James Harden Goes Berserk in Houston Debut; Lakers fall to 0-2

As far as scintillating debuts go, James Harden‘s first game with the Rockets fell somewhere between Cam Newton in Carolina and The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. Everything the Rockets could have envisioned when they traded for Harden and inked him to an $80 million deal, he put on display Tuesday: Harden had six rebounds, 12 assists, four steals and a block, and he dropped 37 points in a win over Detroit, shattering the Rockets’ franchise record for most points in a debut … And remember, Harden didn’t play any preseason games with his new team. This was literally his first time playing with Jeremy Lin (12 pts, 8 asts, 4 stls) and Carlos Delfino (15 pts, 5 threes) and Greg Smith (D-League alum who had some big dunks in the second half), but it looked like they’d been ripping up playground runs for years together. Yeah, it was against the Pistons (as ESPN’s Bruce Bowen made extra sure to point out), but right now there’s no doubt Houston has their franchise cornerstone and maybe even got a bargain for that $80 million … The Pistons broadcast was doing the celebrity roll call — which was slim pickings outside of Ndamukong Suh and Kid Rock — when a big dude sitting next to Suh who probably plays for the Detroit Lions started hamming for the camera. But Pistons announcer George Blaha clearly had no idea who the guy was, so after an awkward pause all he could say was, “and the list goes on.” … The sky is falling on the Lakers, who are one loss away from being unable to achieve an 80-win regular season. Panic! Call the National Guard! Fire Mike Brown and trade Pau Gasol! The West Coast dream team fell to 0-2 after last night’s loss in Portland, despite 30 points from Kobe and 33 from Dwight Howard. They also lost Steve Nash, who suffered a shin contusion and left the game with just two points and four assists. You think Derek Fisher is sitting somewhere watching this with an evil grin on his face? … Turnovers helped kill the Lakers in this one (they had 24), but it was more a case of the Blazers simply playing a better game. They had more energy, more speed, they shared the ball more, and it was obvious — just like it was in L.A.’s opener against Dallas — that the Lakers have a big target on their backs and will have teams playing them with the same chip on the shoulder that the defending NBA champions see every night. Rookie PG Damian Lillard put up 23 points and 11 assists for Portland, while Nic Batum had 26 points and three steals and didn’t punch anybody in the nuts … It’s only two games in, and the Lakers are too talented and too experienced not to be in the mix for a title next summer, but right now their problems are the same problems you could’ve predicted before they’d played a preseason game together: The bench is thin, injuries are becoming an issue for an aging starting lineup, and opposing point guards are having little trouble getting into the lane and creating defensive breakdowns. So if you were really paying attention and not getting swept up in the big-name mania, the Lakers are what we thought they were … Keep reading to hear about Anthony Davis’ NBA debut versus Tim Duncan …

Expectations for the Hornets are about one-sixteenth as high as those for the Lakers, and the list in New Orleans is pretty simple: Show some life, be competitive, and make the Anthony Davis pick look good. After Game 1 of 82, it looks like they’ll have no problem hitting those goals. The Hornets gave the Spurs all they could handle in a raucous N.O. arena, and Davis (21 pts, 7 rebs) damn near outplayed Tim Duncan (24 pts, 11 rebs) … The Hornets led by two with two minutes left before Duncan dunked on Roger Mason, got fouled and converted the and-one to put San Antonio on top. Next play, Greivis Vasquez hit Davis with a perfect lob on a perfectly executed pick-and-roll, conjuring memories of Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler to regain the lead. Duncan came back and scored on a putback of his own miss, then Davis soared in for a putback try on the other end and got fouled. He made both free throws for the lead. Duncan then drove the lane and created an opening for Tony Parker to knock down a three, and after Vasquez missed a triple, Duncan sealed the W at the line … Davis made some mistakes and lost Duncan on defense a few times, but he was as good as could’ve been expected for a rookie going against a living legend in his first real game … After the Raptors managed to blow a double-digit lead at home against the Pacers, they found themselves in a tie game with one minute remaining. For two teams that don’t have a defined go-to guy at the moment (given Danny Granger‘s knee injury), this was just what they needed in the season opener to help establish their respective identities. Toronto first went to DeMar DeRozan (who agreed to a $40 million extension earlier in the day), who made a nice spin move but missed a short jumper. Indiana put it in the hands of Paul George, whose pick-and-roll with Dave West (14 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter) led to George Hill missing an open three. But the rebound went out of bounds off Toronto, giving the Pacers another shot. This time Hill held the ball up top with Kyle Lowry (21 pts, 7 rebs, 8 asts, 5 stls) in his shirt, and when it seemed like a play designed for George fell apart, Hill used some judo-style move to hook Lowry’s arm and use his momentum to clear out space for him to drive and hit a Parker-esque floater with two seconds on the clock. On Toronto’s last chance, they went to Andrea Bargnani, who airballed a baseline turnaround … Jonas Valanciunas put up 12 points and 10 boards in his Raptors debut, highlighted by a rugged putback dunk where he swung on the rim and scared several small children. The kid definitely has a street swagger you usually don’t see from European players. He’s gonna be good. But the Raps announcers need to find a better nickname for him than “The Big V” … Toronto has the most diverse crowd in the NBA. In one three-second camera shot, we spotted a Black guy with a blond box-cut fade, a White guy with an awful bright pink cap, one guy with a turban, and another guy who looked like a shrunken version of the villain from 300 wearing an outfit straight from Details … Of course the fans in Philadelphia spent all night booing Andre Iguodala in his return as a member of the Nuggets. How dare he betray them and, um, get traded in the deal that landed the Sixers a franchise center … Iguodala struggled in his Denver debut, finishing with 11 points (5-13 FG), four assists, four turnovers and a team-worst minus-19 on the plus-minus scale. He did have one vintage AI2 steal and acrobatic dunk, but for the most part he looked uncomfortable. Spencer Hawes led Philly to the win with 16 points, 12 boards and five blocks off the bench … Other stat lines from Wednesday: Jamal Crawford scored 29 points and Chris Paul had 12 points, 12 dimes and four steals in the Clippers’ win over Memphis; Mo Williams and Marvin Williams scored 21 apiece as Utah destroyed Dallas on the glass (61-40) and won in a rout; Joakim Noah had 21 points, 10 boards, five steals and three blocks to lead Chicago past Sacramento; and Carl Landry‘s 17 points helped Golden State knock off Phoenix … Getting a good look at the Suns’ new court, it’s very college-like. In fact, it looks almost exactly like Oklahoma State’s court. And to be real, there’s a chance the NCAA’s Cowboys could post more W’s than the Suns this year … We’re out like Kid Rock on the VIP list.

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