Justin Termine recaps the first week of the NBA season.

The first week of the NBA season is complete, and after watching as many games as possible my argument against scaling back both games and minutes is has become even more passionate – how could you actually want less of this?

As of Monday morning, four teams (Heat, Grizzlies, Warriors and Rockets) have still yet to lose, and four teams (Lakers, Pistons, Magic and Sixers) have yet to win. In addition to getting an early feel on who will thrive and who will struggle, we’ve learned a lot more. Here’s what:

Maybe LeBron and David Blatt have a point

All throughout the offseason and preseason, LeBron and Blatt have preached that there’s plenty of work to do, and casting the Cavaliers as the favorite is unfair. LeBron has said that the Bulls are better “at this point” and “the Cavs are not as good as the Heat were when they first came together,” while Blatt said, “Anybody talking about us winning it all, I think they’re being unfair to those great NBA teams that are out there that have either won it or have been there to win it, and also to us as a team that’s talented but new.”

On Thursday night we got a sense of what they were talking about.  The city of Cleveland was awesome, but the team not so much. After being made out to be the ’86 Celtics, the Cavs fell at home in their opener to a Knicks team coming off an embarrassing loss the night before in New York to the Bulls.

All the issues we warned about proved true, as Cleveland’s lack of depth, defense and chemistry were all on display. The Cavs bench was outscored 41-12, their defense allowed the Knicks to shoot 54 percent one day after the Bulls held them to 36 percent, and LeBron and his teammates couldn’t get on the same page as he turned the ball over eight times.

The good news: Miami also started out with a loss in their opener back in 2010 (albeit to a Celtics team with Garnett, Pierce, Allen and Rondo, not the Knicks), and started out 9-8 before regrouping and going on to win 58 games along with a trip the Finals. And let’s be honest, LeBron won’t play much worse than he did in the opener. His 17 points on 5-for-15 shooting (including 1-for-9 from outside the paint) along with four assists and eight turnovers was the first time he put up such a line in his career. This as the Cavs were minus-13 with him on the floor, and a plus-8 with him off.  That’ll change quickly, and in fact did the following night when he put up 36 in a win over the Bulls in Chicago.

The Cavs aren’t ready to win now. But they should be come April. A title is a fair expectation regardless of what Blatt or LeBron want to tell you.

The curse of the beard

With the Curse of the Bambino over, this may be our next curse to start with a “B”…

Ever since the Thunder dealt James Harden to Houston, it’s been a comedy of injuries. It began during the 2013 playoffs by losing Russell Westbrook, then continued last year with Serge Ibaka going down in the playoffs, Kevin Durant suffering a Jones Fracture in his foot this preseason, and then Westbrook going down again, just two games into the season with a broken hand. All this in addition to Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson, Anthony Morrow, Kendrick Perkins and Mitch McGary all battling injuries.

First of all, this sucks for Westbrook, and fans of Westbrook, of which I am one. I may not always agree with his decision-making, but it’s hard to dislike a guy with his passion. Mateen Cleaves and I covered the Thunder during our Training Camp Tour and got to know him even a little better. He’s a great kid with a great personality, and was very giving of his time.  You root for guys like that.

Now for the facts.

Luckily for the Thunder, their November schedule isn’t too difficult:

Opponent Date
@ Brooklyn Nov. 3
@ Toronto Nov. 4
vs. Memphis Nov. 7
vs. Sacramento Nov. 9
@ Milwaukee Nov. 11
@ Boston Nov. 12
vs. Detroit Nov. 14
vs. Houston Nov. 16
@ Utah Nov. 18
@Denver Nov. 19
vs. Brooklyn Nov. 21
vs. Golden State Nov. 23
vs. Utah Nov. 26
vs. New York Nov. 28

They already picked up a nice win against Denver in their home-opener with just eight players dressed, and of their remaining 14 games in November face just eight teams who made the playoffs last year. If Westbrook returns in mid-December, and Durant just a week or two later, and the Thunder win at the same .720 clip they did last year once they return, they should still be able to make the playoffs regardless of the anticipated slow start to the year. They just need stay within a few games of .500 to give themselves a shot.

