I’m not sure how James Harden was even allowed to play since four of his teammates were forced to quarantine for seven days after violating COVID-19 protocols during a private show that might have included sticky money – also unclean.
But, as a result, the Houston Rockets and Portland Trailblazers put on one hell of a show – probably not as good as the private show in Atlanta – but riveting nonetheless.
Earlier in the night, the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, San Antonio Spurs, and Sacramento Kings all went to 2-0.
Atlanta Hawks 122
Memphis Grizzlies 112
Trae Young finally has the help he’s needed for the past couple of seasons, taking the onus off of his young shoulders, and it shows. Playing with a more relaxed approach and a renewed confidence, Young has the Atlanta Hawks off to a promising start, with everyone getting involved and the Hawks generating some buzz in Atlanta.
With all the new faces, he still put the game on his shoulders as he dropped eight points in the waning moments of the game, putting together a game high 36 points to lead the Hawks to their second win in two games. He had 37 in the first game of the season.
Kevin Huerter chipped in 21 points on .667 shooting, including four of five from downtown. De’Andre Hunter finished with 15 and 11, undrafted prospect Nathan Knight of William & Mary had 14 points, and John Collins ended the night with 13 and 10. Newcomer Bogdan Bogdanovic finished with seven and nine, while Danilo Gallinari and six others did not play due to head coach Lloyd Pierce’s shorter rotation.
|HAWKS (2-0) 4th in the East||GRIZZLIES (0-2) 13th in the West|
|Trae Young (.417)|
36 points – three rebounds – nine assists
|Ja Morant (.476)|
28 points – three rebounds – seven assists – one block
|Kevin Huerter (.667)|
21 points – two rebounds – four assists – one steal
|Kyle Anderson (.533)|
20 points – 14 rebounds – one assist – two blocks
|De’Andre Hunter (.455)|
15 points – 11 rebounds – three assists – two blocks
|Dillon Brooks (.348)|
19 points – two rebounds – two assists – two steals – FOULED OUT
Ja Morant led the Grizzlies with 28 points and seven assists, Kyle Anderson finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds, while Dillon Brooks fouled out of the game with 19 points. Jonas Valanciunas added 13 points and 12 rebounds, while it was 10 points from Grayson Allen.
This is the second time in a row that the Hawks have beaten the Grizzlies this month. They split the pre-season 1-1.
Pistons at Hawks – Monday, 7:30 p.m. EST – Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Detroit
Grizzlies at Nets – Monday, 7:30 p.m. EST – Fox Sports Southeast, YES
Oklahoma City Thunder 109
Charlotte Hornets 107
The drafting of Darius Bazley in 2019 is paying off dividends sooner than expected, as the young man from Sharonville, Ohio pestered and taunted LaMelo Ball all night last night en route to another Charlotte Hornets loss, and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first win of the season (if you don’t count the forfeit by the Houston Rockets).
Bazley finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds last night, while Ball finished with 13 and six, shooting .500 from the field and from downtown.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led all scorers with 24 points, seven rebounds, and nine dimes. George Hill was solid with 21 points, while Luguentz Dort matched Bazley’s 15, and Mike Muscala ended the night with 14.
|THUNDER (1-0) 5th in the West||HORNETS (0-2) 10th in the East|
|Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (.400)|
24 points – seven rebounds – nine assists – one block
|Terry Rozier (.333)|
19 points – three rebounds – two assists – two steals – one block
|George Hill (.889)|
21 points – four rebounds – three assists – one steal
|P.J. Washington (.467)|
18 points – eight rebounds – one assist – one steal – three blocks
|Darius Bazley (.583)|
15 points – 10 rebounds – one assist – one steal – two blocks
|Miles Bridges (.625)14 points – six rebounds – one steal – two blocks|
For the Hornets, it was once again Terry Rozier leading the charge, but shooting a miserable 33.3 percent. P.J. Washington added 18 and eight on the night, while Miles Bridges wrapped with 14 and six. Ball got his 13, while Gordon Hayward had a pedestrian 12 points, four rebounds, and seven assists, and Caleb Martin contributed 10 points.
The Thunder were up 13 points with two minutes remaining, before Bridges turned on the burners for three threes, scoring 11 of his 14 in that fervent run. Alas, it wasn’t to be for Charlotte, who fell to 0-2.
