DimeMag

5 NBA Questions That Still Need Answers

Basketball is back and all is right with the world once again.

It has been an intriguing first week of basketball to say the least. You have the Miami Heat beating the Chicago Bulls and then losing to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Los Angeles Lakers actually beating the L.A. Clippers. Kevin Durant scoring 42. Kevin Love hitting clutch three-pointers. Stephen Curry hitting nine threes. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin hooking up for three alley-oops in less than a minute. Derrick Rose hitting a game-winner.

All of this occurred in the span of three days. This is why basketball reigns supreme; there is always something happening on any given night. In the first few days of the 2013-14 season, we have already been treated to more excitement and unbelievable results than possibly imagined.

It sure didn’t take long for players to get their legs back under them as we already have two 40-point games and a couple other games of players scoring at least 30, not to mention that we have also seen a 26-rebound game, a 15-assist game and a nine-steal game.

Let me remind you one more time: This is all just in the regular season. None of these stats came from the preseason. Think these guys were a little more than fired up to get back on the court?

Because so many players have come out of the gate fired up, it leaves even more questions worth answering since we don’t exactly recognize the true identities of some of these players. Is Michael Carter-Williams going for near quadruple-doubles every night? Is Xavier Henry averaging nearly 20 points the rest of the way? Doubtful.

[RELATED: 5 Things We’ve Learned So Far From The NBA Season]

It’ll take some time before players settle down and consistently play as we expect them to. At the moment, however, it seems that every last player in the NBA has been on edge to get the season started, possibly because we haven’t seen the league this stacked in awhile.

Look out West and you have six legitimate title contenders. Look out East and you have four, as well as the high possibility that there will be some respectable teams claiming residence in the low seeds, which hasn’t been the case recently with teams like the 38-44 Milwaukee Bucks making it last year and getting swept.

Everybody is gunning for that number one spot. Nobody except the boys in Miami want the Heat to win a third consecutive title, which would effectively convince the masses the Heat has created a dynasty.

Before we begin analyzing that deep into the season, we’ll take a look at a few questions that are still in need of answering, and may not be answered until much later in the year.

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How exactly are the Heat going to handle Dwyane Wade this season?
One of the items that was shadowed amid their stunning 114-110 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was the Miami Heat sitting Dwyane Wade on the second night of a back-to-back. Wade played in the team’s season opening victory against the Chicago Bulls the night before, finishing with 13 points and three assists in 36 minutes.

Is it safe to say he was missed against Philadelphia? Roger Mason, Jr. started in his place in his Heat debut, but managed only three points on 1-of-3 shooting, two turnovers and two assists in 15 minutes. Wade was a 63 percent shooter in four games against Philadelphia last year.

Whether or not the Heat would have won had he played isn’t the story. Instead, it’s what the Heat are going to do with Dwyane Wade throughout the season. Is sitting him on such nights as the second night of a back-to-back going to be a recurring event?

Dwyane’s DNP last night was attributed to “sore knees.” Wade is still recovering from a knee injury he sustained late in last year’s regular season that ailed him throughout the Heat’s championship run. He admitted that he did not step back onto the court until August following the conclusion of the season, resulting in only four preseason games played.

It has been left up in the air as to how the Heat were going to address Wade’s injury, but Wednesday night’s contest might have shown what they have in store. However, there’s still a significant chance the Heat sat Wade on the second night of a back-to-back because why risk an injury in a game Miami should have won.

Plus, Wade is yet to be in the condition that would have him playing upwards of 36 minutes every night. The coaching staff deciding to sit Wade could either be a temporary thing as he recovers from his injuries from last season or it could be a permanent dealing all year where Dwyane is sitting out certain games. The Heat could care less about breaking the record mark of 72 wins set by the Chicago Bulls in 1996, having taken a relaxed approach to certain stretches of the regular season the past three years. It’s not until midseason where the Heat begin to exhibit an effort reminiscent of the postseason.

