1. For Lakers, No Magic In This Kingdom
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- This felt unusual from the beginning, with the Lakers stepping into a road arena in their traditional home gold jerseys, while the hometown Kings wore their alternate black.
Alternate, all right. It doesn't take a gigantic imagination to picture this game being played in Anaheim, with Chris Paul starting at point guard for the Lakers. But the league wouldn't let the Kings leave Sacramento after last season, and "basketball reasons" resulted in Paul heading to the other team in L.A.
Back in this time line, the Lakers are 0-2, looking upward in the Pacific Division at the likes of the Clippers, the Golden State Warriors and the Sacramento Kings. It was interesting -- cruel, even? -- that Paul seized control down the stretch of the Clippers' opening victory, while the Lakers failed to capture two games that were up for grabs in the fourth quarter. That used to be their defining time. Currently it's their regret.
The Lakers are there for the taking right now, particularly with Andrew Bynum only halfway through his four-game suspension. They'll get another chance for victory No. 1 at home Tuesday against Utah, but it will be their third consecutive game day. Kobe Bryant has played 73 minutes so far and taken 47 shots with that ligament-damaged right wrist. Pau Gasol injured his right shoulder in the first game, struggled to adjust to the protective shirt he wore under his jersey Monday night and missed four of his five shots in the first half.
The Lakers as a whole are struggling to adjust to new coach Mike Brown. The defense looked nothing like the unit that held the Bulls below 90 points in the first game. Bryant said they were "reverting back to old habits" and Brown lamented, "We allowed [the Kings] to go where they wanted in the pick-and-roll game. We were lackadaisical trying to guard it."
The Lakers granted the Kings free entry to the lane, allowed them to shoot 52 percent in the first three quarters, then let them grab six offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter, when they preserved their 100-91 victory.
Brown said the Lakers were "disjointed," due in part to some mix-and-match lineups. Josh McRoberts started at power forward, but was sidelined after Gasol stepped on his left big toe. That caused Brown to resort to combinations such as Metta World Peace at power forward alongside Troy Murphy, Luke Walton, Steve Blake and Matt Barnes.
Barnes went from a DNP-CD in the opening loss to Chicago to seeing 14 minutes of action Monday night, with four points, three rebounds and three blocked shots (two of which came in a sequence that led to a Kings shot-clock violation). That doesn't guarantee he'll take the small forward spot away from Devin Ebanks.
"We've still got some things to figure out," Brown said.
It took them three quarters to get a handle on their offense, when they suddenly started passing better, moving to the right spots and they chopped a 14-point Kings lead down to three. Then the rebounding problems kicked in. We'll see how long this remains a team in transition and how long until the facts that they didn't get Paul and traded away Lamar Odom become an overwhelming reality. At least the Lakers only have to deal with basketball issues. The Kings still haven't resolved their long-term housing situation. The creaky old Power Balance Pavilion (née Arco Arena) lags too far behind the suite-laden, cash-generating behemoths like the Staples Center to allow the Kings to be competitive. The city is still working on getting a financing plan in place for a new building before the March 22 deadline for the Kings to submit another relocation request.
"We're going to get it done," point-guard-turned-Sacramento-Mayor Kevin Johnson said at his courtside seat before the game.
If only it were as simple as, say, beating the Lakers. The Kings had the right formula, starting with Marcus Thornton playing Bryant to a virtual draw (29 points for Bryant, 27 for Thornton on 11 fewer field goal attempts). DeMarcus Cousins showed just enough restraint -- at one point he cocked his fist after tangling with Gasol, but he never threw the punch -- to get 12 points and 11 rebounds. Tyreke Evans cruised into the lane for 20 points.
The Kings rookie guard who was the most efficient wasn't Jimmer Fredette, the heavily hyped 10th pick out of BYU. It was Isaiah Thomas, the final player selected in the draft, who had similar points (six for Fredette, five for Thomas) and assists (three and two) to the Jimmer, but didn't commit any turnovers. The Jimmer got caught in the air a few times and wound up with three turnovers. Interestingly, it was Thomas whom Kings coach Paul Westphal sent back onto the court in the final minute of the game.
Without a doubt, the best sight was Chuck Hayes in uniform, once again giving Gasol problems. Hayes is so unorthodox. He's an undersized big man who is slow and can't jump, yet somehow manages to be effective. He didn't reach double figures in any statistical category Monday except for plus/minus, where he finished plus-11 in 27 minutes. That's Chuck Hayes.
"I'm that guy that if the team needs me to be that rock, that stability, keep us above water, then I'll be that guy," Hayes said.
He was almost forced into retirement before the season, when the Kings announced they had voided his contract because a test showed he had a heart abnormality. Further testing cleared Hayes to play, the Kings re-signed him and there he was, helping his team win its first game.
"It was a test of my character and my faith," Hayes said. "As soon as I got the green light, I was just grateful for a lot of things."
In this case, without a doubt, it beat the alternative.
Dime past: Dec. 25
2. Rookie Rundown: 2011-12 Debuts
Several members of the 2011 rookie class hit the NBA hardwood for the first time Monday. Here's a look at first-game impressions on a few top prospects:
Rubio may have laced the game ball in Minnesota with pixie dust. We're looking into it. Either way, the way Rubio was able to slide the ball through the tiniest of creases in the lane was downright magical. His other numbers aren't great, but every dime got the Target Center hopping.
