Updated: Nov. 2, 2006, 8:40 PM ET

Taking a few open shots

Wednesday night showed why "experts" and fans all can have their opinions in the preseason, but once the games are played, new variables suddenly appear that throw predictions into the fire.

The game is played with a round ball, but twists and turns like it's played with a football. Twenty-six teams were in action Wednesday, and armed with three TVs and two DVRs, I planned on catching a solid glimpse of most of them.

Thankfully, the Knicks allowed the baby Grizz to mount a fourth-quarter comeback, giving me ample time to catch this thriller between the early and late games. I saw lots of bad shots everywhere -- not a surprise as teams are still configuring their offenses. I saw a few guys still complaining too much.

But what I saw mostly was players competing their butts off. It may be a long season, but these guys worked and sacrificed to win -- and that made for some compelling drama. Here's 38 points from the games . . .

1. I love Jameer Nelson. But he does struggle to guard against bigger, offensive-minded guys.

2. Dwight Howard reminds me more of Shaq than anyone else. He is simply bigger and more agile than the other guys -- an impossible combination to deal with. He is going to destroy people this season, and for seasons to come.

3. Grant Hill has shockingly good quickness -- still. He was able to cut off an isolated Ben Gordon off the dribble and force a pass. Few guys can do that. If he can keep that up, Orlando gets really good right away.

4. Atlanta looks like a team that has no identity. They ran some nice sets, but had no purpose to their action, unlike the Lakers Tuesday night, who ran their triangle offense vs. the Suns but focused on getting the ball into the paint. The Hawks played with no such purpose -- not getting the ball inside, not attacking gaps, nothing.

5. Josh Smith is as one-handed as Lamar Odom without nearly the savvy. He is easy to guard, and provides little beyond a spectacular dunk or block.

6. The Hawks have no chance to even be competitive unless they run their offense through Joe Johnson, who looks like just another guy instead of the superstar he should be.

7. Sarunas Jasikevicius has tremendous court vision. And is a winner. Rick Carlisle seems to have a better feel for how to use him. I liked him playing with Jamaal Tinsley and Marquis Daniels -- three playmakers with versatile games.

8. Refs are still not seeing a lot of traveling off triple threat jab moves, and they're calling clean but quick first-step travels, but I did see them call a lane violation on a free throw. That is progress. So is their attention to the pivot foot of an offensive player. They will get more accurate with time.

9. Emeka Okafor plays more below the rim than he used to. He must not be 100 percent.

10. Minnesota ran nothing for Kevin Garnett early, yet looked OK offensively. It would be a new and improved twist to ride KG in winning time rather than early and late. They actually had nice balance throughout the game.

11. Mark Blount looks like KG is offering him a personal bonus if he just plays with passion. He's always been a player who could never do that with consistency, but needed a player to reach him, not a coach. KG could be the right guy.

12. Okafor takes hooks and finger rolls in spots that Howard takes the rim down with power dunks. Okafor will be a nice post player for seasons to come, Howard will be an MVP candidate in that same run.

13. I hate to pile it on the Knicks and Isiah, but he played Renaldo Balkman some minutes at the 4. There is no possible scenario to explain drafting him in round 1 as a 3/4 when he couldn't even start for a non-NCAA tournament team at either spot. There were a number of guys available who could have played for Isiah Wednesday night in place of Balkman and been much better.

14. I loved seeing Memphis posting up Rudy Gay. He can score in lots of ways, but needs his coach to set him up to take full advantage of his talent.

15. Eddy Curry still looks heavy, but he worked hard at changing ends and the glass. There's hope for him yet.

16. Memo to all NBA players: stop trying to take Ron Artest off the dribble. Posting him isn't too smart either. You'll get a bucket on occasion, but your percentages will be low. He is all arms and muscle on D.

17. If you want to know what a fundamentally sound shot looks like, with repsect to the flight of the ball, watch Ben Gordon. It only looks like it is shot too high because most of the players shoot too flat.

