The NBA has finally returned and after the first few days every team is back in action. Bodies are fresh, players are coming back from injuries and almost everyone is optimistic. The state of the NBA is full of hope.
Unfortunately for many, the NBA is a long season and those great aspirations can be quickly turned around due to injury or just misplaced expectations.
Before the season starts predictions are always fun, but there is nothing to base them off of. Now the games are back and we actually have an indicator of how things might go this season.
Realistically there is no way to identify how good a team or player can be after only playing a game or two, but for all those who do it, it’s fun and it’s not going to stop anytime soon. You have to watch closely, but the first few games will reveal something about how the year may end up.
Here are the top five things learned from the first few days of this NBA season.
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Durant will finally grab his first MVP
Kevin Durant dropped 42 points against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night, forecasting that another scoring title is in his future. To be fair, the Utah Jazz aren’t exactly the most menacing team to face, even at home, but Durant looks to be in midseason form one game into the year. And without Russell Westbrook active for a few more weeks, Durant will be having a lot more high scoring games in the near future.
The thing that has plagued Durant his whole career is coming up second-best, every time to LeBron James. He made it the Finals but lost to LeBron. He’s finished second on ESPN’s NBA Rank the past two years and he’s been voted second in the MVP voting three three different seasons, behind LeBron each time. This finishing second thing has to be killing him.
So, what does Durant do? Opens up the season with a 42-point performance, trying to prove to everyone that he isn’t going to play second fiddle anymore. He didn’t have the highest shooting efficiency, but seems to be scoring on all different kinds of shots, particularly the one-legged fadeaway. This may not be the year Durant wins his first championship, but it will be the year he grabs the MVP.
Leading an Oklahoma City team that has really improved much in the past couple of years, the 6-9 forward will drive them to the top of the Western Conference. The show he put on during Wednesday night’s opener was just the opening act of what is to come the rest of the season. Even if Westbrook comes back better than he was last year, this will still be Durant’s team as he will lead them to the best record in the West, while winning his fourth scoring title and more importantly getting the coveted MVP trophy.
Dwight Howard is back
The 2012-2013 Dwight Howard is gone and the new and improved superstar center has settled down in Houston. Howard grabbed 26 boards, the most in a season opener since the merger, while scoring 17 points on Wednesday. For most of the game, Howard looked like a man among boys, putting up shots over the defenders with ease and out-hustling everyone for the rebound. Dwight Howard looks better than ever.
There are two possible explanations for this and why this high-level play will be sustained throughout the year. The first being that his injury is gone. Howard looked more mobile Wednesday night and the back pains that bothered him last season look non-existent. The second is the Rockets have opened up more space for Howard to operate. Having shooters on the perimeter and guards who can create plays by themselves will give Howard more freedom inside the paint.
One of the big question marks about Dwight playing in Houston is how well he and Omer Asik can coexist. Both of them started in the opener and no problems seem to have occurred in the game. In fact, Asik and Howard gathered 40 combined rebounds in their first game together. So far, he seems like a great fit for Houston as their style of play allows him to be the dominant center that he should be.
MCW is for real
There was a lot of doubt pointed toward Michael Carter-Williams going into the season. On one end he was put on a team that many believe its main goal is to tank and on the other end he is taking the spot that was once occupied by an All-Star point guard in Jrue Holiday. But MCW didn’t care as he turned a lot of heads in his NBA debut on Wednesday.
His stat line was Oscar Robertson-esque with 22 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and nine steals against the world champion Miami Heat. If you watched this kid at Syracuse you would know how versatile he is, but having it translate so well to the NBA is something all 76ers fans can get excited about. His 6-6 frame will give him great vision of the court, while his lanky arms will bother opposing players.
MCW also shut up those who critique his shooting as he knocked down four triples and shot 60 percent from the field. Now I don’t think Carter-Williams will be posting ungodly numbers every night, but I expect him to lead all rookie guards in rebounds, assists and steals. In the future, MCW may be the second coming of Jason Kidd in terms of triple-doubles – not skill, I’m not that bold. He has the vision, the size, smarts and athleticism to get it done. Michael Carter-Williams is for real.
The Central Division will be the most competitive division
All five teams in the Central Division have a realistic chance of making the playoffs this year. This doesn’t mean that division is great because the sixth through 15th teams in the Eastern Conference are mediocre, but it does mean there will be many exciting and meaningful games.
First, let me breakdown how plausible this is. The one through five seeds will be Miami, Chicago, Indiana, Brooklyn and New York. Whatever order you want to put them in, those will be the top five teams. That leaves three playoff spots and two of the top five are occupied by Central Division teams. Milwaukee, Cleveland and Detroit have a very real chance of being in those last three spots.
Most have Detroit making the playoffs with the strong big men presence of Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. They proved that they will be a force among the bottom part of the playoff picture after their strong performance against Washington. The frontcourt combined to score 55 points and pull down 29 rebounds. With Chauncey Billups back and Brandon Jennings controlling the tempo, the Pistons will be back in the playoffs, likely as the sixth seed.
That leaves Milwaukee and Cleveland to fill the seventh and eighth seeds. Milwaukee made the playoffs last season and they aren’t really that much worse. Sure they lost Jennings and Monta Ellis, but with that, they also lost two of the biggest ball hogs in the NBA. This will open up for more team play. Also, with the additions of Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo and Caron Butler, the Bucks have a serious chance of grabbing one of the bottom two seeds.
Although I picked Washington over Cleveland to make the playoffs, the Cavaliers have a legitimate shot of sneaking into the playoffs for the first time since LeBron left. If Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao and Andrew Bynum can all manage to stay healthy through most of the season, especially at the end, then Cavs fans should prepare to see their beloved team back in the playoffs. That is a big “if,” which is why I chose the Wizards. But a duo of Bynum and Uncle Drew would definitely heat things up in the final weeks of the year as playoff positioning is on the line.
Doc Rivers is brilliant anywhere he goes
The Clippers were hit with a dose of reality on Tuesday night after being run off the court by the Lakers’ bench in the first game of the season. The Clippers, who are expected to be at the top of the Western Conference this year, were defeated by the team they share the same arena with. New coach Doc Rivers completely understood the situation and took advantage of his team’s loss to help motivate and push their play to a higher level.
“It’s a good lesson for us,” Rivers told the media. “The good thing is we have 81 more games. The bad thing is everyone is going to play us that way. When you’re anointed before doing it, people are going to attack you and we’re going to have to get used it. We’re going to have to get used to that energy every night, because people are going to play you like you’ve won something.”
Doc understood the loss completely and let the rest of the league, including his team, know that they will be ready for it next time. Having a coach who can identify your circumstance and let you know what needs to be done is crucial. Identifying the problem is the first step to fixing it. So Rivers let everyone know that the Clippers are being “anointed” and that they have to come prepared to face everyone’s best game. He let his team know what he wants and he also let other teams know that he understands their gameplan.
Last night, the Clippers responded with a strong and physical game against the Golden State Warriors. The intensity was high as a first-half scuffle between DeAndre Jordan and Andrew Bogut would indicate. Chris Paul showed up with a strong performance, posting 42 points, 15 assists and five steals. Beating the Warriors, a much stronger team than the Lakers, shows that Doc has his team under control and that they are ready to make a statement in the West. With Rivers as the head coach, the ceiling for the Clippers has only gotten higher.
What did you learn from the NBA’s first two nights?
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