Three-pointer: Ugly starts
October 25, 2017
By Tony Mejia
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The NBA regular season has picked up where it left off after a summer that had more plot twists than Showtime's "Shameless," which happily returns next month. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis have served notice that they might replace Russell Westbrook and James Harden as the MVP candidates we're most talking about and Golden State has actually lost two more games than some believed possible.
As of this writing, the best the defending champs can do now is 80-2.
Dwyane Wade has already volunteered to come off the bench because a starter's role on a team he joined weeks ago doesn't suit him, yet Jameer Nelson was in there closing out the final minutes of New Orleans' only win of the season hours after joining the team because he was head coach Alvin Gentry's best option at the point and will continue to be until Rajon Rondo gets healthy.
In the week's 3-pointer, we'll take a look at situations to be aware of if you're wagering on the NBA.
The aforementioned Davis, who looks to be in the best physical shape of his young career, left Tuesday night's loss at Portland in the first quarter due to knee pain. Despite a 39-point, 13-rebound night from DeMarcus Cousins, the Pelicans faded to fall 103-93 and then held their breath until Davis' MRI results came back.
Fortunately, he came back clean and will likely be back by the end of the week, but you definitely don't want to get stuck without his services and should wait to see him get through a game before getting back on New Orleans.
Even with their start in the lineup, the Pels looked pretty shaky falling apart in their only win of the season on Sunday night as a 21-point third-quarter lead became a five-point deficit in 10 minutes of action. That's disconcerting. No team with two of the top 10 frontcourt players in the league should ever be settling for either pulling up from 3-point range against one of the youngest teams out there.
Nelson ended up coming in and rescuing the night simply by getting the offense better situated to take advantage of its strengths. He played 30 minutes in the loss to Portland, which is entirely too many but apparently necessary just to give the Pelicans a fighting chance.
Since Ian Clark is a spot up shooter and not a playmaker, Tony Allen is a defender and not a ball handler and E'Twuan Moore knows his limiations and tends to be streaky, entirely too much is on Jrue Holiday's plate. He's struggled with his shot out of the gate and desperately needs the oxygen Nelson's arrival has supplied. Dante Cunningham, who has had to man the small forward spot more than the team envisioned since Solomon Hill tore his hamstring in late August and won't be back until February, doesn't provide much offense and is more of a glue guy. Clark a was a -16 against the Lakers. Darius Miller was a -13 against the Blazers.
Until Rondo comes back next month from sports hernia surgery and head coach Alvin Gentry can better assemble rotations, the Pelicans are likely to struggle. If Davis isn't the version of himself he put on display during a dominant first few games, there just isn't enough depth on the roster for New Orleans to be successful. After visiting Sacramento on Thursday, the Pels return home for three games against Cleveland, Orlando and Minnesota, all capable of taking advantage if Davis isn't healthy.
Suns setting early
Eric Bledsoe may or may not have issued a trade demand on Twitter as head coach Earl Watson was being fired three games in, but there's no question he wanted out. After the Phoenix Suns were blown out by 42 points against the Clippers, starting off 0-3, Watson paid with his job.
Bledsoe tweeted "I don't want to be here" on Sunday as news that the team was moving on from Watson as head coach was breaking, so the fact he's played his last game in a Phoenix uniform is no surprise. It was funny to hear Bledsoe explained the tweet by claiming he was referring to the hair salon he was at, but him wanting out of a bad situation is understandable.
The Suns lost their season opener 124-76 against a Portland team missing a suspended C.J. McCollum. They then allowed the Lakers to leave their building with a 132-130 win on the second night of a back-to-back. Despite being the more rested team, players couldn't be bothered to play defense, showing a remarkable apathy that made the on-court product look like a pickup game at your local L.A. Fitness.
They then hit the road to L.A.'s Staples Center and caught a 130-88 loss that was ultimately the final straw in keeping Watson in the head seat. Jay Triano, formerly of the Raptors and Canada's national basketball team, gets the interim gig, but this doesn't appear to be a situation where a new voice will make a huge difference. Bledsoe was the team's top defender, backed up by Tyler Ulis, who is generally listed as 5-foot-10.
Although they bounced back with a 117-114 home win over Sacramento on Monday, the Suns are still likely going to be a disaster until they get some value back from Bledsoe. Rookie backup point guard Mike James, a two-way player who wouldn't have been in the game had it not been for the co-captain's removal, made the winning basket and will get time alongside Ulis. Teams are going to continue having their way with a Suns defense surrendering over 125 points per game.
Devin Booker and rookie Josh Jackson are the right guys to build around since this team is essentially building from the ground up, but Bledsoe blew up his trade value since teams now know GM Ryan McDonough has no choice but to find him a new home. Tyson Chandler and Jared Dudley are left to be the backbone of a painfully young team, and Dudley wasn't scheduled to debut this season until Monday night against Sacramento. Following a Wednesday night date with a Utah defense that has opened as the NBA's best, this group hits the road for five games. They'll be worth fading on most nights until oddsmakers go to astronomical spreads to try and capitalize on that strategy.
Least in the East
Speaking of the strategy to capitalize on the betting public's desire to wager against woeful teams, beware laying too many points with the remaining winless East teams, the Bulls and Knicks, in addition to potentially the worst team in the conference, the rebuilding Hawks.
Atlanta point guard Dennis Schroder will miss a few games due to a nasty ankle sprain suffered in Sunday's loss in Brooklyn, leaving point guard duties in the hands of young Malcolm Delaney, Isaiah Taylor and Josh Maggette. If you're asking who those guys are, you're doing so in unison with most Hawks fans, who are finding that having a program is a must this season. Young forwards Taurean Waller-Prince and John Collins are promising, but the Hawks are going to do a lot of losing this season and missing the catalyst who led them to an opening night win in Dallas was something their retooled roster couldn't afford. AJC writer Michael Cunningham reports that Schroder won't travel to Chicago for Thursday night's date with the Bulls, which means he's out until at least Friday when Denver comes through town. Starting power forward Ersan Ilyasova will make the trip to face the Bulls and will likely be a game-time decision.
If you weren't aware, two of the guys vying for a starting forward spot with the Bulls knocked each other contention, almost quite literally. Bobby Portis hit Nikola Mirotic so hard that the swelling needed to go down just to determine the damage, resulting in an eight-game suspension for the Arkansas product. Finnish lottery pick Lauri Markkanen has taken the job and produced, but the Bulls are currently sporting a lineup so flawed that guard Jerian Grant is currently being introduced last. You know, the spot Michael Jordan once held. He and Justin Holiday played well enough against the Cavs to get the cover as a 15-point underdog on Tuesday night, but they opened as a 1.5-point favorite against visiting Atlanta. It's unlikely you'll see the Bulls laying points again until Nov. 15 at the earliest, which is when Sacramento comes through town. That's 10 games from now.
The Knicks are also still awful, but at least have Kristaps Porzingis healthy enough to give the team a chance. He shot 3-for-14 in Tuesday's 110-89 loss in Boston, contributing to a 1-for-12 effort from e-point range that helped waste a 16-point, 19-rebound effort from Enes Kanter.
Guard play is likely to be a major issue for New York with Ramon Sessions and the unretired Jarrett Jack holding down the point and Courtney Lee joining Tim Hardaway, Jr. in starting on the wing. If they can find a way to get Bledsoe, they should. In the mean time, it's clear that in the early going, books are going to throw a ton of points down and dare you to take them after watching the blowout losses pile up early. Although the natural and correct inclination is to take points, ask yourself why the books are offering you so many before you take them, because there's likely a very good reason.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA
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