Those of us (and you) that are basketball junkies, this day couldn’t have come fast enough – the first day of pre-season.
While pre-season means nothing in the course of things, it gives people a chance to debut their skills as the incoming rookie draft class. It also is the first opportunity to see how well the new free agents mesh with new systems and teammates. And lastly, we get to look at how new head coaches start to implement their systems.
While all eyes are on L.A. – as in the Lakers, and in Paul George’s exorbitant, unearned and tepidly deserved contract – Tom Thibodeau started the 2020-21 season off right, as did his rookie. John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins were like peas and carrots in their Houston debut, but a rookie from Iowa State, drafted by Orlando, may have stolen the night, along with a wily veteran that the Houston Rockets never gave a chance to …
Orlando Magic 116
Atlanta Hawks 112
It was business as usual in State Farm Arena last night, with Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier leading the way for the Magic in their win, while the Hawks lost again – an all-too-familiar feeling.
Trae Young shot a meager .222 in his 22 minutes of action, while newcomers Rajon Rondo, Kris Dunn, and Tony Snell did not play. Clint Capela hit for eight points and 14 rebounds as the starter, while John Collins and Cam Reddish had nice nights with 14 and 13 points, respectively. Newcomer Danilo Gallinari had a nice 20 minute debut in the loss.
Aaron Gordon, oft rumored to be on the trade block for Orlando, had 12 points on the night. Markelle Fultz and Michael Carter-Williams finished with 10 apiece. Fultz had three rebounds and four assists, while MCW added five rebounds, three assists, and two blocks.
The Magic outshot the Hawks in their own crib, 45 percent to 37 percent. These two teams meet again on Sunday night.
18 points – 11 rebounds – four assists – one steal – one block
18 points – three rebounds – one block
14 points – two rebounds – one assist – two steals
14 points – nine rebounds – one assist – two steals – one block
13 points – one rebound – two assists – two steals – one block
14 points – four rebounds – one steal – one block
Orlando at Atlanta – Sunday, 5 p.m. EST
New York Knicks 90
Detroit Pistons 84
Head coach Tom Thibodeau started out the pre-season on a good note, utilizing his existing veterans and working first round draft pick Obi Toppin into the rotation to produce a feel-good first win for Knicks fans who have been thirsting for some excitement for the last two decades.
R.J. Barrett and Julius Randle picked up where they left off last season, providing the consistency that Thibs needs to transition in, while rookie Toppin proved to be the real deal, adding 11 and seven in his NBA debut. Knicks fans are gonna love this kid. Nerlens Noel, over from the Oklahoma City Thunder, was solid in his N.Y. debut with 10 points, eight rebounds, one assist, one steal, and two blocks.
Detroit struggled to get running on all cylinders, playing all but five of their pre-season roster last night, including LiAngelo Ball getting the DNP. Villanova rookie Saddiq Bey led the way, while Pistons holdover Svi Mykhailiuk matched Bey’s 14 point output. Derrick Rose, nearly forgotten on the pre-season lineup, added 10 points in 18 minutes of play. Blake Griffin went nine and seven in the loss.
New York shot 45 percent on the road, while the home team Pistons could only muster 32 percent. They both meet here again on Sunday.
15 points – five rebounds – two assists
14 points – two rebounds – one assist – one steal – one block
11 points – eight rebounds – six assists – two steals
14 points – two rebounds – three steals
11 points – seven rebounds – one assist – one block
10 points – two assists
New York at Detroit – Sunday, 7 p.m. EST
Houston Rockets 125
Chicago Bulls 104
While the game of ‘Where’s Waldo?’ wrapped with James Harden finally reporting to the Rockets’ training camp, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins reunited for the first time since their days together at the University of Kentucky – and it looked as though they hadn’t missed a step. Which is important, since both are coming off of injuries that lasted over a year without a competitive game of basketball.
While Bruno Caboclo, Gerald Green, and Eric Gordon carried their parts of the load, Wall and Cousins assisted in covering up the team’s dysfunctions and disruptions by adding 13, five, nine and two from Wall, and Cousins chipping in 14, five, two, two, and two in their starting roles. Wall’s leg looked strong in 18 minutes of play, and Boogie played 14 minutes. Ben McLemore added 10, two, and one off the bench.
Noah Vonleh had a dozen off the bench, back in Chicago after a couple of years away. Zach LaVine and rookie draft pick Patrick Williams also had 12 points apiece, as the Bulls didn’t shoot as poorly as the final score would indicate. In an ode to Harden (maybe?), the Rockets simply just put up 19 more shots. Tomas Satoransky came off the bench for 11 points on 60 percent shooting. Only Vonleh and Lauri Markkanen shot better.
