Would you believe me if I told you James Harden’s encore was even more spectacular than his debut? What if I told you he dropped 45 last night, and that only Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain have scored more points in a team’s first two games of any NBA season? It’s all true, folks. Remember, I have no reason to stretch the truth. I, like many, have been critical of Houston’s decision to build around Harden. Right now, he’s making me out to be a complete and utter maroon… and I don’t even care. Not even a little bit. In fact, I’m extremely excited about potentially being wronger than I’ve ever been before. Having watched Harden drop 82 points in his first two games as a featured scorer, I’m like a kid on Christmas Eve as I wait for Houston to head home and take on the Blazers at 8 o’clock Eastern on Saturday.
What I’ve come to enjoy most about James Harden is probably the speed at which he attacks the defense. He doesn’t have lightning quickness, yet he gets to the basket with ease. His style is more methodical… similar to a Paul Pierce or a Joe Johnson. Harden is absolutely incredible at getting the most out of his final two steps — he frequently takes them in different directions as he navigates winding lanes to the bucket.
Harden has been so remarkable that he’s basically overshadowed everything else that’s going on not only in Houston, but around the entire league. So, I want to note that Jeremy Lin and Marcus Morris were key in lifting the Rockets over the Hawks last night. Lin nearly finished with a triple-double as he scored 21 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and dished 7 assists. Morris‘s 17 came on 8-14 off the bench.
Josh Smith’s first game as “the man” in Atlanta went… well, exactly how I figured it would, actually. Smith certainly wasn’t shy against the Rockets — he fired off 21 attempts, 7 of which came from 20 feet and out. Despite a surprising swish on his first look from the outside, Smith finished just 2-7 (28.5%) on jump shots and launched his first air ball in the second quarter. Smith’s struggles from the perimeter reflected those of his Hawks, who missed 29 of 40 shots from outside the paint.
Overall, the Hawks looked fantastic in the open court and a little rough in the half court. Thirty-three of ATL’s 102 were scored on the break, which is pretty damn impressive, but their lack of size (completely demolished 23-7 in the offensive rebounding column), polish, and Joe Johnson was very evident when they were unable to get out and run.
Atlanta also produced the bonehead play of the day: down three with a minute or so to go, Jeff Teague passed up a wide-open, in-rhythm shot from the top of the key. To compound his mistake, he swung the ball to Josh Smith on the wing. Needless to say, Smith didn’t think twice about shooting. Even more needless to say, he missed. Badly.
Offensively speaking, the Minnesota Timberwolves (when healthy) feature one of the most imposing frontcourts in the league. However, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic aren’t so scary at the defensive end of the floor, where they average a combined 1.5 blocks per game. For this reason, Greg Stiemsma’s 16-minute performance in Minnesota’s 92-80 victory over DeMarcus Cousins and the Kings had to feel encouraging. Stiemsma came in off the bench and made his presence felt around the basket as he blocked 4 shots and effected many others. In addition to his effective defense of the rim, Stiemsma drew Cousins’ third foul on a charge and pulled down 7 rebounds.
Mike Dunlap’s Charlotte Bobcats are 1-0, meaning they’ve snapped the franchise’s 23-game losing streak. Kemba Walker scored 30 points to lead the Cats past the Pacers, but it was the defense of Dunlap’s group that really made the difference. It was clear from the early going that the Bobcats would aim to force the Pacers to live and die by the outside shot. The played a lot of zone and sent swarming double teams at post players and penetrators, which helped force 17 Indiana turnovers. More importantly, it resulted in the Pacers firing 26 threes, of which they made only 7. George Hill, Gerald Green, and DJ Augustin went a combined 3-17. Augustin, a former Bobcat, had a wide-open look to win it at the buzzer but missed well short.
Regular readers may recall my recent assessment of the Eddy Curry experiment. In Wednesday’s “Starting Lineup,” I essentially predicted that the fun would soon come to an end. Curry had played extremely poorly during a blowout loss to the Jazz, landing him benched in favor of the rookie Bernard James. Unfortunately, my damning suspicions were confirmed yesterday when the Mavericks announced the signing of Troy Murphy. To make room for the addition, Curry has been let go.
TO BE UPDATED THROUGHOUT THE DAY — I HAVE MUCH MORE TO REPORT, SO CHECK BACK LATER.