18. Al Harrington's mohawk is just wrong. He must have lost a bet.

19. Too many players are not showing any discipline on defense. Specifically, they help on dribble drives when they are guarding a more dangerous scoring threat. That's one reason why there are so many kick-out 3's.

20. Craig Smith looks to be another undersized 4 that will find a place in the league. He's strong and smart, and has a good feel too. Think Reggie Evans with a better face-up game.

21. Damon Jones was an incredibly clutch 3-point shooter for the Heat two seasons ago. He can provide the same kind of lift for the Cavs if they give him the chance.

22. A healthy Troy Hudson is going to be a big help to the Wolves. He can run their team down the stretch and let Mike James look to score.

23. Memphis has some young guys who can really play and move. Pau is going to be surrounded by some studs. Their comeback against a melting Knicks team was inspiring to watch.

24. Jerry West told me last week that Gay has dazzled him in training camp. He is almost too talented. If they take their time with him, he will be their franchise guy -- he can literally do it all.

25. How did David Lee fall to pick 30 last season?

26. Watching Jamal Crawford is like watching a horror movie. You spend much of the time with your hands over your eyes, get an occasional thrill, and scream a lot.

27. Mike Bibby cannot be a team leader when he's getting two technicals and an ejection as his team is down six, with plenty of time remaining. It killed the Kings.

28. Hakim Warrick is finding out he can really play -- and Mike Fratello has realized it too. Forget about position, just put him out there.

29. I like the new additions to the Lakers. They can all make plays without scoring and the whole team is making an effort to defend.

30. Chris Kaman would score a lot more points on another team.

31. Amare looked much better in Game 2. Back-to-back games are good for building his timing.

32. Force yourself to watch some Seattle games this season -- Ray Allen is just a beautiful player to watch.

33. Brandon Roy is so polished -- looks like a veteran already. Gay has more upside, Roy is a sure thing.

34. Elton Brand makes me say "wow" all the time. He's almost Karl Malone great.

35. If you love basketball, and I know you do, you'll start praying now that Rudy Gay does not grow up to be Tim Thomas.

36. Vladimir Radmanovic is quite a deft passer. His looks from the high post to the weakside cutters are sweet, and necessary for the triangle to flow.

37. Monta Ellis has the blank stare of someone who does not realize what is happening around him. But don't be fooled by looks -- dude has game and will be a force in time.

38. How about Anthony Parker and Shammond Williams coming back to the NBA from Europe and playing well? Get used to this type of thing. Think of Europe as a supercharged version of Triple A baseball.

David Thorpe is the executive director of the Pro Training Center in Clearwater, Fla., where he works as a personal coach for Udonis Haslem, Kevin Martin and other NBA players.

• Talk back to the The Daily Dime gang

• Dimes past: November 1

Dancing With The Knicks
Knicks now
Joe Murphy/Getty Images
That appears to be Nate Robinson in the middle, rockin' on with his bad self as the Knicks prepared to take on the Grizzlies. New York won in three OTs, 118-117.


Observation Deck: News From Cooz


• Celtics great Bob Cousy, on the mike in Boston's opener, described the play of his former team: "I've seen pretty much what I saw briefly in the exhibition season. It's just guys run up and down the floor. No offensive cohesion whatsoever.

"Everything is one-on-one moves in the half-court. And the alleged transition game that we were supposed to see, I haven't seen develop either. Occasionally they've run, and I think that's when they've looked halfway decent a couple of times. There's a lot of work to be done here."

• Ammo! How 'bout that nothing-but-net turnaround bomb Adam Morrison hit to end his first NBA quarter?

• In the first half of the Magic's dissection of the Bulls, it's hard to say which Orlando player is looking better -- former superstar Grant Hill or future superstar Dwight Howard.

• Nellie Ball is fabulous in theory. But Golden State's 18-for-42 first-half shooting performance, including 0-for-9 from downtown, means the Don is not all-powerful yet.

• One of the most common questions we get in chats, including our chats today, is "Why doesn't the media respect the Pistons?" After Detroit's embarrassing home loss to the Bucks, I think the question now is, "Why don't the Bucks respect the Pistons?" The Bucks scored 70 points in the paint, owing no doubt to the departure of Ben Wallace.

