The Score, the Key Stat, the Bottom Line: Action Packed FridayFriday night's action featured several close contests and perhaps the most watched regular season game in NBA history. Here are some things that caught my attention.
The Score: Houston 104, Milwaukee 88
The Key Stat: Perhaps 250 million people in China tuned in to check out the Yao-Yi matchup; Yao Ming finished with 28 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots, while Yi Jianlian had 19 points and nine rebounds.
The Bottom Line: Tracy McGrady had an excellent game (21 points, eight rebounds, eight assists) for the 5-1 Rockets, who have already have posted wins over each of last year's Western Conference finalists, the San Antonio Spurs and the Utah Jazz. If Yao and McGrady stay healthy then Houston is a legitimate championship contender.
The Score: Cleveland 93, Sacramento 91
The Key Stat: LeBron James scored 19 of his 26 points in the second half, including Cleveland's final seven points in the last 1:49.
The Bottom Line: Cleveland's winning formula is simple: defend and rebound every night and rely on James to be the best player on the court most nights. The first two parts of the equation are easy to overlook but they are the reason that this team will be in almost every game at the end, which gives James the opportunity to take over down the stretch. Cleveland held Sacramento to .400 field goal shooting and outrebounded the Kings 49-41. Even though Cleveland also did not shoot well (.380), the Cavaliers kept the game close, enabling James to seize control with one burst. Just as impressive as his late scoring, though, is that James played excellent defense to thwart Kevin Martin's attempt to nail a tying jumper as time ran out.
The Score: Utah 103, Seattle 101
The Key Stat: Kevin Durant finished with 21 points but he shot just 7-21 from the field and had four of his shots blocked. He shot 1-8 from three point range and only had one assist. Durant attempted 103 shots in the first five games of his career, the fifth highest total since the 1976-77 NBA-ABA merger and the ninth highest total of all-time.
The Bottom Line: Durant had a chance to tie the game in the waning seconds but he went up with a soft, double-clutch shot that Andrei Kirilenko swatted away to preserve the win. I have no problem with people praising Durant's brief college career or mentioning that he has a lot of talent but what I don't understand is the rush to crown him as a "sensation" and as a shoo-in to be Rookie of the Year. Why can't we simply let his performance dictate the accolades that he gets instead of writing the storyline before the games are played? Maybe Durant is the best rookie but that is certainly not a slam dunk--which is what he should have tried on the last play, ensuring that he either scored or drew a foul.
The Score: Denver 118, Washington 92
The Key Stat: Denver shot .511 from the field and held Washington to .383 shooting. Gilbert Arenas finished with 18 points, four assists, four steals and four turnovers, shooting 5-13 from the field (including 2-8 from three point range). He had the worst plus/minus score (-16) among Washington's starters.
The Bottom Line: Denver missed three alley-oops in one quarter, committed so many miscues that Coach George Karl quipped that he would mix the game film in with Abbott and Costello outtakes--and the Nuggets still won by 26 points. The Wizards are 0-5, the worst start for the franchise since 1966, when the team was known as the Baltimore Bullets. Washington Coach Eddie Jordan offered this take on the carnage: "We just weren't disciplined. We didn't stay organized. We didn't rebound. We didn't share the ball. We didn't execute. It's one of the most disappointing games I've been involved in." Other than rebounding, every shortcoming that Jordan listed is largely the responsibility of the point guard--the one and only Agent Zero. I realize that Arenas is not completely healthy at the moment but there is a lot of truth to the old school credo that you can play hurt but you can't play injured. If Arenas is just hurting a little, then he needs to stop talking about it and find a way to play better; if he is truly injured to the extent that this is really the best that he can play right now, then maybe he should shut things down until he is healthier. I don't know how badly Arenas is hurt; all I know is that his performance right now is hurting his team.
The Score: L.A. Lakers 107, Minnesota 93
The Key Stat: Lamar Odom had 18 points, 10 rebounds and a game-high +22 plus/minus score in his 2007-08 debut.
The Bottom Line: Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 30 points on 9-19 shooting. He also had seven rebounds, seven assists and four steals. Lakers' big men Andrew Bynum (10 points, 10 rebounds), Chris Mihm (10 points, 10 rebounds) and Ronny Turiaf (11 points, two rebounds, three assists, two blocked shots) had productive games, a crucial element that was missing for the Lakers for most of last season. Derek Fisher (11 points, nine assists) continues to provide steady point guard play. Al Jefferson (24 points, 15 rebounds) was the lone bright spot for the winless Timberwolves.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:01 AM