Houston @ Cleveland, 6 pm, NBATV. NOTE: This game was bumped up an hour to allow Clevelanders (Clevalandites? Clevelandians?) to watch or attend Game 6 of the World Series, with first pitch scheduled across the street at Progressive Field at 8:08 pm. While the Indians look for their first title since 1948, the city’s OG drought-breakers have picked up right where they left off in June. The Cavaliers sport three 20-point scorers, they’re third in the league in three-pointers attempted, and Kyrie Irving has hit half of his 22 long-range tries in three games.
In a testament to his consistency, LeBron James won his record 54th Eastern Conference Player of the Week award for his season-opening slate. The league has been naming Players of the Week since the 1979-80 season, separating by conference in 2001, and no one else has been given that honor even fifty times. Or forty. Or thirty-five. Second on that list is Kobe Bryant, named Western Conference Player of the Week 33 times – with James’ closest active competition, Kevin Durant, well behind at 24 weekly trophies. So far, LeBron is scoring 21 points, handing out 10 assists, and grabbing eight rebounds a game, while taking 43 percent of his shots within five feet of the basket. Because of that, his two-point shooting is as good as it’s been in his career; when his three-point shot hops back up over 30 percent, the reigning best player in the game could get even more dangerous.
Orlando @ Philadelphia, 7 pm. 76ers coach Brett Brown said that second-year center Jahlil Okafor, coming off a meniscus tear that limited him to just eight preseason minutes, will sit tonight but be a full go tomorrow in Charlotte. Joel Embiid, team brass still wary about his long recovery from a foot injury, plays against the Magic but will not make the trip to North Carolina. In just two games, though, the 7-foot-2 Embiid has established himself as the early Rookie of the Year frontrunner, and showed everyone that, still just 22 years old, he’s well worth the pain, suffering, and worry that the Sixers and their fans have undergone. He’s flashed comfort and proficiency popping out to shoot the three, and equal adeptness rejecting Dwight Howard with canny help defense in the post. While Brown is rightly bringing him along slowly, Embiid has scored 34 points in his 37 minutes thus far, though that says as much about the quality of his teammates as it does his own prowess and potential.
The only team that can boast an offense nearly as futile as Philly’s this young season is the team they host tonight. The Magic sport the third-fewest points per game in the NBA, and lead just the Sixers, by mere percentage points, in both shooting accuracy, effective field goal percentage (which factors in the added benefit of a three-pointer), and true shooting percentage (which includes both three-pointers and free throws).
LA Lakers @ Indiana, 7 pm. Two straight losses have sent the Pacers reeling, as Indiana has allowed 114 points per game, mere percentage points ahead of Golden State for worst defense in the league. It’s as if trading George Hill for Jeff Teague was a bad move! Without Hill’s wingspan and willingness to battle big point guards, Indiana allowed 25 points to Deron Williams, 21 to Jeremy Lin, and let Rajon Rondo hand out 13 assists. I don’t know what the answer is. Rodney Stuckey is huge, but he’s been a minus defender his whole career. Maybe CJ Miles or Glenn Robinson III can handle a few minutes with the starters, at least trying to use their length to disrupt opposing backcourts.
The plan for Los Angeles was always going to be bringing rookie phenom Brandon Ingram along slowly, but how long can Luke Walton keep giving Nick Young this much court time? Sure, he’s scored 12 points per game, but is shooting a ghastly 33 percent from the field, and just 28.6 percent on threes. It’s Swaggy P, so you know he’s not moving the ball, rebounding it, or defending, either. Unsurprisingly, Young features in four of the Lakers’ five worst 3-man lineups, looking particularly bad playing next to franchise point guard D’Angelo Russell – the Lakers have been outscored by 24 with Young and Russell, and have just 32 assists to 27 turnovers.
Sacramento @ Miami, 7:30 pm. Last night in Atlanta, Demarcus Cousins scored 14 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, passing Chris Webber as the Kings’ franchise leader in double-doubles with the 246th of his career. Even after being held to a down night by Dwight Howard, Cousins is averaging 26 points and 10 rebounds a game, scoring in more and more efficient ways than he ever has. Tonight, he faces another stiff test in former teammate and reclamation-project-turned-max-player Hassan Whiteside, who last season led the league in blocks and finished third in rebounding. This year, he’s again atop the blocks leaderboard and the NBA’s second-leading rebounder; Cousins faces a stiff test on the second night of a back-to-back.
This morning, Ray Allen officially announced his retirement, penning the reflective Letter To My Younger Self on Derek Jeter’s Tumblr site The Player’s Tribune. Beyond his general greatness – and let’s not forget, this dude played Jesus Shuttlesworth and competed in the dunk contest as a rookie before growing into the best three-point shooter in NBA history – he made an impact everywhere he played, and can be claimed by four different franchises as “their own.” Allen played more of his games in Milwaukee, reached his individual offensive peak in Seattle, won a title and changed how NBA rosters are built in Boston, and made the biggest shot of his life to save another title and save LeBron’s legacy in Miami. I don’t know where he’ll eventually settle in my memory, and I relished his Eastern Conference battles with Allen Iverson, but right now, I picture Ray Allen in Heat white, launching over Tony Parker in the right corner.
New York @ Detroit, 7:30 pm. It’s been a week since serving as sacrificial lamb to LeBron on Opening Night; the Knicks have played just once since then. In Saturday’s home debut, five Knicks scored in double figures as the team beat the new high-octane Grizzlies, 111-104. Derrick Rose made six field goals at the rim, Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony scored 21 and 20, respectively, and after a scoreless first game, Joakim Noah had a hand in everything, leading the team with ten rebounds and seven assists in just 20 minutes.