Strong words for Chris Paul

I thought I was ready to levy some criticism against Paul on Friday afternoon, but it was nothing compared to Nancy Lieberman. I jumped on Paul for his two missed free throws with 13 seconds remaining in a one-point game on opening night against the Thunder (another late failure for a guy somehow compared to Isiah Thomas, and in this ridiculous case Magic Johnson).  Nancy however, took his conditioning to task:

One thing is for certain: Nancy and I aren’t the only one’s who have jumped on Paul as of late. Kevin Ding of Bleacher report told me Friday this is clearly the year Blake Griffin takes over as the team’s main figure, while adding he thinks Paul’s leadership within the Clippers organization is blown up a little by the media and fan base. This coming as Chris Broussard stated recently, “I’ve talked to a few executives – two in fact who are huge Chris Paul fans in the past and now – but they think he’s lost a little something. They felt like the way he crumbled in Game 5 against Russell Westbrook – they should have won that game – Chris makes two turnovers in the last 13 seconds – they felt like Westbrook’s athleticism overwhelmed Chris.”

I still feel like the Clippers will finish with the best record in the West, but the conditioning, leadership and late-game play of Paul is definitely a story line worth watching over the next several months; especially following a slow start to the year with close wins over bad Thunder and Lakers teams, and loss at home to the Kings.

Some other interesting quotes from around the League:

You know, after seeing Larry Brown’s SMU team in the Final Four this year it was tough to hear those kind of comments … Was he in the Final Four this year? – Sixers CEO Scott O’Neil firing back at former Sixers coach and current SMU coach Larry Brown, who criticized Philadelphia’s approach to rebuilding.

If O’Neil thinks Brown is the only one who feels this way, he’s mistaken. Brown is just one of the few willing to go on the record so strongly. During our Training Camp Tour, other general managers alluded to displeasure with the Sixers tactics on the air, while outright slamming them off it. Danny Ainge called addressing it, “The league’s top priority.” George Karl told us last year he thought what was going on was, “disgusting.”

I, on the otherhand, have no problem with what Philadelphia is doing, because it’s within the rules, and it’s smart. If you can’t win a title as is, and you’re not a free-agent magnet like L.A., New York, or Miami, tanking for a high pick is the best route. It’s how the Spurs built their 15-plus year dynasty when they held out David Robinson in order for a shot at Tim Duncan.

Just know, the league wants this addressed, as do other teams. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have voted on an overhaul, and other GMs wouldn’t be ripping it off the record.

This is probably one of the biggest sporting events that is up there ever. – LeBron James on the Cavaliers’ home opener against the Knicks.

Maybe more absurd than “Not one, not two, etc.,” and, “I’m taking my talents to South Beach.”

Thursday’s game was a tremendous event for Cleveland, and well deserved, but this wasn’t even the biggest sporting event of the week. There was a Game 7 in baseball the night before. LebBon’s played five NBA Finals and multiple game sevens. This paled in comparison.

It’s fantastic … That’s the game. That’s all part of the game. Elbows are a part of the game. Trash-talking is part of the game. I don’t know where the NBA became so sensitive. It’s all part of it.” – Kobe Bryant following his opening night “disagreement” with Dwight Howard.

Amen.  But’s it’s not just the NBA that’s become sensitive; it’s the world. With Byron Scott and Kevin McHale sitting on the sidelines for this one, I remember a day when you weren’t ripped on Twitter as a bad guy because you refused to hug before a game.

When we stopped competing at the end of the third, fourth quarter, we could all tell. – J.R. Smith after the Bulls embarrassed the Knicks at the Garden, 104-80.

That didn’t take long. Just three quarters in the season, at home, the Knicks decided to stop trying. I’m sure that wasn’t the case for everyone in a Knicks uniform, but it’s pretty embarrassing. I ripped J.R. for this, as did my co-host Eddie Johnson. People pay good money, and even if J.R. felt this way, he should have kept it to himself.

