By Anthony Slater – Aslater@opubco.com - @anthonyVslater
The drama-filled NBA is stuffed with knee-jerk reactions and definitive statements. Many are extreme (the Lakers won’t make the playoffs, OKC’s Harden trade is already a failure), while others are warranted (Damian Lillard looks like the real deal, Harden looks equipped to carry a team’s scoring load). But either way, we love to hear and dissect those league-wide opinions. So here’s a (hopefully) rational and weekly place to follow the ongoings across the NBA:
Stock Report – Who’s up? Who’s down?
Rising – James Harden
I couldn’t start this anywhere else, right? Thunder fans may not want to hear it, but their former bearded darling was Story #1 in NBA Week #1. Playing (and starring) for the Rockets now, Harden received a five-year, $80 million max contract on Tuesday, put up 37 points and 12 assists in his debut Wednesday and topped it off with a career-high 45 in a win on Friday. He got his paper and he’s getting his buckets.
Falling – Lakers
It’s not time to panic, but there is reason for concern. The Lakers stumbled through an injury-plauged 0-8 preseason, saying it didn’t mean much (and it didn’t). But an embarrassing opening night home loss to Dallas (without Dirk Nowitski and with 490-pound Eddy Curry) followed by defeats to Portland and the Clippers exposed some chemistry issues. When you patch together aging stars with a rotting bench, a brief grace period should be granted for meshing purposes. But they need to show visible improvement soon, and Steve Nash’s fibula fracture (keeping him out the next month) won’t help.
Rising – Miami’s offense
The champs look scary on this side of the ball, smoother and more explosive than at any point last season (except for maybe Game 5 of the Finals). LeBron’s being LeBron, Dwyane Wade looks healthier and Chris Bosh is playing well (his 40 points against Denver the other night were the most he’s scored since joining the Heat). And the Ray Allen addition looks as lethal as many feared, averaging 15 points and three triples per game, most on open looks. As a team, Miami is averaging 107.7 points per game (second in the league behind Orlando).
Falling – Miami’s defense
But it hasn’t been as pretty on the other side of the ball, with the Heat going Pheonix circa 2008, giving up points just as quickly as they’re scoring them. Miami, widely considered one of the league’s top three defenses last season, is giving up a league-worst 109 points per game through three games. Coach Erik Spoelstra has brushed it off (as he likely should), but it’s something to keep an eye on.
What won’t last
Milwaukee and Orlando’s flawless play - Both teams, sitting at an undefeated 2-0, are atop the East and sporting a pair of impressive wins. Milwaukee won at Boston in its opener and Orlando throttled Denver in a complete performance. Hard to see that strong play continuing.
OKC and Los Angeles struggles - The West’s expected elite are currently sitting in the cellar. A combined 2-5 doesn’t look pretty, but it may be a bit early to count out two of the league’s most talented squads.
Impressive rookies - New Orleans’ Anthony Davis and Portland’s Damian Lillard don’t look like future stars. They look like current ones. Davis is averaging a team-high 14.5 points and 6.5 rebounds, while Lillard has exploded onto the scene with averages of 21.3 points and nine assists.
Kevin Durant’s rebounding - OKC’s lanky and improving superstar has added dominant rebounder to his early season repertoire. Right now, his 14.3 boards per game are second in the NBA (behind Zach Randolph’s 15.0), with the 43 rebounds in his first three games being the most for any three-game stretch in his career. He’s never averaged more than eight in a season. That should change this year.
Stat line of the week
Omer Asik: 0-7 shooting, 0 points and 19 rebounds in Houston’s 109-102 win over Atlanta. That’s all kinds of awesome.
“I got my kids watching so I stopped myself, but it was a punk play by him.” -Dwyane Wade talking about Rajon Rondo’s flagrant foul against him on opening night, which set off a war of words between the two bitter rivals. When the Celtics and Heat feud, everybody wins.
Story of the week
Here’s a well-written and informative piece by Yahoo! Sports NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski, examining James Harden’s first week in Houston.
Play of the week
I could watch 60-footers splash through all day.
Game of the upcoming week
Wednesday – Brooklyn at Miami
Underwhelming slate of games this week, but these two battling provides a little intrigue. The defending Eastern Conference Champs against a team that’s trying to spend enough money to eventually challenge them.