Even if James Harden wasn’t, we all had waited a long time for last night. Both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook didn’t suit up, which meant the Beard would finally get a long-awaited chance to be the no. 1 option versus a top defense like the Bulls. Harden never really wanted this, dating all the way back to the draft when he reportedly actually wanted to be picked by OKC because he could fit in rather than dealing with the pressure of being “the man.” But anyone on the cusp of getting a max contract should be willing to test themselves. It’s safe to say Harden failed this one. Chicago pulled out the W, 94-89, behind Carlos Boozer‘s 24 points, 12 boards and five dimes, but it was the game-within-the-game with Harden that was most fascinating. He shot 2-for-17 (not a typo), and finished with only 13 points in nearly 38 minutes of game time. He was still great at finding teammates for buckets, especially off the screen-n-roll at the top of the key, and finished with seven boards and seven assists. But offensively, Chicago turned him into a midrange jump shooter for large portions of the night. Yes, we’re in the preseason. Yes, this was only Harden’s third game, and yes, the overall offense changes when the two big guns are out; Harden can’t make guys like Reggie Jackson and Hasheem Thabeet (who was actually pretty good with 10 boards) look like legit NBA players. But still… That’s not good enough, definitely not good enough for a guy many people around the league now think could average 25-plus on his own team … While Harden was building a brick house, Serge Ibaka (24 points, eight rebounds) was testing his limits. He’s not quite Klay Thompson, but Ibaka has developed a nice midrange jump shot, and so, unlike Andrew Bynum, the OKC coaching staff isn’t about to spank him when he lets it fly. That’s a good thing, because Ibaka took two corner threes last night, and he’s now made four triples so far in the preseason. We’ve never met anyone who grew up idolizing Raef LaFrentz. But that’s apparently the direction Ibaka is heading. Steve Aschburner of NBA.com tweeted last night that only one player in NBA history has averaged at least one triple and two blocks a night over an entire season. That was LaFrentz in 2001-02 with Dallas and Denver … Within the opening minute, Luol Deng (21 points) pulled out what had to be the greatest pass of his life: an over-the-head dish (completely not looking) to Kirk Hinrich, who was out in front and ended up converting a breakaway layup. Deng should’ve never made the All-Star team last season (especially over someone like Josh Smith, which was a complete travesty), but he could be in line for the best year of his career. Tom Thibodeau absolutely loves him, and Deng has rewarded the coach with solid defense and some timely shooting throughout their years together in the CHI. But with Derrick Rose out until spring at best, half of the bench gone, and Boozer being Boozer, Deng might have to push that scoring average up towards 20. We’re not sure he can do it, but it might be the only thing that can save Chicago from a No. 7 or 8 seed … Jimmy Butler also caught a nice highlight last night, finishing a putback dunk over the top of Kendrick Perkins on the break … Keep reading to hear about one of the craziest calls we’ve seen in a while …
The Heat ran past Charlotte, 98-92. Completely expected. They made over 50 percent from the floor, and Chris Bosh (21 points) didn’t need much help from the King (ten points) or any help whatsoever from Dwyane Wade (didn’t play). Ray Allen (15 points) made shots off the bench, and the Heat looked like a coasting varsity kid who had been called down to play a half of JV. It only really got interesting when the referees decided to take the game into their own hands … We’re bound to get into a few arguments over the new flopping rules and the resulting implications of those, but we doubt we’ll ever be as confused as we were when LeBron James was called for a technical last night for… well, we’re still not sure. In the final minute of the first half, James went racing down the lane and drew a foul on Bismack Biyombo (they also could’ve called it on Gerald Henderson), sort of swinging his arms and doing a little 360 at the end as James and Henderson collided. A salty ref came streaming in, T’ed up LeBron for some reason, and then did the same to Erik Spoelstra after the coach lost his mind for a quick second. The whole situation was outrageous: LeBron actually went to the foul line because of the foul, but was called for some kind of technical or flagrant foul because he swung his arms during a mildly jarring collision. It wasn’t quite Seahawks/Packers, but it still made us want to get our Steve Young on … Indiana wore Cleveland down in the fourth quarter, eventually winning 100-82 as five different guys scored in double figures. The Cavs brought the highlights – Alonzo Gee, in particular, had a couple of dunks that might’ve even made Gerald Green jealous – but the Pacers were locked in, holding the hosts to only 37 percent shooting. Kyrie Irving, who told us yesterday that we will probably see him playing the two guard at times this year, again struggled with his shot. He scored 20 but needed 21 shots to get there, and had twice as many turnovers (four) as assists (two). Increased expectations and pressure without an increase in a team’s overall talent usually results in one thing: a decrease in efficiency … In the only other preseason game on the menu, the Warriors bounced back from an embarrassing loss in L.A. to beat Phoenix by 15. Harrison Barnes and David Lee each had 16 points … And a bit of injury news: Grant Hill won’t be seeing the court for at least a few weeks. An MRI revealed the 40-year-old has a bone bruise on his right knee. As long as Matt Barnes continues to play his ass off, no one will miss Hill … We’re out like Ibaka three-pointers.
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