1) Brooklyn has the hype. Will they do the work?
Now comes the hard part.
Not that putting together a blockbuster four-team trade to get James Harden to Brooklyn was easy, there are good reasons it took months to finally happen. But it’s done.
The Nets now have the best big three in the game: Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving. The hype is real.
That’s not enough.
Having enough talent to win a title is just step one. It has to be followed by selfless sacrifice — the stars giving up touches, points, and at times minutes — for the good of the team. It has to be followed by a relentless commitment to defense. It has to be followed by building a system and culture that lift up the role players on the team and make them ready for the biggest moments.
That’s real work.
Last year’s Lakers put in that work. They went into the season title favorites because they had LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but they left Orlando with the Larry O’Brien Trophy because of their defense. Because they lifted up players such as Alex Caruso and Dwight Howard to make meaningful contributions. Because there was a culture that put winning and the team first — everyone was willing to sacrifice to make it work.
Durant has sacrificed to win a ring in Golden State, Irving did the same thing in Cleveland next to LeBron — although both moved on from those situations quickly. Harden hasn’t done it before, but he has to do it now if he wants to win.
Irving should be the third option on this team, how do you think he’s going to take that?
Everyone in Brooklyn is saying the right things — the players brought up making sacrifices to Nets GM Sean Marks (at least to hear him tell it).
“They were the ones to bring it up right off the bat, which was, they want to win,” Marks said (via the Associated Press). “That’s all I heard from James, is, ‘I want to win, I’m all about winning…’
“They understand what’s at stake here,” Marks said. “Everybody’s raised their hands and said, `Look, we’re in. We know what we’re shooting for’ and that includes James, the new player. He knows what’s at stake.”
Saying the right thing and doing the right thing are not the same.
Brooklyn has work to do. Marks has to find a way to add some wing depth, size, and defensive role players to the roster. The team itself has to start playing better defense and find its identity. The ball and players have to move on offense; it can’t be Harden/Irving/Durant pounding the ball into the ground out top for 10 seconds every possession.
Brooklyn has championship-level talent on this roster. They have earned the hype. The real work starts this weekend and we’ll see if the Nets are up to the task.
2) Harden? We ain’t got no Harden! We don’t need no Harden! Rockets have fun and win.
The Houston Rockets looked like they were having fun tonight.
This season hasn’t always been that way, with the losses and the cloud of a looming James Harden trade hanging over the franchise. It looked more like a slog.
Not Thursday night. The ball was flying around, the sets looked new, and players were moving without the ball rather than standing around and watching. Leading the way, Christian Wood had 27 points, 15 rebounds and defended the DeMar DeRozan/LaMarcus Aldridge pick-and-roll about as well as anyone could.
Shaq knows who Wood is now.
Sterling Brown started in Harden’s old slot and scored 23. Jae’Sean Tate added 13 points, 10 assists.
The Rockets rallied and went on to beat the Spurs 109-105.
Houston will add Victor Oladipo to the rotation soon, and John Wall will get healthy and return (he was out with a sore left knee) — talent-wise, they will get better. If they keep playing with this energy and spirit, they are going to upset some teams in the West.
3) Nikola Jokic keeps playing like an MVP, has triple-double in Nuggets win over Warriors
Two guys getting early mentions in the MVP race faced off in the Bay Area Thursday night.
Stephen Curry did Stephen Curry things and put up 35 points.
But Denver’s Nikola Jokic is averaging a triple-double for the season and dropped another one on the Warriors, schooling James Wiseman at times on his way to 23 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 assists, lifting his Nuggets to a 114-104 win.
After stumbling out of the gate, the Nuggets have won 5-of-7. Their offense remains elite around Jokic and Jamal Murray (who started slow but has got his legs under him now), but the biggest difference is Denver’s defense has improved to average in the past couple of weeks (it was dreadful to open the season). An elite offense and an average defense that can get a few stops can take a team a long way.