Three thoughts after a Friday night of watching NBA basketball:
_ I am going to spend more time watching the Minnesota Timberwolves this winter, since I know who I’ll be watching in late May and most of June (not them). Ricky Rubio is the reason why, even if his 12 assists in his coming-of-age game had to come on the same night LeBron James celebrated his 27th birthday with his 38th career 30-point, 10-assist performance. (The most among active players, one ahead of teammate Dwyane Wade).
_ I am going to Vegas. My dad let me make the pick in our nightly $1 wagering challenge, I saw the Bulls were a 1 1/2 point favorites against the Clippers, and I cashed for the third straight night as Chicago rolled to a 114-101 victory over the team I do not believe in.
_ The Indiana Pacers are the worst undefeated team in the history of professional sports. OK, maybe that’s a little harsh. So I’ll give props to coach Frank Vogel, whose team has yet to shoot above 40 percent in its 3-0 start, and to whoever it was at the arena formerly known as Conseco Fieldhouse who put a lid on the rim to keep Kyrie Irving’s layup from falling at the end of regulation, costing the Cleveland Cavaliers what would have been their second victory of the season.
We are now six games into this lockout-shortened season, and I’m starting to think Michael Wilbon underestimated the Miami Heat when he predicted 58 wins for them when the season opened on Christmas Day. Three of their next four games are against teams that are currently undefeated (Indiana and Atlanta, twice), but after watching two Hawks games and two Pacers games, I see no reason why those games should be competitive. Nor do I see anyone on the Heat’s schedule who looks capable of beating them until the San Antonio Spurs travel to Miami on Jan. 17, at which time Miami could very well be 12-0. (For those wondering, the first Miami-Chicago game isn’t until Jan. 29).
The Timberwolves had their second straight sellout crowd to open a season for the first time since 1991 (Scott Brooks and Sam Mitchell played for that team, which had eight players who averaged double figures in points), and they were in position to pull off a monumental upset before a couple crucial mistakes (a turnover by Rubio, plus two missed free throws by Anthony Tolliver) preceded James’ alley-oop inbounds pass to Dwyane Wade on a play stolen from the Brian Hill/Lawrence Frank playbook for the go-ahead bucket with 4.3 seconds remaining.
The Timberwolves dropped to 0-3, with the losses coming by a combined total of nine points.
“I’m glad we played them early because later they’re going to be trouble,” Wade said. “So I think Timberwolves fans will have something to cheer about for a while here.”
More on Rubio from Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “In just his third NBA game, Ricky Rubio delivered a 12-point, 12-assist, 6-rebound stat line — the first Timberwolf to record those kind of numbers since Sam Cassell in 2004 — and he commanded the game much of the end until he rushed in the final minutes, when the Wolves committed two crucial turnovers. (He had 5 of the Wolves’ 25). For a guy who supposedly can’t shoot, he’s shooting it pretty well. He made 4 of 7 field-goal attempts, including both of his 3-point attempts. Most telling about his presence already: The Heat put LeBron on him near the end of the game and double- and even triple-teamed as the game progressed, trying without much success to get the ball out of his hands on pick-and-rolls. Said Wade: “I knew he was good from the Olympics, but he’s gotten even better. He’s mastered looking you off and making the pass. The kid has something. He has that Steve Nash capability. They have a gem in him. He’s going to be great for them.” Derrick Williams on Rubio: “He’s great in his I.Q. and his court vision. I haven’t seen anything like that. He can read it before it happens. And now he’s making those contested shots.”
Can I have my Rookie of the Year pick back? My guy, Kemba Walker, was 1-for-9 in 17 minutes of the Charlotte Bobcats’ 21-point home loss to the Orlando Magic.
Dwight Howard had 24 rebounds for the second straight game, increasing his league-leading average to 17.5. Marc Stein of ESPN.com says when the Magic eventually trade Howard later this season, they will be looking to get back multiple established veterans that will keep the team competitive.
From Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: “Howard didn’t even have a monster offensive game, but he was a four-quarter burden for the smallish Bobcats. He scored 20 points, although he didn’t shoot all that well (7-of-16), especially at the line (6-of-14). The Bobcats had to pay so much attention to him with double- and triple-teams that Howard’s teammates found open shots all game. Howard was such a threat that he had four assists. “Having Dwight on your team is probably the easiest wide-open shots you’ll get because he sucks the defense in so much and he’s been doing a great job of passing on target to us,” power forward Ryan Anderson said. “All we have to do is make shots.” The Magic (3-1) made 12-of-28 3-pointers (42.9 percent), playing what coach Stan Van Gundy called “the best game yet.”
