch of last season's thrilling 7-game first round playoff series. So how did L.A. beat the Western Conference finalist with an unimposing starting lineup of Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, Andrew Bynum, Smush Parker & Sasha Vujacic? I'm not sure, but I do know that no team should EVER get beat by a team starting a 'Smush' and a 'Sasha'. But seriously the Lakers got huge contributions from Odom (34pts, 13rebs,6ast) and a career game from 19-year old 7-footer Bynum, who poured in 18pts and grabbed 9 boards replacing injured starter Kwame "Jordan's Bitch" Brown. Bynum is considered a raw-but-talented project at center (sounds like Brown) but if his showing tonight is any indication he might not be so raw anymore. As for Phoenix they did have stud PF Amare Stoudemire back in action after he missed nearly all of last season due to microfracture surgery on his left knee, but he only contributed 6 points in 12 minutes; they'll need him back at full strength if Phoenix has any hopes of making it to the Finals, because Nash (15pts, 13ast) can't carry the team by himself again. One side note from this game: Odom had to have been playing with a heavy heart after the sudden death of his 7-month old infant son Jaden this past July. Odom has had his share of troubles both before entering the league and after, mostly drug-related, but here's hoping that he is able to put the tragedy behind him, get on the straight & narrow, and have a terrific, career-defining season.

I'm not going to do a huge NBA preview special or anything because predictions go out the window in sports nowadays- they're just a bunch of blustery words with zero meaning & credibility behind them. That's because the sports landscape changes from year-to-year now in every sport, with the good teams from prior seasons going in the tank and the awful ones rising up to unexpectedly reach new heights. But here are a few things I will be looking forward to:

Celtics winning it all for Red Auerbach
Okay so that might be a bit much to ask, but how about a competitive team with a playoff berth at season's end? With their legendary coach, GM and president being laid to rest yesterday, this C's fan is hoping that Doc Rivers can somehow assemble this collection of talented but untested players into a contender. The roster is littered with talent, starting with leader Paul Pierce, new PG Sebastian Telfair and gunner Luke Jackson (a prototypical Celtic- slow, white, with a great jumper- the Garden fans will LOVE this guy in green.) Plus a load of youngsters like Gerald Green, Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins who should be ready to explode. Throw in heralded draft picks Rajon Rondo and Allan Ray, and this is a team with potential. Maybe with Red guiding them from above they can make a run to respectability. Maybe.

Magic rookie J.J. Redick silencing his doubters
Much was made about Redick's lack of a well-rounded game (he's just a shooter), his pre-draft DUI arrest (he's got baggage) and his 'oh no, he's another Dukie' label. That caused his draft stock to drop, all the way to the Orlando Magic at the Number 11. As an unabashed Duke fan, and also a Magic fan due to its close proximity to my Tampa-are home base, I really hope JJ proves to be what he was in college: a crafty, hard-nosed player who can score at will, find ways to get open, and use his desire & determination to make the Magic competitive . With Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, Grant Hill and an improved Darko (you read that right), they might have a chance this year. Let's hope JJ will help lead the way.
He'll start tonight against the hopefully tired Bulls.

"The LeBrons" ads continuing all season long
Have you seen the latest installments of this clever and commercially successful ad campaign? You know the one with the 4 LeBrons, young, old, smooth and LeBron, all in hilarious situations with clever lines and catchy music? I can't get enough of these things. I'm still trying to decide which LeBron is the best- it's a flat-out tie between the smooth brother or the old man; both have the funniest lines and best appearances and neither one ever fails to make me laugh. Whatever marketing genius at Nike came up with this should be eating dinner at Phil Knight's compound on a nightly basis; this stroke of genius is going to drop a lot more coin in Nike's Swoosh-encrusted coffers. Oh and it will only help when King James is crowned the MVP this season.

Tonight there are 2 more quality games tipping off the ESPN schedule, starting with the Wizards/Cavs at 8 and then the Clippers/Suns at 10:30. Both are rematches of thrilling 7-game playoff series last season, and both should make for exciting viewing. Gilbert Arenas, LeBron, Nashty & Elton Brand are 4 of the best players in the league, and each team has high expectations for the season based on last years' performances (for whatever that's worth.)

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