The Dallas Mavericks celebrated their 2011 NBA title with a spectacular ring ceremony and unveiling of the team’s first championship banner on Christmas Day. Then, they got their bell rung by a Miami Heat squad that looks extremely motivated and primed for a huge run in 2012. Here are five observations from opening day in the NBA:
LEBRON, HEAT LOOK SCARY GOOD
You never kick a man when he’s down and that’s what everyone in the basketball world did when LeBron James melted down in the 2011 NBA Finals. LeBron went into the offseason with one thing in mind: have more fun. It’s a simple approach but it could mean a world of difference for the two-time MVP because he simply didn’t do a good job of playing the role of villain. LeBron admitted he wasn’t himself last season and vowed to return to his old self by . . . smiling and joking more.
Micky Arison and Pat Riley were all smiles on Christmas Day after watching LeBron go for 37 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in the Heat’s 105-94 demolition of the Mavericks, spoiling Dallas’ championship banner day. The Heat have all their main parts intact, with some key additions in rookie point guard Norris Cole and reliable forward Shane Battier, and Dwyane Wade and LeBron appear to be in midseason form already. Both promised to post up more this season and they delivered in a big way in the opener, punishing the Mavs in the paint.
MAVERICKS HAVE SOME WORK TO DO
Entering the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season, the Mavs will have a brand new look. Tyson Chandler is off to New York, reliable backup point guard J.J. Barea (who absolutely killed the Lakers) is now in Minnesota, forward Caron Butler is now an L.A. Clipper, and sharp-shooter Peja Stojakovic has retired.
The Mavericks did add Vince Carter and Delonte West, and stole Lamar Odom from the Lakers. But one game into their season as defending champions, Carter was exposed on defense and Odom hasn’t gotten over the fact that he’s no longer a Laker. The Mavericks are a work in progress and will take time adjusting to their new pieces. The biggest difference is in the middle as Brendan Haywood proved he is not Tyson Chandler, especially on the defensive end where Chandler made his money last season.
NEVER COUNT OUT KOBE AND THE LAKERS
We already know about Kobe Bryant’s legendary pain threshold, having endure many, many injuries in the past only to overcome them all and thrive. But he took it a step further in the opener against the Chicago Bulls when he started the game and showed little effects of a torn ligament in his right wrist. Medical experts predicted such an injury required a 3-4 week rest period, but Bryant completely destroyed that recommendation. Just another chapter in the ever growing legend of Kobe Bryant.
Bryant finished with 28 points against the Bulls and his jump shot looked good. OK, so he did have eight turnovers and none bigger than the miscue with 16 seconds left in the game that allowed Derrick Rose to nail the game-winner. But in terms of the wrist and the chronic knee problems he’s had in the past, Kobe looked refreshed and was active on the court, especially on defense where new coach Mike Brown will have his most influence on this team.
The Lakers may have lost in the opener but they came away feeling pretty good considering Kobe was supposed to be out four weeks and starting center Andrew Bynum is serving a four-game suspension. The Bulls had the best record in the East last season and they were extremely lucky to leave Staples Center with a one-point win.
OKLAHOMA CITY IS LOCKED IN AND LOADED
After a disappointing loss in the Western Conference finals last season, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and the rest of the young and lively Thunder have been itching to get back on the court flying across the country and seemingly playing in every exhibition game possible.
The 66-game lockout-shortened season is tail0rmade for a team such as Oklahoma City because the core of the team stayed intact and it’ll get a full season with Kendrick Perkins as the man in the middle. Perkins may be limited offensively but his defense is top notch, as he proved Sunday night against the Orlando Magic when he frustrated Dwight Howard to just three points in the second half and 11 total points.
Durant poured in a game-high 30 points while Harden and Westbrook combined for 35 points. The emergence of Harden as a bonafide producer off the bench will be huge because that affords coach Scott Brooks to sit either Durant or Westbrook without missing a beat. Look for the Thunder to grab the No. 1 seed in the West.
NO QUIT IN THE CELTICS
Put a hold on that 401K plan for Kevin Garnett and Co. because the Boston Celtics are not ready to collect their severance package. Despite a roster full of guys on the other side of 30 years old, the Celtics gave the New York Knicks and their much-publicized frontcourt of Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler all they can handle in a 106-104 close win for New York. The Celtics can still defend and have added a little more scoring punch with the addition of Brandon Bass and Marquis Daniels.
Bass had the first 20-point, 10-rebound game of his career and he is an upgrade from “Big Baby” Davis. Daniels gives coach Doc Rivers more flexibility because he can play shooting guard or small forward. Once Paul Pierce returns from his heel injury, the Celtics will have a solid seven-man rotation. If Rajon Rondo, who had 31 points and 13 assists in the opener, can become more of a consistent offensive threat Boston will challenge the Bulls, Knicks and Heat for the best record in the East.