Nets at Hornets – Tonight, 7 p.m. EST – Fox Sports Southeast, YES
Jazz at Thunder – Monday, 8 p.m. EST – AT&T Rocky Mountain, Fox Sports Oklahoma
Cleveland Cavaliers 128
Detroit Pistons 119 (2OT)
In one of the two overtime games of the evening, this one was less flashy, but impressively solid by the Cleveland Cavaliers, who’ve folded in years (and lineups) past. This new Cleveland team is exciting and dependable, and it shows that head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has a talent of bringing out the best in people.
For all intents and purposes, this is the same Cavaliers lineup as last season, where they wholly underperformed for the talent on the roster. But you only have to look at the play – and the stat line – of Andre Drummond to see that the mindset on this roster is different.
To shoot 48 of 99 on your opponent’s floor and keep them to 40 percent from the field and 35 percent from the arc is not your typical Cavaliers team.
Collin Sexton led the charge with 32 points on 65.2 percent shooting, while Drummond finished with a beautiful line of 23 points, six rebounds, five assists, four steals, and three blocks. Cedi Osman had 22, Darius Garland was sweet with 21 points and 12 assists, Kevin Love added 15 and nine, and JaVale McGee ended the night with 11 points.
|CAVALIERS (2-0) 6th in the East||PISTONS (0-2) 12th in the East|
|Collin Sexton (.652)|
32 points – two rebounds – three assists – three steals
|Jerami Grant (.643)|
28 points – 10 rebounds – two assists – three blocks
|Andre Drummond (.333)|
23 points – 16 rebounds – five assists – four steals – three blocks
|Blake Griffin (.429)|
26 points – six rebounds – four assists – three steals
|Cedi Osman (.583)|
22 points – four rebounds – one steal
|Delon Wright (.556)|
19 points – six rebounds – four assists – one block
Their play also disrupted Detroit’s players, forcing Blake Griffin into a three point shooter – all of his points in the first half were from downtown, nothing like the explosive dunker inside the paint that we saw when he was in ‘Lob Angeles.’
Griffin ended up with 26 on the night, just behind Jerami Grant’s team leading 28 points and 10 rebounds. Delon Wright added 19 and six, while Derrick Rose had 13, and Svi Mykhailiuk had a dozen.
The Pistons allowed the Cavaliers to score the last eight points in regulation to send it to the first overtime period. They did so by sending Drummond to the line five times, where he was nine of 14 on the night. The Pistons also blew a nine point lead in the first overtime to warrant a second, where Cleveland took over and won.
Sixers at Cavaliers – Tonight, 7:30 p.m. EST – Fox Sports Ohio, NBC Philadelphia
Pistons at Hawks – Monday, 7:3 p.m. EST – Fox Sports Detroit, Fox Sports Southeast
Orlando Magic 130
Washington Wizards 120
Russell Westbrook recorded his second triple double in as many games, but the Washington Wizards fell again, their second time in as many games, and sit at 11th in the early Eastern Conference rankings.
Washington lost this one at the line, where they went 28 times, but could only convert on 15, while Orlando went just as many times (29), but cashed in at 79 percent, accounting for eight of their 10 point final margin.
The loss offsets a game high 39 points from Bradley Beal, who also had seven rebounds and five assists in vain. It also overshadows Westbrook’s 15 point, 15 rebound, 12 assist triple double performance.
Thomas Bryant finished with 19 points, Raul Neto had 11, and Isaac Bonga ended the night with 10. Rookie Deni Avdija had a quiet five point night.
|MAGIC (2-0) 2nd in the East||WIZARDS (0-2) 11th in the East|
|Terence Ross (.643)|
25 points – two rebounds – one assist – two steals
|Bradley Beal (.538)|
39 points – seven rebounds – five assists – two steals
|Nikola Vucevic (.400)|
22 points – 17 rebounds – three assists – two steals
|Thomas Bryant (.727)|
19 points – five rebounds – one assist
|Markelle Fultz (.538)|
21 points – four rebounds – seven assists – one steal
|Russell Westbrook (.316)|
15 points – 15 rebounds – 12 assists – two steals
For Orlando, it was and has always been, consistency from its core.
Terence Ross led the Magic with 25 points, Nikola Vucevic threw in 22 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, while Markelle Fultz continued his evolution of success and growth in Orlando with 21 points and seven assists. Aaron Gordon finished with 15 and nine, and Evan Fournier popped for 13 points on 50 percent shooting.