There was only one late game played, the easy dollar victory by the Bulls over the Clippers behind Derrick Rose’s 29 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists. Rose went 3-for-4 from 3-point range, improving his season average to 40 percent despite a 1-for-9 effort in the Bulls’ lone loss at Golden State. They’ll finally get to play their home opener on Sunday night against Memphis, which is using Jeremy Pargo and Josh Selby at the point with Mike Conley (sprained ankle) injured and Greivis Vazquez traded.
Rose outperformed the Clippers’ Chris Paul, who had 15 points and 14 assists to go along with Blake Griffin’s 34-point, 13-rebound effort. The Clips got a total of 11 points and five rebounds from their bench players in their home opener.
From Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: “For the record, the first alley-oop in this place now known as Lob City occurred with 6:03 left in the first quarter when (Caron) Butler threw up a pass that the left-handed (DeAndre) Jordan slammed down with his right hand in such powerful fashion even the big kid ooohed. Of course, amid all this excitement, there are issues. (Vinny) Del Negro has his hands full with a team that seems so intent on making the big play, they forget to do the little things. The Clippers’ quest for glitter has sometimes come at the expense of grunt work, as they have been continually beaten inside and thus outrebounded in all three games. Those grand attempts at blocked shots are not great rebounding techniques. They also don’t seem to have figured out an offense, as sometimes they simply stand around waiting for somebody to do something spectacular. On Friday, while the Clippers were flying, the Bulls were forcing, leading to a 34-20 advantage in free throws attempted. Then there are potential internal issues. Late in the first quarter, after (Mo) Williams missed a shot on a fast break, Butler shouted to him to “Pass the ball!” The two players exchanged words at the other end of the court, which makes it even more important to address the Williams situation now. After spending the lockout acting as a team leader, Williams is clearly not happy suddenly coming off the bench. He has been feeling so ignored lately, it was perhaps no surprise that during pregame introductions Friday, he was accidentally introduced as the injured Chauncey Billups. The Clippers need to either figure out a way to make him happy here, or trade him for a backup big man.”
Elsewhere, order was restored to the basketball universe as Dallas and Boston each won for the first time this season, the Mavericks getting a career-high 19 points from Ian Mahinmi to secure their first ‘W’ against the Toronto Raptors.
From Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “One day after losing at Oklahoma City 104-102 on a 3-pointer by Kevin Durant at the buzzer, the Mavs regrouped and got off to a great start against Toronto. Seven points from Shawn Marion and six from (Dirk) Nowitzki helped stake the Mavs to a 29-23 lead after the first period. Dallas held a slim 50-46 lead at the half, but used a late 12-0 rally to widen it to 77-70 entering the fourth quarter. Then, they kept the pressure on in the final period with Terry, Nowitzki and Mahinmi leading the charge. The turnaround came as no surprise to (owner Mark) Cuban. “You can’t [win] until everybody knows how everybody plays and is comfortable together,” Cuban said. “And it took us until four games into the postseason [last year], so it’s not just going to happen overnight, and we’ll just continue to get better. I say the same thing every year. As long we’re healthy and playing good basketball going into the playoffs, and we extend the playoffs, then anything can happen.”
Boston finally had Paul Pierce (bruised heel) on the court, and they also finally notched a ‘W’ after opening 0-3 like the Mavericks.
From Jackie MacMullen of ESPNBoston.com: “Pierce’s return coincided with Win No. 1 over a Detroit team that has given new meaning to the old nickname “Bad Boys.” Former Celtics assistant Lawrence Frank’s new team is indeed, well, bad. But it also is young and excited about the possibilities former Georgetown big man Greg Monroe and No. 8 draft pick Brandon Knight might represent … someday. The Celtics have no time and no patience for “someday.” Pierce is acutely aware how loudly (and quickly) the clock is ticking, and he strode into the Garden on Friday night grasping the urgency of posting the first victory of this young, abbreviated and maddeningly cluttered lockout-shortened season. His more obvious contributions were on the offensive end (they usually are), yet it was the captain’s defensive mojo that his opponents noted in the wake of a 96-85 Celtics shellacking that was not nearly as close as the score might indicate.