I’m always dreaming about that seventh ring. And to get to that would be much more gratifying (than the six he won with the Bulls). –  Michael Jordan on trying with a title with the Hornets as an owner.

I find this just a little hard to believe.

Quick observations:

  • The Rockets are off to a nice start, but Patrick Beverly’s strained hamstring and Dwight’s knee contusion expose their biggest issue: As Kevin McHale told me, “I lost three of the seven guys I trusted from last year.” That’s why I don’t have Houston in the playoffs despite a 3-0 start.  In addition, let’s hold off until they play someone other than the Lakers, Jazz and Celtics. The cupcake schedule continues Monday as they face the Sixers.
  • Derrick Rose combined for 57 points in his final two preseason games, and looked like the old Rose in the first half of the Bulls’ loss to the Cavs on Friday. But he sat out the four quarter and overtime with a sprained ankle, and then again the night after against the Timberwolves. Who cares how good he plays, if he doesn’t play? Bill Walton is one of the 10 most talented players ever, but there’s 300 other guys throughout history I’d choose to start a team with first. If you can’t get out on the floor, it just doesn’t matter.
  • Chris Bosh looks nothing like the Chris Bosh of last year’s NBA Finals. So far he’s averaging 25.7 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. On opening night, he went for 28 and 15, his 19th such game of at least 25 and 15 in his career, and the first time he did it as a member of the Heat. You can rip him all you want for his constant talking over the last few weeks, but he’s backing it up. He may just be a better player, at least stats-wise, without LeBron.
  • A perfect example of why back-to-back’s need to be eliminated: The Suns overcame a 15-point deficit against the Spurs on Friday, only to lose the following night to the lowly Jazz by 27.
  • Their record may not show it, but the Timberwolves have played some nice basketball through three games: A win over the already dreadful Pistons in between tight losses on the road to the Grizzlies and at home to the Bulls.
  • Defense wins championships, but you also have to be able to put the ball in the basket just a little. The Celtics may have the best perimeter defense in the league with Avery Bradley, Rajon Rondo and Marcus Smart, but they shot 1-for-25 from three on Saturday in Houston. It was the first time in NBA history a team took at least 25 threes and made one or fewer.
  • This season was supposed to be about two things in LA.. for the Lakers: watch Kobe make history, and develop Julius Randle. With Randle’s injury, it’s now all about how high Kobe can climb on the all-time scoring list (and just as importantly on ESPN’s rankings).
  • One more Lakers note: Who would have thought in the mid-80’s there’d be 30 teams in the NBA and the Lakers, Celtics and Sixers would arguably be the three worst?

This week on NBA Today:

The commissioner, Adam Silver, stops by on Tuesday, and Tyreke Evans of the Pelicans on Wednesday.

NBA POWER RANKINGS (THROUGH 11/2/14)

Rank (LW) Team
1 (1) San Antonio Spurs
2 (5) Golden State Warriors
3 (4) Cleveland Cavaliers
4 (2) Chicago Bulls
T-5 (3) Los Angeles Clippers
T-5 (9) Dallas Mavericks
7 (8) Memphis Grizzlies
8 (10) Houston Rockets
9 (17) Miami Heat
10 (12) Phoenix Suns
11 (6) Portland Trail Blazers
12 (11) Toronto Raptors
13 (16) New Orleans Pelicans
14 (13) Washington Wizards
15 (15) Atlanta Hawks
T-16 (14) Charlotte Hornets
T-16 (22) Sacramento Kings
T-16 (20) New York Knicks
19 (7) Oklahoma City Thunder
20 (18) Denver Nuggets
21 (19) Brooklyn Nets
22 (24) Minnesota Timberwolves
23 (25) Utah Jazz
24 (28) Boston Celtics
25 (21) Detroit Pistons
26 (23) Indiana Pacers
27 (26) Milwaukee Bucks
28 (29) Orlando Magic
29 (27) Los Angeles Lakers
30 (30) Philadelphia 76ers

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