“This one is on me,” Westbrook said. “For us we didn’t put ourselves in position to win the game, especially myself. Missing easy shots — it wasn’t nothing that they did.” Westbrook shot 31.6 percent and had five turnovers, despite an impressive performance on the defensive glass with 13 rebounds.
Magic at Wizards – Tonight, 7 p.m. EST – Fox Sports Florida, NBC Washington
Philadelphia 76ers 109
New York Knicks 89
The Philadelphia 76ers continued their impressive start, another on the broad and capable shoulders of center Joel Embiid, who led the game with 27 points and 10 rebounds, and helped the Sixers to their second win in as many games.
The win also catapulted head coach Doc Rivers to No. 10 on the list of all time coaching victories, ahead of the legendary Bill Fitch.
Seth Curry and #VFL Tobias Harris each dropped 17 points in the effort, shooting for a combined 62.5 percent in the effort, Ben Simmons hit for 15 points, nine rebounds, and six assists, but might be more praised for his defense, which all but shut down New York’s R.J. Barrett, who finished with just 10 points on 13.3 shooting.
Shake Milton added 10 points off the bench, while Dwight Howard finished with nine and six as a reserve. And this is a team that has yet to see new addition Danny Green get untracked yet.
|SIXERS (2-0) 5th in the East||KNICKS (0-2) 13th in the East|
|Joel Embiid (.500)|
27 points – 10 rebounds – two assists – one steal – one block
|Julius Randle (.733)|
25 points – seven rebounds – three assists – one steal
|Tobias Harris (.500)|
17 points – five rebounds – two assists – two blocks
|Alec Burks (.462)|
22 points – five rebounds – three assists – two steals – one block
|Seth Curry (.750)|
17 points – four rebounds – three assists – one steal
|Mitchell Robinson (.625)|
11 points – nine rebounds – one steal – two blocks
The loss – New York’s second in as many games after an otherwise impressive pre-season run – overshadows solid efforts from Julius Randle, who shot 73 percent for his 25 points, and Alec Burks, who hit for 22 points. Mitchell Robinson finished with 11 and nine, and then there’s Barrett’s 10 points.
No one else on the Knicks roster scored in double digits, despite the coaching staff playing 11 people – Immanuel Quickley wasn’t one of them.
Sixers at Cavaliers – Sunday, 7:30 p.m. EST – Fox Sports Ohio, NBC Philadelphia
Bucks at Knicks – Sunday, 7:30 p.m. EST – Fox Sports Wisconsin, MSG Network
Toronto Raptors 114
San Antonio Spurs 119
A 28-19 collapse in the second quarter of last night’s game doomed the Toronto Raptors, putting the team in a very unfamiliar place – the basement of the Eastern Conference – while the San Antonio Spurs have returned near the top of the Western Conference, a place they’ve comfortably called home in the last two and a half decades.
It was the first time that the Spurs – who missed the playoffs last year for the first time in 23 years – have played at the AT&T Center since March 10th, a day before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the NBA and the world. Now to just get the fans back …
Wins like this will do it, with DeMar DeRozan leading the way with 27 points and eight assists. Patty Mills added 21 points, blistering the nets at an 88.9 percent clip, Lonnie Walker IV added 14, and it was 12 apiece for Keldon Johnson and LaMarcus Aldridge. Dejounte Murray had a low-key triple double with 11 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists.
|RAPTORS (0-2) 15th in the East||SPURS (2-0) 2nd in the West|
|Fred VanVleet (.500)|
27 points – three rebounds – nine assists – one steal
|DeMar DeRozan (.588)|
27 points – five rebounds – eight assists – two steals
|Chris Boucher (.692)|
22 points – 10 rebounds – one assist – seven blocks
|Patty Mills (.889)|
21 points – one rebound – three assists
|Pascal Siakam (.375)|
16 points – 15 rebounds – eight assists – one steal – one block
|Lonnie Walker IV (.429)|
14 points – four rebounds – two assists
Fred VanVleet matched DeRozan’s 27 point effort, as Toronto dropped their second game of the season, causing many message boards to call for the resignation and/or firing of head coach Nick Nurse.
Nurse’s job should be fine as it is only the second game of the season, and it’s not like the Raptors haven’t lost two games in a row before. But the losses of Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol have definitely hurt the Raptors, who only added Alex Len and Aron Baynes to replace them, journeymen at best replacing championship players.
Chris Boucher was solid with his 22 points and 10 rebounds, and went above and beyond with seven blocks, but it wasn’t to be against the Spurs, whose bigs won the rebounding battle, 53-46.
