By John Hollinger
ATLANTA -- It hasn't been hard for Atlanta Hawks observers to find bad news in recent times, and Tuesday night was no exception.
After a moving tribute to fallen teammate Jason Collier, the Hawks stayed winless by losing their "home" debut in front of a mostly pro-Laker crowd, blowing a double-digit lead by giving up "at least 20 layups" in the estimation of coach Mike Woodson.
The 103-97 final score was pure window dressing -- L.A. went up by 16 in the fourth before the Zen Master called off the dogs. Plus, adding insult to injury, the scoreboard stopped working early in the second quarter and the P.A. announcer spent most of the night calling out the time left on the shot clock.
Want more? I've got plenty. No. 2 overall pick Marvin Williams looks so lost he's been named an honorary passenger on Oceanic Airways flight 815, and needed a post-game pep talk from Roy Williams. Second-year forwards Josh Childress and Josh Smith both seem to have taken a step back from promising rookie seasons -- they combined for five field goals and six turnovers.
And with the death of Collier and an injury to Tony Delk, the club is stretched so thin that Al Harrington had to play center in the first half when Zaza Pachulia encountered early foul trouble ... and then guard Kobe Bryant in the second half while Joe Johnson and Childress grabbed a breather.
But we knew this team had problems from the get-go -- it didn't lose 69 games last year for nothing. So instead, let's focus on the one piece of good news -- the play of Joe Johnson. Now that Woodson has mothballed the idea of playing Johnson at the point, Atlanta is finally getting some return on its $70 million investment. On Tuesday, Johnson delivered his best game as a Hawk, scoring a season-high 26 points on 11-of-20 shooting.
It was a far cry from the preseason and the first two regular-season games, when Johnson labored to get the ball across halfcourt against quicker point guards. Matched up against players his own size, Johnson looked much more comfortable. "The two gives me more freelance opportunities," said Johnson. "I can make more plays not just for my teammates, but for myself too."
He should get plenty more opportunities to do so. With the struggles of the two Joshes and Williams, the Hawks' need at off guard is much greater than it is at the point. Thus, for the few Hawks fans in the Philips Arena crowd, Johnson's play at the shooting guard spot was the one silver lining in an otherwise dreary home opener.
AP Photo/A.J. Wolfe
Grizzlies forward Shane Battier was nearly perfect (9-10 FG) in his shooting in Tuesday's 94-69 win over the Sonics. Think Damien Wilkins, left, knew Battier became the Grizz all-time steals leader?
Jeff Van Gundy might not have as much to manage as his brother in Miami, but the Houston Rockets' coach has been busy already.
A bad back has robbed him of Tracy McGrady for an estimated three weeks, and the Rockets promptly lost their first game without T-Mac at home to New Orleans. Van Gundy's team, as a result, is suddenly searching for some offensive self-belief with only one half of its 1-2 punch available, when it was already struggling to integrate newcomer Stromile Swift as Yao Ming's new frontcourt sidekick.
Swift's slow start -- he's backing up Juwan Howard -- would suggest that the Rockets now have two newcomers to monitor closely, with plenty of skeptics also questioning the recent acquisition of point guard Rafer Alston from Toronto.
Van Gundy, though, responds to questions about Alston's well-chronicled volatility by describing him as -- get this -- a kindred spirit.
"I can certainly empathize with Rafer," Van Gundy said. "My intensity is my greatest strength, and sometimes it's my biggest weakness."
Referring to his own outspoken nature, specifically the refereeing rant in last year's first-round series with Dallas that cost him a record $100,000 fine, Van Gundy added: "I'm Rafer ... sometimes.
"Am I going to say that at some point he's not going to 'lose it,' " Van Gundy said, gesturing to provide his own quote marks. "Shoot. Me, too. Join the crowd."
Van Gundy did have the benefit of entering his relationship with Alston with a detailed scouting report from brother Stan, who coached Alston in Miami and helped the New York City playground legend establish himself in the NBA.
"I'd be shocked if it wasn't a good fit," Jeff Van Gundy said. "I was not scared at all by [Alston's reputation]."
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AP Photo/Darren Hauck
Warriors guard Jason Richardson brings home the message to the Bucks: you are no longer undefeated. Richardson pulled (or threw) down 14 boards, while Baron Davis dished 15 assists in the 110-103 road win.
Quote of the Night
Jack (Ohio): Is Sarunas ever going to play enough defense to be a fixture in the Pacers' rotation?
Marc Stein: I think so, yes, but I'm also on the board of his fan club. Actually I expect the Pacers' team defenders (Artest and JO) to be able to cover for him. They didn't sign him to sit him, but moving to the NBA after a lifetime in Europe is an adjustment, even for someone as good as Jasikevicius.
Kobe Bryant scored 37 points in the Lakers' 103-97 victory in Atlanta. Bryant has scored at least 30 points in all four Lakers games this season. The last player to start an NBA season with four consecutive games of 30 or more points was Michael Jordan in 1986 (6 games).
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Just how are the Rockets going to manage without Tracy McGrady (back spasms) for the next three weeks? If Tuesday's 76-74 loss to the Magic is any indication, they'll really struggle to score the ball. Houston had absolutely no success replacing McGrady's point production, putting up its lowest point total since Jan. 2005. Last season Houston averaged 95 points per game. If you subtract McGrady's 25 ppg, you get 70 . . . about what the Rockets scored against the Magic on Tuesday.
There simply aren't any 25 ppg scorers sitting on Jeff Van Gundy's bench. Ryan Bowen, who has a career 3 ppg scoring average, is starting in McGrady's spot. Bobby Sura is fighting a knee injury. Derek Anderson, Jon Barry and David Wesley are role players and limited in what they can do. This team's offense is totally dependant on Yao Ming's inside game and Tracy McGrady's outside game. And while McGrady can score without Yao in the game, Yao has trouble scoring without McGrady. Teams can double Yao without the threat of a kick out to McGrady spotting up behind the arc.
Since it is unlikely the Rockets can score 95 points without McGrady, they'll have to dial up the defense and try to win some games in the 70s. Hold down the score and hold down the fort until T-Mac comes back. McGrady will travel with the team on their five-game road trip that starts at Miami on Thursday and the Rockets are hoping that he can return to the lineup before they return to Houston on Friday Nov. 18.
-- Will Perdue, from Houston
Kobe's strong start punctuated last night's five games. Here's a look at the top performances, by position. Judging by the numbers, looks like a lot of doughnut performances (no center) turned in for several teams.