Fellow NBA newbie Derrick Williams, the No. 2 overall pick in '11, finished with 13 points (on 6-for-14 shooting) and six rebounds.
The top pick's first game as a pro was largely forgettable. Irving, in just his 12th game since leaving St. Patrick (N.J.) High, had just one turnover, but he also totalled just one basket before hitting a meaningless late 3.
The Cavs' Tristan Thompson, meanwhile, did Canada proud: 14 points (on 4-for-6 shooting) and five boards in just 17 minutes.
Walker's first NBA game had a stark resemblance to the ones he churned out at UConn: The Charlotte PG struggled from long range (1-for-7 from 16 feet and out, per HoopData) and in setting up teammates (zero assists that led to makes at the rim), but his impact was evident. Walker, who displayed a command of the floor and the type of poise that carried the Huskies to the 2011 national title, scored nine points to aid the Bobs' second-half comeback and iced the game with two free throws in the waning seconds.
Fredette lived up to the hype. Not the Jimmermania that consumed the 2010-11 college season, but the mixed reviews that surrounded his transition to the pros. In 26 minutes, The Jimmer predictably struggled some as the de facto point guard (three turnovers, two of which coming in a rough fourth quarter) but unpredictably didn't have much impact from long range (zero 3-point attempts). A pretty standard welcome-to-the-NBA game.
3. Daily Dime Live Rewind
Relive and note all the chatter, memes and photoshops of Monday's Daily Dime Live.
4. Extreme Behavior
Ty Lawson, Nuggets: The former Tar Heel went 10-for-15 from the field en route to 27 points in a 115-93 win over the defending champ Mavs. In other news, Rockets pine denizen Jonny Flynn was picked a dozen spots ahead of him in the 2009 draft.
Lamar Odom, Mavs: Lam Lam had a Texas-sized stumble, going 1-for-10 from the field and locking up this space's Worst honor for the second straight night. Maybe the Lakers can take him back and forget this whole trade thing.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"I feel comfortable on the court and I feel like I helped the team. We didn't get it in the end, but we have a chance. If we go this way, we can do a lot of good things."
-- Wolves guard Ricky Rubio after his NBA debut in a 104-100 loss to the Thunder.
5. Carlisle Looking For Answers
DALLAS -- Consecutive stunning home blowout losses in which the listless defending champions trailed by more than 30 points in each game had a sullen Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle shouldering the blame Monday night.
"Because I'm the head coach and it's my job to make sure these guys are ready to play and it's clear that they're not," Carlisle said after Monday's 115-93 trouncing by the Denver Nuggets. "Right now that's not something that's easy for me to say and it's not an easy thing to live with, so I've got a lot of work to do."
The Miami Heat drubbed Dallas on Christmas Day, 105-94, but led by 35 points early in the third quarter. In their season opener, the young, up-tempo Nuggets followed the same recipe and ran the Mavs off their own floor with a 20-0 second-quarter blitz that ultimately gave them a 33-point bulge (95-62) with 2:31 to go in the third quarter.A crowd that roared as the franchise raised its first championship banner one day earlier rained boos on the team late in the first half after consecutive turnovers led to two of the Nuggets' 20 fast-break points.
Off The Mark
6. Wolves Looking Better
Daily Dime Live/TrueHoop Network
MINNEAPOLIS -- Have you seen the new-look Minnesota Timberwolves? There were new fireworks, a new intro, a new head coach. But the unveiling of the new look of the Wolves didn't happen until J.J. Barea, Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams were all in the game and the flurry of passing began.
When the second quarter started, we saw a glimpse of things to come. Rubio doled out three assists in a span of one minute and four seconds. He found Barea for a layup in transition. He found Williams with a crosscourt pass that went through Nick Collison's hands because he had no idea it was coming. He found Wes Johnson in transition for another layup. The passing became contagious and the energy was injected into the team.
We got to see Kevin Love drop a 22-12-5. Williams threw down baptismal dunks. The ball swung all over the court and the Wolves found ways to stick with the Oklahoma City Thunder for most of this game. Barea was finding ways to score like he was having flashbacks to the spring. And all along, the team was bringing the crowd alive like the Target Center hadn't seen for the better part of a decade.
Ultimately, the Thunder won the game. Kevin Durant was an assassin all game and Russell Westbrook was pretty good. However, the Wolves didn't collapse against one of the best teams in the league. Love and company fought for everything under the boards. Rubio went after Westbrook in the fourth quarter of a close game. And the team was a decent Michael Beasley shooting night away from stealing the first of many tests for this young team.
Last season, the Wolves blew countless fourth-quarter leads and nobody thought twice about it. It was what they were supposed to do. This season, we're seeing a different brand of basketball. It's a new look and everyone is going to want to see it.
7. NBA Video Channel
8. C's Still Burnt
One game does not a rivalry make.
So as entertaining, intense and chippy as Sunday's Celtics-Knicks battle was to usher in the 2011-12 season on Christmas, that's not a rivalry again quite yet. Let's see the Knicks win the Atlantic Division or a playoff series against Boston before we give it anything more than an enmity tag, considering how long it's been since both teams were legitimate contenders in the same season.
Now, Celtics-Heat? Yeah, that's got the "R" word written all over it.