Phoenix Suns 110, Utah Jazz 94
There were a number of reasons the Phoenix Suns won 54 games and got to the Western Conference Finals last year, but none were as essential as the development of their ace second unit. On paper, the Suns looked really thin entering last season, but thanks to major jumps from Goran Dragic, Robin Lopez, Jared Dudley and Louis Amundson, it became arguably the best unit in the game. The Suns came at you in waves last year, even topping a bunch of teams when their starters were in the game. Just ask San Antonio, who got beat in the playoffs last year.
This season, the Suns may have no Amare Stoudemire and no rebounding (though they did fine on the glass last night), but they still have that deep second unit. The bench mob came through last night, as they blew out the Jazz in the second quarter on way to a win.
Dragic and newcomer Hakim Warrick were the catalysts. Dragic's playmaking continues to improve, and his shot-making is still there. Warrick, meanwhile, did a pretty nice Amare Stoudemire impression at times, acting as the role man for so many of Steve Nash's and Dragic's picks. Early on, he was settling for jumpers too much, but he eventually starting diving to the basket on pick and rolls, resulting in a couple layups. His ability to dive also helped open up the three-point shooters, and he even chipped in with 11 rebounds. Warrick won't do this every night, but he'll do it enough times to make himself a worthwhile addition.
As for the Jazz, lots of the attention will be placed on their bad offense. Save for a stretch in the third quarter, that was definitely an issue. Just like in Wednesday's blowout loss to Denver, Al Jefferson had issues finding his way. But the real story was the defense. The Jazz allowed 115.8 points per 100 possessions, cheating too much off Phoenix's shooters. Sometimes, you have to live with Steve Nash beating you as a scorer, and the Jazz weren't willing to accept that. They also struggled with guarding Hedo Turkoglu in pick and rolls, something the Suns figured teams would when they traded for him.
Deron Williams really struggled, scoring just 13 points on 3-12 shooting from the field. You can tell Williams is trying to make life easier for Jefferson in this offense, but he needs to be way more aggressive. After the game, Williams, who is prone to expressing his frustration during bad times, did just that. He said the Jazz don't know the offense, and as a result, he's getting his shots in all the wrong places. I can't really buy that, to be honest. Williams has the ability to break plays and get his points. If he really thinks it's important, he should do it.
Play of the Game: Amare who?
From the blogs: Bright Side of the Sun noted Warrick's improvement on the pick and roll, saying he started playing instinctively instead of thinking too much. SLC Dunk writes that only Hayward and Paul Millsap were any good last night for the Jazz.
Orlando Magic 112, Washington Wizards 83
Andray Blatche is a legitimately talented player that had a legitimate breakout season last year, despite what many people say about his "empty stats." I watched him every game last year, and the "empty stats" criticism made no sense. He wasn't perfect, of course, but he was doing positive things, driving to the basket and shooting quickly with confidence. But then he broke his foot early in the summer, in part due to playing in a pickup game, which was a really bad sign for someone that desperately needed a good summer of work to build on his success. Now, after a summer where he admittedly didn't play much basketball, Blatche is completely out of rhythm.
The problem with Blatche being out of rhythm is that it destroys his entire game. Suddenly, Blatche is taking stepback jumpers over Dwight Howard that have no chance. Suddenly, Blatche is not attacking the basket. Suddenly, Blatche stops rebounding, stops bothering to rotate on defense and doesn't even really run the floor. A smart player who is out of rhythm will devote attention to defense and sprinting the floor for an easy shot. Blatche, even in the best of times, has not done that. Too often, his effort is based on his performance, and when he struggles like he did last night, his effort goes away. If he continues to play this listlessly (he was really bad during the preseason), the Wizards have major problems.
That said, Orlando is a tough matchup for Washington this early in the year. Dwight Howard neutralizes John Wall's driving ability, and none of the Wizards (not-so) bigs can guard Howard on offense. That leads to bad double teams and easy passes for wide open shots. Washington's big men, of course, didn't make life any easier by defending the pick and roll like they were put under some sort of voodoo spell that made their brains regress to the third grade. The Magic missed only three shots at the rim the entire night, shot 32 free throws and outrebounded the Wizards 53-25. Howard had 23 points on just nine shots. Can a group of big men defend a team any worse?
Wall shot just 6-19 and was a -31 for the game, but it wasn't his fault. He had absolutely no help. He needs to learn how to attack in the halfcourt, but he will. It will just take some time.
Play of the Game: Dwight Howard decided to do some pushups after checking out in the third quarter. Officially, it was because he does them when he misses free throws. Unofficially, he was just looking for a way to break a sweat. (Via @Jose3030).
From the blogs: Bullets Forever (that's me!) writes that while pretty much everything went wrong, it was still just one game. Orlando Pinstriped Post praises the Magic's ability to dominate the paint. OPP also had some notes from the locker room, including some high praise by Magic players for John Wall.