Both teams are back at it in Chicago on Sunday night.
17 points – seven rebounds – one assist – one steal – three blocks
15 points – one rebound – six assists
16 points – five rebounds – one block
13 points – five rebounds – one assist – two steals – one block
16 points – one rebound – three assists
12 points – eight rebounds – one block
Houston at Chicago – Sunday, 8 p.m. EST
Los Angeles Clippers 81
Los Angeles Lakers 87
In my not-so-humble opinion, the Los Angeles Lakers quietly got the best free agent acquisition of the shortened off-season, when they lured Montrezl Harrell from one locker room of the Staples Center to the other. And Harrell didn’t prove me or the Lakers wrong last night, hitting the first double double of the 2020-21 (pre-)season with 13 points and 12 rebounds, and a monstrous dunk.
But the story – at least last night – was Iowa State rookie Talen Horton-Tucker, who led the Lakers’ win with an impressive line – 19 points, nine rebounds, four assists, three steals. I love ya, Kyle Kuzma, but ya boy put up better numbers than you AND damned more impressive than anyone on the opposing team, including the guy who just got a $226 million dollar raise.
It’s Hollywood, so everyone wearing anything with a Clippers logo got some playing time from new head coach Tyronn Lue. (Sorry, Clipper Darrell, but you know you’ve already made the team more than most of these guys). The clip on social media this morning of Paul George breaking some kid’s ankles on the playground was more impressive than his 2020-21 debut last night.
While it’s commendable that Lue believes everyone outside of Jay Scrubb and Marcus Morris got a chance to play and score last night, coaching isn’t throwing the macaroni at the wall and seeing what sticks, not even in pre-season. For what it’s worth, rookie Daniel Oturu had the same stat line as perennial All Star and NBA champion Serge Ibaka did – do with that what you will.
But this brother-to-brother rivalry for bragging rights to the bigger room in the same house looks like it’s falling to the Lakers once again. If for no other reason, because they stole ‘Trez.
Round Two is Sunday night. Same ‘Trez Time. Same ‘Trez Channel.
10 points – two rebounds – one assist
19 points – nine rebounds – four assists – three steals
Seven points – five rebounds – one assist – two blocks
18 points – two rebounds – five assists
Seven points – three rebounds – two assists – one block
13 points – 12 rebounds – two assists – two steals
Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers – Sunday, 8:30 p.m. EST
Sacramento Kings 102
Portland Trailblazers 127
I hope the Houston Rockets are paying attention to what Carmelo Anthony did, lacing them up as a Portland Trailblazers in 2019-20, because after what I saw last night, it’s about to get even better in 2020-21.
Buddy Hield may have led all scorers, but Anthony put together one of his most solid games since being waived by Houston and given a second life by Portland. His 21 points led the way for the Blazers in the Moda Center last night, while former Sacramento King Harry Giles lit his old squad up for the second double double of the night (behind Montrezl Harrell – see above), taking the pressure off Portland’s dynamic duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, who combined for 33 points, five rebounds and 10 assists to contribute to the runaway win.
It didn’t hurt that the Blazers scored 71 points in the first half of play.
Sacramento was led by Hield’s 23 points, starting and playing 23 minutes last night after coming off the bench much of last season. Harrison Barnes’ 16 was impressive as he was inconsistent at best last season, and De’Aaron Fox’s 10 points was a little paltry for a guy who signed the rookie max extension in the offseason. But, in an all-too-familiar tale, those three were the only ones in double digit scoring once again for the Kings, who can’t even earn a paper crown from their local BK franchise. Losing Giles hurt, obviously. The kid was languishing in that system and broke out last night.
These two teams resume play in Portland on Sunday night.
23 points – one assist – one steal
21 points – four rebounds – two assists – one block
16 points – four rebounds – three assists – three steals
18 points – 14 rebounds – one assist – three steals – two blocks
10 points – three rebounds – six assists – one steal
18 points – four rebounds – five assists – one steal – one block
Sacramento at Portland – Sunday, 9 p.m. EST
Tracy Graven is the Senior NBA Analyst for BackSportsPage.com.
He has written the NBA, and done NBA radio, for the last two-plus decades for HoopsWorld, Swish Magazine, and HoopsHype, the Coach Scott Fields Show and NBARadioShow.com, and is also tackling the NFL, NCAA, and will be pinch-hitting on some Major League Baseball coverage for BackSportsPage.
He’s spent 20 years in locker rooms in
- Boise (G League)
- San Antonio
- Oklahoma City
A corporate trainer by day, he currently resides in SEC Country near Knoxville, Tennessee.
Reach him on Twitter at @RealTMoneyMedia