Miami will need a healthy Dwyane Wade for the postseason. He’s limped into the past two NBA Finals and the Heat were able to pull through thanks to their MVP, timely shooting and a little bit of luck, but that won’t be enough this season if they expect to get through the likes of Chicago, Indiana and Brooklyn. And that’s just the East. The L.A. Clippers, San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder could be waiting out West.

It’s far too early to see how delicately the Heat approach this situation. It won’t be until far later in the season, after Wade recovers from his knee injury, when we see the coaching staff either keep playing him as they have his whole career or they attempt to keep him rested for the games that really matter.

Are the Chicago Bulls legitimate contenders?
Yes, Derrick Rose is not nearly himself. Well, he is in certain ways, such as when he hit that teardrop game-winner over the outstretched hands of Tyson Chandler in a win over New York. That was more like the Derrick Rose we know.

But the player outside of that one shot isn’t Derrick Rose. After two games, Rose is averaging 15 points on 29 percent shooting, 4.5 turnovers, 3.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. There’s still a long way to go for Rose to become the MVP-caliber player he was in 2011.

It’s a long season, though, so Rose will eventually make his actual return to elite status. Chicago will just need to continue being reliant on its defense, as was the case against New York, before D-Rose returns to form.

However, there are holes on this team that few analysts are mentioning. With Rose returning, a lot of people assumed that this team was suddenly a championship contender again, especially since they only lost in five games to the Miami Heat. There are a couple games in that series that like to be brought up, but not much attention is paid to Chicago’s 37-point loss in Game 2 and their 23-point loss in Game 4.

Sure, the Bulls get Rose back, but they lost out on the players who may have provided the boost to make Chicago contenders. With no Nate Robinson or Richard Hamilton or Marco Belinelli, all of whom departed over the offseason, the Bulls are suddenly devoid of significant threats from the perimeter.

Chicago must now rely on the likes of Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng and Mike Dunleavy to make their threes. Derrick Rose has improved his three-point stroke, but its a gradual improvement from as low as 22 percent in his rookie season to as high as 33 percent back in 2011. He shot 31 percent in 39 games in 2012.

Hinrich (38 percent from three for his career) and Mike Dunleavy (37 percent) are essentially the only reliable perimeter threats on this Bulls team, and that may not be long with the high possibility a defensive liability in Dunleavy is pushed out of the rotation.

In fact, the entire Bulls bench in general isn’t near what it used to be. Since 2011, they have lost Kyle Korver, Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson and Nate Robinson, among others. Their current rotation now features Hinrich, Dunleavy, Taj Gibson and Nazr Mohammed.

If Chicago wants to go elsewhere? They could use rookie Tony Snell, 38-year-old Mike James, Erik Murphy and 20-year-old Marquis Teague. This not a deep team, and it’s not even close to resembling the Bench Mob the Bulls had in 2011 when they were a serious threat to win the title.

Perhaps around midseason we’ll get to see the D-Rose that won an MVP and brought Chicago to its first Eastern Conference Finals in over a decade. However, how deep they go in the postseason depends on how hard coach Tom Thibodeau runs this team in the regular season.

The Bulls have prided themselves on dominating in the regular season. This time around, however, they’re going to need to rest their starting lineup as much as possible for the long haul of the postseason, since it’s clear the bench does not carry the same clout it has in previous seasons.

Should we be terrified of what the Golden State Warriors are capable of?
Be honest. When you saw Klay Thompson drop 38 points on the Los Angeles Lakers in the Golden State Warriors season-opener, you were petrified of what this team is capable of if their shooters are on.

What’s even scarier is that it’s a rare night when the Warriors backcourt of Thompson and Stephen Curry isn’t on. Even in their 126-115 loss to the L.A. Clippers, there was Steph dropping 38 points and converting nine of his 14 three-pointers. Had he committed half of his 11 turnovers on the night, the Warriors probably would have pulled through.

