NBA Draft

NBA takeaways: Zion Williamson a force on opening night, Ben Simmons not so much; LeBron not enough for Lakers

The 2022-23 NBA season is underway. After Boston defeated Philadelphia and the Warriors walloped the Lakers on Tuesday, we saw a full slate of games on Wednesday night. Here are some of the biggest opening-night(s) headlines with just two teams (Clippers and Bucks) yet to play a game. 

Zion, Ingram star for Pelicans

Zion Williamson hit the ground running in his first game in over 18 months, hitting the Nets for 25 points, nine rebounds, four steals and three assists. Williamson is clearly in great shape, and he continues to have incredible feel for setting up defenders to get to his left hand, whether it be with his back to the basket or starting his downhill momentum a beat before the catch. He went right through Ben Simmons in the paint for layups on multiple occasions. His second jump is as fast and forceful as ever. Sometimes his best move is to pogo-stick up for his own miss while everyone else is still glued to the floor. 

Meanwhile, Brandon Ingram finished with 28 points, seven rebounds and five assists on 10-of-17 shooting. One of the better and more frequent contested shooters in the league, he made tough shots look effortlessly smooth all night. The Pelicans look great in the process, defeating Brooklyn handily. 

Ben Simmons blah in return

Simmons finished with more fouls (six) than points (four), rebounds (five) and assists (five) in his first NBA game since June 2021. He operated mostly as a screener in the half-court and made a few nice interior passes, but for the most part he was just another body running around out there. He made no real impact on the game, bricking his only two free throws and getting repeatedly bull-rushed by Williamson in the paint. 

LeBron not enough

LeBron James put up 31 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists. Anthony Davis has 27 and six. Russell Westbrook added 19 points and 11 rebounds on an efficient 7-of-12 shooting. I wouldn’t say LeBron played great, despite the line, but collectively, you cannot expect much more than 77 points and 31 rebounds on 49-percent shooting from this trio, and still the Lakers had absolutely no shot against Golden State in a game that was not nearly as close as even the 123-109 score would indicate. 

True, the Warriors are perhaps the best team in the league. But LeBron — and the Lakers for that matter — isn’t in the business of measuring his team against a mediocre bar. He wants to compete against the best. Right now, with this roster, the Lakers are going to have a very hard time doing that, especially on less efficient Westbrook nights, which will be plentiful. 

DeRozan douses Heat

DeMar DeRozan got loose at Miami for 37 points and nine assists as the Bulls scored an opening-night victory. He netted 14 for 22 from the field. He even made two of his three 3-pointers. Oh by the way, DeRozan joined Michael Jordan (who did it three times) as the only players in Bulls history to record at least 30 points, five assists and five rebounds in a season opener. This man is absolutely lethal. Picking up right where he left on last season. 

Hawks loving new backcourt

In their first game together, Trae Young and Dejounte Murray combined for 43 points and 24 assists as the Hawks knocked off the Rockets. Young got to the free-throw line eight times, making them all. Murray had five steals. The only thing the duo didn’t do well was shoot the 3-ball (2 for 14 combined). Throw in De’Andre Hunter, fresh off his $95 million extension, and John Collins combining for 46 points on a blistering 19-for-27 shooting, and the Hawks are off and running. 

Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!

Rudy Gobert, who was always frustrated about his lack of offensive involvement in Utah, attempted more shots in his Wolves debut (15) than he did in any game for the Jazz last season. Gobert saved the day for the Wolves, finishing with 23 points and 16 rebounds. Seven of those boards were on the offensive end. Wondering about Minnesota’s twin-tower lineup? Gobert finished a pair of lobs off passes from Karl-Anthony Towns, who also set Gobert up for his first bucket in a Wolves uniform. 

You knew it was Gobert’s night when he hit a 22-foot floater to close the third quarter:

Too much Morant

The Knicks rallied from 19 down in the second half to force overtime at Memphis, but Ja Morant was just too much down the stretch, getting to the rim and into the paint for his indefensible floater. Morant finished with 34 points and nine assists, knocking down three of his six 3-pointers to get the Grizzlies off on the right foot. 

