The start of the 2010-2011 NBA season.
I’m going to try to write about every game I watch this season, so why not actually start at the beginning?
Boston Celtics vs. Miami Heat
In July LeBron James made his infamous decision to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, which lead to four straight months of endless debate about the ramifications of said decision. Last night we finally got to see their first game together and, to be honest, it wasn’t anything to get really excited about.
The Heat started their much anticipated season with a 9 point first quarter and a 30 point first half. Overall, the team wasn’t really in sync; LeBron had 8 turnovers while D-Wade had 6 of his own. The lack of a strong interior presence was also apparent. Starting center Joel Anthony mustered 2 points while backup Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 1 point. Backup power forward Udonis Haslem performed the best out of the big men, pulling down 11 rebounds and scoring 8 points, while Bosh contributed 8 and 8 of his own.
The most striking thing I noticed last night was how similar the Heat looked to the Cleveland Cavaliers from the past two years. This was the most evident in the second half, which saw LeBron score 15 of his 31 points. The lineup on the floor with him at the time-Ilgauskas, Eddie House, James Jones, and Udonis Haslem-was nearly a mirror image to the one he left in Cleveland in terms of what they could do. However, I doubt this will be the case all season; they’re still getting adjusted and D-Wade is still bothered by his hamstring injury from the preseason. Still, it will be important that the Heat get a more even performance from its key players, lest it end up like Cleveland did in the past two playoffs.
The Celtics, on the other hand, looked as good as they have since they won the championship in 2008. They’re still tough on defense and they get offensive production from a lot of places. They’ve also bolstered their bench by adding the O’Neals Jermaine and Shaquille (no relation) and guard Delonte West (who is out the first 10 games due to suspension). Rajon Rondo continues to grow as the on-floor leader of the team and started his season with 17 assists. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen, though they aren’t getting any younger, continue to play well together and with the rest of the team.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Houston Rockets
Also looking like their usual selves were the Lakers, who beat the Rockets 112-110 in the final seconds of their first game. Trailing 110-109 with about 18 seconds left to play, Kobe Bryant drove the lane and then kicked out to backup point guard Steve Blake, an off-season acquisition, who calmly knocked down an open three-pointer.
Unlike the Heat, the Lakers got production from everyone. Kobe had 27 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds while Pau Gasol led the team in scoring with 29 points to go with 11 rebounds of his own. Lamar Odom, who will be starting for Andrew Bynum until he comes back from off-season knee surgery, chipped in with 14 points and 10 rebounds of his own. Off the bench, the aforementioned Blake had 10 points and Shannon Brown had 16. Though I’m not a fan of L.A., it’s easy to see that this is a team more than capable of making it back to the Finals.
The Rockets put on a good show as well. Center Yao Ming is back after missing all of last season due to a foot injury, though there is work to be done. Team doctors have mandated that Yao only play 24 minutes per game in order to ease him back into the game and relieve stress on his foot; he played 23 minutes in the loss to the Lakers and had 9 points, 11 rebounds before fouling out. You could tell by watching him that he wasn’t really in basketball shape and it will take a few weeks for him to get readjusted to playing.
Even with Yao playing barely half the game, the Rockets are still a solid team. Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin make up an exciting, high scoring backcourt that combined for 50 points (24 from Brooks, 26 from Martin). At power forward there’s Luis Scola, who has become one of the better power forwards in the league and it pains me to say that he continues to make the San Antonio Spurs look dumb for trading him. He is strong in the paint and can hit mid-range jumpshots and he’s an able rebounder and defender; he had 18 points and 16 rebounds against the Lakers. The starting lineup is rounded out by three-point shooter and defensive specialist Shane Battier.
What made the Rockets fun to watch was how well they played together and fit into coach Rick Adelman’s system. As TNT analyst Reggie Miller pointed out throughout the game, it didn’t seem to matter who was on the floor at any given time because they all complemented one another’s skill sets. When the starters are out on the floor, Yao is the focus of the offense and he can pass out to shooters Brooks, Martin, and Battier while Scola provides muscle. When backup center Brad Miller is in, he stays near the top of the key and hits Brooks, Martin, Chase Buddinger, and Courtney Lee as they cut to the basket with his good passing. This also gives room for Scola to operate in the post and the two combine for a formidable rebounding duo. The depth Coach Adelman has at his disposal is impressive, especially when you consider that Jordan Hill, Kyle Lowry, and rookie Patrick Patterson didn’t even play.