Curry was his usual unconscious self. Nothing has been lost over the offseason. He’s still knocking down one of the most lethal shots in the game with his pull-up jumper and still pulling up for threes in transition on 3-on-1 fastbreaks because to Curry, they are the equivalent of a layup that’s worth an extra point.

Thompson was quieter in the second game, only scoring 10 points but only taking seven shots, but the heights he and Curry can lift this team up to is staggering. This is arguably the greatest shooting backcourt in the history of the NBA, according to Doc Rivers.

But there’s so much more to this Warriors team than just two of the league’s top shooters. Also inhabiting this team is the potential key to a championship run in Andrew Bogut, who went off for 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting against the Clippers.

The Warriors missed having a healthy Bogut for last year’s playoff run, although they still did get 6.2 points and 11.5 rebounds from him in the series with the San Antonio Spurs. Nevertheless, he hardly was the same center who was arguably a top five caliber big man at a point in his career.

Golden State will need Bogut for a postseason run. With Dwight Howard in Houston or Marc Gasol in Memphis or Tim Duncan in San Antonio also looking to make a run at representing the West, it’ll be imperative to the Warriors to have Bogut healthy, starting, and playing 30 minutes of his brand of basketball. Also, less reliance on Festus Ezeli and Jermaine O’Neal, which is good.

It’s also of great importance that Bogut and the rest of this team is healthy because they can’t be bailed out by the bench like they were last year. With Jarrett Jack in Cleveland and Carl Landry in Sacramento, the Warriors quietly lost out on two of the league’s better bench players in the offseason.

Those two combined to average 24 points, nine rebounds and seven assists per game off the bench for Golden State last season. Their replacements are Marreese Speights and Toney Douglas. It’s quite the drop-off, but it was necessary to drop those deals if it meant adding versatile forward Andre Iguodala to the mix.

Iguodala gives the Warriors another reason to run, bolsters the starting lineup for battle on both sides of the court, strengthens the bench by sending Harrison Barnes to it, and can help the team in too many ways, as was the case against the Clippers when he recorded a team-high 11 assists to go along with 14 points and four rebounds.

As long as this team is healthy, and if Barnes can adjust to coming off the bench and Draymond Green makes a leap, then, absolutely, the Warriors are a team we should be frightened of come May. But these questions won’t be answered anytime soon.

Have the Rockets found Dwight Howard a niche he could thrive in?
If we’re going by sample sizes that are too small and lack legitimacy, then, yes, you can say that Dwight Howard has found a home with the Houston Rockets.

In Howard’s Rockets debut, a game they won by 13, he ended the night with an impressive 17 points on 14 shots, 26 rebounds and two blocks. He actually thrived in a lineup with another purely post player in Omer Asik, who finished with 14 rebounds of his own. Those two alone combined for more rebounds than the Bobcats team.

Or we can take things into perspective and say that it’s only been one game. Against the Charlotte Bobcats. Against a notoriously poor defender in Al Jefferson.

Nevertheless, Howard on the Rockets being paired up with a post defender in Asik and then having pick-and-roll players in Jeremy Lin and James Harden facilitating is a scary prospect.

When Charlotte cut Houston’s lead to four late in the third, it was Harden and Howard who finished with 17 of the Rockets final 24 points to enable a 29-22 fourth quarter edge. These plays keep us awake at night thinking of the possibilities:

Man, look at that spacing! So much more room for activities! Al Jefferson is on an island against Howard since Harden is facilitating and there are three shooters on the floor, leading to Harden getting Howard an easy look at the basket.

As far as the full game goes, Howard received most of his baskets near the rim on either post-ups or tip-ins. Dwight is free for so many looks near the rim because of how able Harden and Lin are at collapsing defenses. Only on the final highlight do you get an instance of a P&R being run by Harden and Howard:

Make sure you remember the mantra, though: It’s only one game. But the numbers indicate this experiment can’t fail.