Michael Redd outscored Rasheed Wallace 37-0. Sheed did, however, lead the game in technical fouls (two) and ejections (one).

• When nobody was looking, the Blazers came from behind for a road win vs. the Seattle/Oklahoma City Sonics. And if Kyle Lowry or Gay of Memphis wasn't the Rookie of the Night, then Portland's Brandon Roy was.

-- Royce Webb

• I love Lamar Odom. He can score, rebound, pass ... he has a way of taking over games and still keeping his teammates involved. I hope Kobe's been taking notes from the trainer's room.

Andrew Bynum has 18 on opening night ... then Ronny Turiaf has 23 in the next game ... that would never happen with Kobe Bryant on the floor.

• Jazz point guard Deron Williams was excellent down the stretch for the Jazz last season. He was even better in the preseason and had a great debut Wednesday against the Rockets. Just goes to show you that the Hawks may have passed on two franchise-type point guards in last season's draft. Meanwhile the Hawks' answer at point, Speedy Claxton, has three points and zero assists on opening night.

-- Chad Ford



The LeBron Effect

The Cavaliers defeated the Wizards 97-94 and held Gilbert Arenas without a point until late in the third quarter (after he shot 0-for-5 from the floor during the first half). Over the past two seasons, Arenas played only one game in which he failed to score a point in the first half.

Cleveland has won consecutive season openers for the first time since winning three in a row from 1986-87 through 1988-89. That was the only time in Cavaliers franchise history that they won their season opener in three straight seasons.

Elias Says




Smiles Ahead

LeBron James had his usual 26 points and 10 rebounds in a 97-94 win over the Wiz. Larry Hughes, who had 27 points, showed why the Cavaliers brought him on board last season.

See rematch of exciting playoff series



Mo' Better
Al Harrington
Streeter Lecka/NBAE/Getty Images
Al Harrington's rockin' the mohawk, but his return to the Pacers did not stand out as much (eight points, nine boards) in a 106-99 season-opening win over the Bobcats.


Extreme Behavior
Quentin Richardson

Wednesday's Best
Knicks guard Quentin Richardson: Redd and Hughes were both huge, but this award must go to the Knicks out of mercy for their recent suffering. In 56 minutes of action, Q made 10-of-13 shots en route to 31 points. Had nine boards, too. The Knicks are 1-0!

Shaq

Wednesday's Worst
Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace: Not a good harbinger of things to come. Sheed's protests earned him two Ts under the NBA's crackdown on begging to differ. Bye Sheed. Zero points in 23 minutes as Pistons absorb 105-97 loss in opener at home.

Quote of the Day
"I didn't want to give him a dunk. I wasn't trying to flagrant foul him. I was trying to go for the ball. He plays above the rim, but I was just trying to stop a fast break. I wasn't trying to hurt him."
-- Pacers forward Danny Granger, after hurting Bobcats forward Gerald Wallace, who left in the second quarter with dizziness, neck and back injuries after he hit his head on the floor.

See how all 260 who played stacked up

-- Andrew Ayres



Marc Stein's Rank Comments

If my Power Rankings are back on a weekly basis, you know what that means.

So, too, are Rank Comments.

It's one of the readers' favorites: Five (or so) responses to the latest edition of the rankings as culled from my mailbag .

Joe (San Jose): Being a Warriors fan and seeing your playoff prediction and No. 10 ranking for my team. I just want to say that I love you. The Warriors never get respect like this and I really hope this doesn't cost you your job.

Committee's counter: Guess we have a place to stay in San Jose if we ever need it.

Andres (Parts Unknown): Not sure I understand why you moved the Rockets down from where they were in the Training Camp edition of the rankings. You had them at No. 9. Now they're at No. 12 even though they had a reasonable preseason and no one is injured. And you wrote quite a positive article about them recently. Why would you move them down? You probably know something else we don't . . . which scares me a little bit.