Damion Lee lifts Suns

After trailing by 22 in the third quarter, the Suns mounted a huge rally to stun the Mavericks. Devin Booker had 28 points, but it was Damion Lee, who scored all 11 of his points in the fourth quarter, who hit the game-winner with under 10 seconds to play.

Steph Curry, who is Lee’s brother-in-law (Lee is married to Curry’s sister) and who, of course, used to be Lee’s teammate with the Warriors, was so juiced that he woke up his kid while celebrating. 

Boston comes out sharp

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for 70 points (35 each) on a combined 61-percent shooting (27 for 44) in the Celtics’ win over Philly on Tuesday. Grant Williams, who was perfect from the field, including 3 of 3 from deep, and Malcolm Brogdon combined for 31 points off the bench. Though Boston surrendered 117 points, the defense looked typically oppressive in stints. Tatum added 12 boards and was aggressive pushing the pace off of misses, something Boston as a whole was intent on doing. At least for one game, the drama of Ime Udoka’s suspension didn’t appear to affect the Celtics one bit. 

Banchero sizzles in debut

Orlando Magic rookie Paulo Banchero announced his NBA arrival with near-historic authority, posting 27 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals on 11-of-18 shooting on Wednesday. That makes Banchero just the third player over the last three decades to go 25-5-5 in his NBA debut, joining LeBron James and Grant Hill, and his 27 points are the most scored in a debut by a No. 1 overall pick since Allen Iverson put up a 30-spot in 1996. 

Harden looks good

James Harden finished with 35 points on an efficient 9-for-14 at Philly’s opener. He made five of his nine 3-pointers and was a perfect 12 for 12 from the free-throw line (he was as annoying as ever with the bogus fall-down/landing-space fouls on 3-pointers, drawing a total of three of them with a four-point play). He didn’t bog Philly down with isolations. He played pick and roll or kept it moving. He’s not blowing by people, but he was consistently in the paint and continues to be an elite passer. (seven assists). The defense was, as expected, lazy on numerous occasions. But that’s Harden. 

Denver lays an egg

There’s not much to say about this one. The Nuggets, presumed to be a championship contender, lost by 21 to the Jazz, who are, despite having a roster pretty full of rotation-level NBA players, are ultimately going to end up as one of the worst teams in the league. Not how Denver saw it going. 

Raptors balance

Toronto was the only team in the league last season to boast five players who averaged at least 15 points per game, and all five of those guys put up at least 15 again in an opening-night victory over the Cavaliers. Pascal Siakam led the way with 23, followed by Gary Trent Jr. with 19, OG Anunoby with 18, and Fred VanVleet and Scottie Barnes with 15 each. Barnes, who is going to take on a point-guard-ish role this season, finished with seven assists.  

Mitchell not enough for Cavs

Donovan Mitchell was spectacular in his Cleveland debut with 31 points and nine assists, but the Cavs couldn’t hold down the fort when he was off the court (plus-10 with him, minus-13 without him) in a 108-105 loss to Toronto. Mitchell sat just three minutes, 35 seconds in the second half, and the Cavs lost that stint 13-3. 

Fox valiant in defeat

De’Aaron Fox lit up the Blazers for 33 points, seven assists and seven rebounds, hitting 5 of 9 from deep, but Sacramento couldn’t hold on to a late lead at home. With a little over a minute to play and the Kings up one, Fox tried to force his way to the rim against a retreating Jerami Grant, but Grant never lost radar lock on Fox and took the hit right in the chest for a charge. From that point on the Blazers outscored Sacramento 10-2. It was the last of Fox’s eight turnovers. He was great in every other area, but that’s not going to get it done. 

Steph Curry on autopilot

Curry’s 3-point shot (4 for 13) was off for the most part on ring night for the Warriors, but it doesn’t matter. He’s just a professional scorer. Until he got a few 3s to fall during a mini third-quarter flurry, he simply did his work going to the rim and getting to the line (he was 9 for 9 from the charity stripe). It looked like he hardly broke a sweat. 

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