Howard ranked as the ninth best player in the league in points per possession last year when used as the pick-and-roll man, shooting 80 percent on 103 attempts and averaging 1.29 PPP. He was equally as impressive on the defensive end, and this was on a bad defensive team in the Lakers, allowing players who posted up to convert on only 32 percent of their 100 attempts.

Those numbers get paired up with an astute pick-and-roll player in Asik, ranking 55th last year in PPP as the P&R man, and post-defender, allowing post-up opportunists to shoot only 44 percent.

Although the Rockets still allowed 42 of Charlotte’s 83 points to come in the paint, the rebounding numbers paint an accurate picture of just how devastating a team Houston can be thanks to their towers in the middle. They’ll be a necessity for Houston to stop the likes of Tony Parker or Russell Westbrook or Chris Paul come playoff time.

Are the Lakers as bad as we envisioned?
No Kobe Bryant, no Andrew Bynum, no Dwight Howard, no Metta World Peace. No hope, right?

It sure doesn’t seem like that, yet. The Los Angeles Lakers stunned the NBA community when they pulled off an upset over their in-stadium rivals in the Clippers with a 116-103 win, heralded by Xavier Henry’s 22 points. Believe it or not, it wasn’t Pau Gasol or Steve Nash who won this game, it was the Laker bench.

Out of the six players to come off the pine, five of them scored in double-figures, including Jordan Farmar adding 16, Jodie Meeks hitting three threes to finish with 13, and Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman combining for 22 points on 11-of-18 shooting to go along with 16 rebounds and three blocks.

Los Angeles was promptly brought back down to earth upon their 125-94 loss to the Warriors, but the bench didn’t go down without a fight. This time only four players scored in double-figures, led by Henry’s 14 points on 11 shots. He was supported by Kaman, Farmar and Wesley Johnson also scoring in double-figures.

Henry actually led the Lakers in scoring for a second consecutive night, tying with Jodie Meeks with 14.

Look, this Lakers team isn’t going to shock anybody come postseason time. They’re certainly not championship contenders, but they may not be as bad as they looked on paper. There are few recognizable names, such as starter Shawne Williams, but there are quite a few scrappy players with solid jumpers, as well as those who can make their presence felt around the basket.

Pau Gasol’s still here, too, so let’s not forget that. He’s had back-to-back solid games, going for 15 points and 13 rebounds against the Clippers and 12 points and seven rebounds against the Warriors in only 23 minutes.

Needless to say, the Lakers didn’t make any friends with those who created the schedules. The Clippers and Warriors are tough draws for any team, especially one playing without its star player that will give 25 points every night and keep Nick Young from being Nick Young.

Speaking of Nick Young, he scored 13 points on 3-of-10 shooting in his Laker debut and followed it up with six points on 2-of-9 shooting in his second game. I think Laker fans are beginning to understand why they should have been extremely weary of Young going into the season.

Nevertheless, even amid Young’s desire to never stop shooting under any circumstances, the Lakers have got off to as good a start as you can imagine, and they should be extremely pleased to know that the hodgepodge of players they have on their bench are capable of supporting the starting lineup.

They did more than that in game one; they destroyed their own starting lineup, outscoring them 76-40. They even managed to do it again in game one when they beat the starting lineup again by a score of 52-42. It’s an unexpected boost the Lakers need.

But we can only wonder how long this will go on for. Does Xavier Henry, with career averages of 4.7 points, 1.8 rebounds and 0.5 assists, keep this up? Does Jodie Meeks keep hitting shots throughout the season? Is Wesley Johnson going to play well on a consistent basis?

There’s a lot of uncertainties with this ball club, but they have to be able to rely on their bench for as long as Kobe Bryant is out. Once he returns, the Lakers can send either Young or Meeks or even Steve Blake to the bench.

Until then, appreciate the ride because this is going to be an intriguing, surprising and unpredictable one.

What other questions are you anxious to see answered?

Follow John on Twitter at @JohnFtheheatgod.

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