Spurs at Pelicans – Sunday, 7 p.m. EST – Fox Sports New Orleans, Fox Sports Southwest
Raptors at Sixers – Tuesday, 7 p.m. EST – NBC Philadelphia, SportsNet
Indiana Pacers 125
Chicago Bulls 106
Speaking of familiar spots, the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls ended last night’s game in Chicago in their respective places in the standings that they’re accustomed to – and this season looked so promising for the Bulls.
New front office, new coaching staff – same old effort.
The main problem was shooting a meager 37 percent in h\your own house, while playing little defense and allowing the Pacers to hit at a 55 percent rate. Chicago also lost the rebounding, 49-41, and 20 turnovers while Indiana stole the ball 15 times. Worst of all, they dropped a turd of a 15 point third quarter, which the Pacers took full advantage of.
|PACERS (2-0) 3rd in the East||BULLS (0-2) 14th in the East|
|T.J. Warren (.625)|
23 points – six rebounds – three assists
|Zach LaVine (.462)|
17 points – one rebound – two assists – one steal
|Domantas Sabonis (.727)|
22 points – 10 rebounds – 11 assists – one steal – FOULED OUT
|Lauri Markkanen (.429)|
16 points – nine rebounds
|Victor Oladipo (.667)|
22 point – seven rebounds – one assist – two steals
|Coby White (.400)|
12 points – two rebounds – three assists – one block
The top three for Indiana shot a red hot 67.3 percent to bury the Bulls with 67 of the Pacers 125 points. Malcolm Brogdon (18) and Doug McDermott (12) added another 30 to seal the win.
The only Chicago Bull to hit for more than 46.2 percent was Denzel Valentine off the bench with 11 points on .667 shooting. The rest of the team left cow flops on their shot chart … or should it have been call a sh-t chart?
With Stephen Curry on deck tonight and Curry hitting 105 consecutive three pointers in practice at the United Center, it doesn’t look good for Billy Donovan and the Bulls tonight either.
Celtics at Pacers – Sunday, 8 p.m. EST – Fox Sports Indiana, NBC Boston
Warriors at Bulls – Sunday, 8 p.m. EST – NBC Chicago, NBC Bay Area
Minnesota Timberwolves 116
Utah Jazz 111
The Utah Jazz took their first loss at home last night to the surprising Minnesota Timberwolves, who stand atop the Western Conference with Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, and Sacramento Kings.
Yeah, 2020 is still being a petulant bitch, but it favors the Timberwolves, who dropped a 68 point first half on the Jazz, and then coasted to the win through the second half, despite Utah’s efforts to close the gap.
D’Angelo Russell led all scorers with 25 points on a night when Karl-Anthony Towns had an off night shooting just 31.6 percent, tough numbers for a big. Malik Beasley battered the rims for 18 points on the night, matched by No. 1 draft pick Anthony Edwards, who shot 66.7 percent. Towns finished with a modest 16 and 12 on the evening, while Jarrett Culver ended with 14 and six.
|TIMBERWOLVES (2-0) 3rd in the West||JAZZ (1-1) 8th in the West|
|D’Angelo Russell (.429)|
25 points – two rebounds – six assists – one steal
|Jordan Clarkson (.471)|
23 points – three rebounds
|Malik Beasley (.412)|
18 points – six rebounds – one steal
|Donovan Mitchell (.261)|
21 points – two rebounds – five assists – three steals – two blocks
|Anthony Edwards (.667)|
18 points – one rebound – one assist – two steals
|Mike Conley (.462)|
20 points – six rebounds – four assists – one steal
Utah was fueled by Jordan Clarkson, Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley, who combined for 64 points, but shot poorly; Mitchell shot poorer than Towns, only hitting 26.1 percent of his shots. Rudy Gobert contributed 18 points and 17 rebounds, while Joe Ingles added 10. Bojan Bogdanovic shot a horrid 18.8 percent for just nine points.
Towns will match up with fellow University of Kentucky alum Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers tonight. Davis was one of Towns’ predecessors at Kentucky.
Timberwolves at Lakers – Tonight, 10 p.m. EST – Fox Sports North, Spectrum SportsNet
Jazz at Thunder – Monday, 8 p.m. EST – AT&T Rocky Mountain, Fox Sports Oklahoma
Phoenix Suns 103
Sacramento Kings 106
Well look who finally decided to show up to the party for the Phoenix Suns …
After posting single digit scoring totals through pre-season and the first game of the season, Chris Paul finally arrived last night, scoring 22 points and dishing out 12 assists in what would end up to be a Phoenix loss.