Since being drafted in 2012, Andre Drummond has had a league-high ten games of at least 20 points and 20 rebounds, including a dominating 23-20 Saturday night against Milwaukee. Through three games this season, Drummond is averaging 16 points and a league-leading 16.3 rebounds, and is developing some nice chemistry with point guard Ish Smith, pushed into first-team duty after starter Reggie Jackson injured his knee in camp. The explosive big man is being assisted on 60 percent of his field goals, and the well-traveled Smith, now wearing his tenth NBA jersey in just seven seasons, is averaging seven dimes a game.
Milwaukee @ New Orleans, 8 pm.Poor, poor, rich Anthony Davis. There can only be so many “poors,”and so much sympathy, attached to a man three games into a five-year,$127 million dollar contract. Davis has already made history this season: his 50-point debut in Denver linked him with Michael Jordan,Wilt Chamberlain, and Elgin Baylor as the only players to hit that mark in a season opener. He followed that up two days later with 45 points and 17 rebounds against the dynastic Warriors (becoming the first player since Charles Barkley in February 1988 to have consecutive games of 45-15). Despite coming back to Earth against a great team defense in San Antonio, Davis is averaging better than 37 points and 12 rebounds a game, with 3 blocks and 2 steals. With a sky-high usage rate of 38 percent (second in the league only toRussell Westbrook), Davis does a phenomenal job of protecting the ball, averaging fewer than 2 turnovers per game.
But of course, New Orleans has lost all three of its games, and Pelicans who are not named Anthony Davis are shooting a combined 32 percent from the field. Astoundingly, New Orleans shooters have been deemed open on over 90 percent of the team’s three-pointers, according to NBA.com’s robust player tracking database, highest in the league, and are in the cellar in accuracy,hitting on just 19 percent of their attempts. Rookie shooting guard Buddy Hield made eight triples in one game on three separate occasions at Oklahoma last year; he hasn’t knocked down a single one of his eight attempts in the NBA. Backup point guard Langston Galloway is 0-for-9. Imagine how good Davis would be if his teammates could pull defenders away from the paint and give him room to work.Poor Anthony Davis.
Memphis @ Minnesota, 8 pm. Ricky Rubio is out indefinitely with a sprained right elbow, and coach Tom Thibodeau announced earlier today that rookie Kris Dunn will make his first start. Dunn (who is quite frustratingly NOT the first Kris Dunn that comes up when you search him on Twitter) is coming off of two straight Big East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors, and as a heady four-year college player, scored 27 points in his summer league debut before a concussion kept him out of further action.
Offensively, Dunn replicates much of Rubio’s skill set: a big point guard, who prefers to pass rather than shoot, and while he can get to the rim, he has trouble finishing there. Despite him working his way up to becoming an adequate three-point shooter at Providence, the longer NBA distance and Dunn’s own poor free throw shooting seem to conspire to prevent him from becoming a threat from deep, at least for now. If Minnesota really is going to explore trading Rubio and installing Dunn as the primary point guard (FYI – they should not do this), then it’s imperative to throw him out on the floor and see how he fits with young cornerstones Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
Utah @ San Antonio, 8:30 pm. NBA rookie deals, for first-round picks, are set at four seasons, with the third and fourth years held as team options – after which the player becomes a restricted free agent. But players whose options have been picked up, and enter that fourth season still under their original contract, have through October 31 to sign four-year extensions (no team exercised their five-year, $138 million designated player option) and bypass restricted free agency.Yesterday evening, a few hours before the 11:59 pm deadline, the Jazz signed defensive savant Rudy Gobert to a four-year, $102 million contract extension.
Other rookie extensions saw Oklahoma City guarantee a combined $184 million to Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo, Minnesota lock up Gorgui Dieng for $64 million, and Charlotte keep Cody Zeller in town for $56 million. Though the numbers may seem shockingly high for such low-offense players,remember how much the cap jumped, that teams are evaluating and paying for defense now, and that all three big men were likely to see major offer sheets in restricted free agency. The five who signed yesterday join Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Portland’s CJ McCollum, and Atlanta’s Dennis Schroder, who all signed earlier in the summer, as the 2013 draft picks who’ve committed to their current teams for the long haul.
Golden State @ Portland, 10 pm, NBATV. Terry Stotts is an absolute stud as a basketball coach.Last year, he took a playoff team that saw four starters depart in the offseason, including perennial All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge,coalesced a talent-short group of lesser-known veterans and lesser-experienced youngsters, won a postseason series, and put a scare into the all-world Warriors in the second round. He’s a great motivator and manager of personalities, but Stotts is also a top-tier chalkboard guy as well. Everyone drools over Celtics coach Brad Stevens’ after-timeout play-calling, but check out this beauty that Stotts put together, down two points with a shade under three seconds to go:
Just a really great inbounds play from the Blazers and the Nuggets didn’t know to switch or not. pic.twitter.com/w6X7M0XpYr
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) October 30, 2016
As Warriors coach Steve Kerr deftly predicted before the season, Damian Lillard is making a hell of a case for early-season MVP, averaging 35 points, 8 rebounds, and 5.3 assists so far while leading Portland to an impressive-looking 2-1 record against tough competition. He’s scored 36 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, and followed up his game-extending layup Saturday against Denver with a game-winning overtime floater:
— CSN Northwest (@CSNNW) October 30, 2016