Committee's counter: No need to be so paranoid, Andres. They dropped because Bonzi Wells is injured and because they started the season without having a single look at their top four players on the floor at the same time in game conditions.

Joe (West Lafayette, Ind.): HA! One game into the season and already your rankings are wildly incorrect! Look for more of this from Miami throughout the season.

Committee's counter: Anyone else think the Heat lost by 42 on purpose on Opening Night just to sabotage the committee that was so hard on them last season?

Erik (Chapel Hill): I like how you went out on a limb a little for teams like the Hornets and Warriors. But one small issue: Your comment about the Blazers maybe not winning enough games to make Brandon Roy a viable ROY candidate was very odd. A guy like Chris Paul who instantly makes his team better is the exception to the rule. Check out some recent ROYs: Emeka Okafor (18-64 record), Pau Gasol (23-59), Elton Brand (17-65). They didn't exactly come from stellar teams. And I don't see another Chris Paul in this draft class. I'm not saying Roy will definitely win, but I don't think team record should be a huge factor.

Committee's counter: Didn't know they had an NBA reference section in the North Carolina campus library.

Jason (Centerville, Utah): I just wanted to thank you and most of the other ESPN writers for not being high on the Lakers. That's all the motivation Kobe needs.

Committee's counter: I don't know where Centerville is, but we share your confidence that No. 24 has the Power Rankings bookmarked on his laptop.



Winning Equation

Shawn (Houston): Healthy Timmy D, Tony P and Manu + No extended playoff season last year + no international ball = a well rested, very hungry Spurs team...and you picked the Suns to win it all...what gives Buc?

Ric Bucher: Glad you asked. As good as TD looks, both Manu and Parker played international ball, so the idea that they're all fresh is wrong. Overall, I just believe the game is really geared toward teams who can score in a multitude of ways and have athletes to defend. With Big Shot Rob falling off his game, I'm just not convinced they have enough dead-eye perimeter scorers or interior defense. Horry's length created problems that playing Bruce Bowen at 4 will not.

Ric Bucher: Keep in mind with all prognostications: we're watching the game change before our very eyes. The precepts for winning championships are not the same. You can have a mediocre defense and win a title, but you have to have a great offense. It used to be the other way around. Now where the scales fall between O and D, that's what we're going to learn this season.

Joe (Mpls, MN): Do you see the level of play increasing league-wide with what seems to be an influx of seasoned college players?

Ric Bucher: I must be in a snarky mood today.

Let's dispense with the idea that staying in college helps anyone learn the fundamentals. It doesn't. Did you see Andrew Bynum Tuesday night? Do you know of another 19-year-old in college who has the footwork and touch he has? He got a lot of that from working with pro coaches and pro competition in practice. Or DHoward?

Yeah, his game has really suffered by not going to college. The whole idea that going to college teaches guys the game is a joke. Guys who want to know the finer points of the game develop them, be they on a campus or in the D League or HealthSouth. They actually have more time and opportunity to do so as a pro than they do in college.

What you see are guys who you have to pay $75 to see play who are still learning how to play and whose flaws are exposed by the NBA's intense competition. Flaws that aren't exposed at the college level because the comp, night in and night out, just isn't good enough and you're not paying as much to watch, so you're not as incensed by the errors.

What is wrong with me today? It's the first day of the season and I'm ranting.

See the full Ric Bucher chat Insider



The Chase Of 61 Underway
• The NBA's 61st season got started with two games on Tuesday night, but its first season began with a single game 60 years ago Wednesday night. (The league was then known as the Basketball Association of America; the NBA name was adopted in 1949 after admitting several teams that had formerly played in the National Basketball League.)

• On Friday, Nov. 1, 1946, the New York Knickerbockers (as they were then unfailingly known) defeated the Toronto Huskies, 68-66, at Maple Leaf Gardens. Toronto's Ed Sadowski was game's high scorer with 18 points, while Leo Gottlieb led New York with 14 points.

• The Knicks and the Celtics are the only teams that have represented the same city in each of the NBA's 61 seasons. The Huskies, meanwhile, lasted just a single season in the BAA.

-- ESPN Research

 

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