To the Sacramento Kings? So much for the Messiah complex.
But I kid Chris. It was nice to see a performance like that from Paul, even if it was in a loss.
Even more impressive are the Kings, who threw up a solid first quarter, and then played enough defense to keep the Suns on the horizon the remainder of the game and capture their second win in as many games.
|SUNS (1-1) 6th in the West||KINGS (2-0) 4th in the West|
|Devin Booker (.476)|
26 points – three rebounds – three assists – one steal
|De’Aaron Fox (.500)|
24 points – four rebounds – seven assists – one steal – two blocks
|Chris Paul (.421)|
22 points – five rebounds – 12 assists – two steals – one block
|Buddy Hield (.286)|
14 points – four rebounds – one steal
|Jae Crowder (.538)|
17 points – eight rebounds – two assists – one steal
|Marvin Bagley III (.500)|
13 points – 11 rebounds – one steal
Devin Booker led all scorers, as he often will do, with 26 points on the night. Jae Crowder finally showed as well, hitting for 17 points and eight rebounds for the Suns. But that was all Phoenix could muster and it simply wasn’t enough. You wish you could have gotten more than nine points out of DeAndre Ayton, but this is a game in which this team got embarrassed on the boards, 56-40, the glaring difference in the game.
De’Aaron Fox was outstanding with his 24 point, four rebound, seven assist performance, but it was the Kings getting to the line in the waning moments of the game that held the Suns off. Five successful free throws in the final two minutes of the game was the difference between Phoenix being 2-0 and Sacramento being 2-0.
Somebody had to fall to 1-1. These two teams go at it again tonight. Let’s see if the Suns learned anything.
Suns at Kings – Tonight, 9 p.m. EST – Fox Sports Arizona, NBC California
Houston Rockets 126
Portland Trailblazers 129 (OT)
So John Wall, Eric Gordon, DeMarcus Cousins, and Mason Jones have to quarantine the next seven games, but James Harden doesn’t have to?
Oh, yeah … “it’s Christmas.”
Adam Silver knows where his honey flows when it comes to revenues and which players draw whatever rating he can get, so he doesn’t penalize Harden.
Well, we wouldn’t have gotten the late night treat between the short-handed Houston Rockets and the desperate-for-a-win Portland Trailblazers last night had Harden been quarantined/suspended/not given the powers that be a gold card from Atlanta for a free night of entertainment at their discretion.
Harden and Portland’s C.J. McCollum instead got into a shootout at the Moda Center that saw the Rockets build – and lose – a 68-58 halftime advantage with a 17 point third quarter, only to come back and tie the game, forcing an overtime period that Portland won by outscoring the Rockets, 15-13.
|ROCKETS (0-1) 11th in the West||TRAILBLAZERS (1-1) 10th in the West|
|James Harden (.545)|
44 points – four rebounds – 17 assists – one steal
|C.J. McCollum (.567)|
44 points – three rebounds – eight assists – one steal
|Christian Wood (.636)|
31 points – 13 rebounds – three assists – one block
|Damian Lillard (.393)|
32 points – five rebounds – nine assists – one steal
|Jae’Sean Tate (.556)|
13 points – four rebounds – two assists – one steal
|Jusuf Nurkic (.455)|
12 points – 11 rebounds – six assists – one block
If you don’t think last night’s game was close enough, the two teams are just as close in the Western Conference standings at Nos. 10 and 11.
In addition to McCollum’s 44, Damian Lillard threw in 32 and center Jusuf Nurkic ended the night with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Enes Kanter finished with 10 and nine, while former Harden teammates Robert Covington and Carmelo Anthony had nine and five, respectively.
For Houston, Christian Wood was impressive with his 31 and 13 evening, while it’s possible that Harden did throw the ball at Jae’Sean Tate as Harden had 17 assists and Tate finished with 13 points. Danuel House, Jr. finished with 11 points, while David Nwaba and Sterling Brown joined in with 10 points apiece.
Harden had designated Portland as one of his preferred trade destinations, but I think the Blazers just sent a message that they’re just fine as constructed.
Rockets at Nuggets – Monday, 9 p.m. EST – Altitude, AT&T Southwest
Blazers at Lakers – Monday, 10 p.m. EST – NBC Northwest, Spectrum SportsNet
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
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