We’re pulling the best from across the NBA map as the 2017-18 season kicks off in earnest with 11 games. Check back for live updates throughout Wednesday’s slate of games.
Joel Embiid Is Officially Back
O’Shaughnessy: Entertainment is Embiid’s brand. The Washington, D.C., crowd booed the center ahead of the Sixers’ season-opening 120-115 loss to the Wizards. But instead of going through the players line, ignoring the noise, and low-fiving his teammates, Embiid cupped his hands to his ears like, Is that really all you have, D.C.?
He then tried to force Jason Smith into early retirement —
— and began an MVP campaign on his first field goal attempt of the season.
Gordon Hayward Sends Boston a Message
Uggetti: One day after suffering a leg injury on opening night, Gordon Hayward was back with the Celtics, at least in spirit. From his hospital bed, Hayward thanked fans for their support and expressed his desire to be on the court.
And late in the second quarter of Boston’s eventual 108-100 loss to the Bucks, while Giannis Antetokounmpo was at the free throw line, the TD Garden crowd broke out into an unprompted “Gor-don Hay-ward” chant. Hayward, in his first season with the Celtics, reportedly underwent surgery Wednesday night to fix a dislocated ankle and a fractured tibia. His agent told ESPN late Wednesday that the forward is “unlikely” to return this season.
Greek Freak Meter: 8/10
Uggetti: The first game of Antetokounmpo’s expected rise to the highest levels of NBA superstardom was a doozy. Giannis racked up 37 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, and three steals. But as is the case with the Greek Freak, the highlight reel was even more impressive than the stat line.
How. Do. You. Stop. This?
Giannis in the are Air of players who must get picked up early pic.twitter.com/CEecQBzwjm— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) October 19, 2017
Giannis wasn’t done. The Freak treated us to an alley-oop poster dunk in the fourth quarter that effectively sealed the Bucks’ victory over a Celtics team on the second night of a back-to-back.
Video game glitch. Cheat code. Freak. MVP candidate. Whatever you want to call him, it’s clear that a bulked-up and engaged Giannis is ready to take the East and the league by storm. Oh, and by the way: He’s only 22.
Tank So Hard Adam Silver’s Gonna Fine You
Uggetti: There’s little to be gleaned from the first game of the NBA season—for instance, the Warriors’ opening-night loss was just their eighth home defeat in the past three years. But in the case of the Phoenix Suns, one game feels like enough to get the basic gist: The Suns are very, very bad.
Phoenix lost by 48 points—at home!—to the Portland Trail Blazers, and the final margin somehow doesn’t reflect how bad it was. The Suns were down 60-35 at the half, and at one point in the fourth quarter were down by 58 points. Against a Blazers’ defense that ranked among the 10 worst in the NBA last season, the Suns could muster only 76 points. In the end, it was the Suns’ worst loss in franchise history.
We knew going into the season that to win long term, the Suns would have to lose as much as they could this season. But this is another level of surrender—one that’s as impressive as it is depressing.
Dennis Smith Jr. Is Ready for His ROY Hype to Begin
O’Shaughnessy: Smith made SportsCenter’s Top 10 in the first 32 seconds of his NBA career. The Mavericks rookie passed the rock to Wesley Matthews, lost his defender on a Dirk Nowitzki screen, then beelined to the basket for a glorious backdoor oop.
Dennis Smith Jr. wasted no time! pic.twitter.com/5jYo3clSls— MyNBAUpdate (@MyNBAUpdate) October 19, 2017
Spoken in his generation’s language, it was FLAMES EMOJI, EYES EMOJI, FLEXED BICEPS EMOJI. The two-handed throwdown against the Hawks marked the Dallas guard’s first points of the game, of the season, and, of course, of his young career. The NC State product, selected ninth overall, has been overshadowed in the way-too-early Rookie of the Year predictions by the Lakers’ Lonzo Ball and Philly’s Ben Simmons. But with a start like that, the narrative writes — er, dunks — itself into existence.
Jeremy Lin Takes Nasty Fall
O’Shaughnessy: With just under five minutes to go in Brooklyn’s season-opening, 140-131 loss to the Pacers, Lin tumbled to the ground after a layup and clutched his right knee. Lin looked stunned at first, before seeming to mouth, “I’m done. I’m done.”
Jeremy Lin was assisted to the locker room after this play. pic.twitter.com/WrdI5jnQNE— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) October 19, 2017
The Nets point guard missed 46 games last season with a strained left hamstring and has a long history of injuries. Lin had 18 points and four assists before exiting early. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Lin will have his knee examined on Thursday in New York.
John Wall Makes His Own Preview Poster
Uggetti: Wall is in a perpetual state of feeling slighted. Or at least he certainly plays like it. When SportsCenter tweeted out a preview photo for the NBA season that included both Damian Lillard and Lonzo Ball but excluded him, the Wizards point guard let it be known that he was aware of the omission.
Wall didn’t take long into his season debut to reintroduce himself. With 2:40 left in the first quarter against the Sixers, Wall commanded the ball, backed down T.J. McConnell, side-stepped the Philly guard’s flop, and unleashed his full force on the basket, punctuating it all with a perfect mean mug.
Put that on your preview poster.
Markelle Fultz Is Still Struggling From the Line
O’Shaughnessy: What we hoped was an overreaction during the preseason is looking like a real horror for Philadelphia. Fultz, the no. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft, is still shooting free throws with an awkward, Shaqesque stroke (as The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor detailed last week).
O’Connor reported that the odd motion is in part a result of right shoulder soreness. Hopefully as that recovers, so will his performance at the line.
Aaron Gordon’s Second Jump Is Quicker Than Your First Anything
Chau: In case you forgot, Gordon is still a freak athlete. Last season’s uneven mess masquerading as a 3 deadened a lot of the enthusiasm that fans had for his development, but now that he’s spending most of his time at the 4, the promise he’s held in the early stages of his career could start to bear fruit.
Aaron Gordon pulling a T Mac!!! pic.twitter.com/ooewBV8Yyf— Michael Gallagher (@MikeSGallagher) October 19, 2017
The play above is just great awareness of both the situation and his own abilities. In the second quarter of the Magic’s 116-109 victory over the Heat, with Hassan Whiteside trailing the play and the painted area wide open, Gordon drove right through Goran Dragic and trusted his athleticism, throwing it off the backboard for a self-alley-oop. Gordon called it a pass during the Magic broadcast interview after the second-quarter buzzer — let’s give it to him. He certainly had an easier time passing to himself than Red Panda did at halftime:
Everything you think you know in life is a lie pic.twitter.com/t6Cha7QNP4— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) October 19, 2017
Uggetti: The D’Angelo Russell reclamation project is underway. Russell, playing in his first game for the Nets, looked like the player that most expected him to be when he was drafted no. 2 overall three seasons ago, finishing with 30 points (on 55 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent from 3) and five assists in Brooklyn’s 140-131 loss to Indy.
The Lakers traded Russell in for a younger model before this year’s draft, but D-Lo still clearly has room to grow. He’ll get every opportunity with the Nets, who won’t have their own first-round pick again this season and are looking for any young impact players they can get, especially now with Lin’s status up in the air. Russell’s performance Wednesday night was exactly what everyone has wanted to see. Well, everyone except the Lakers.
The Kings Are Your New Favorite Basketball Team
Verrier: I only watch the Kings now. That’s because they have De’Aaron Fox, a speedy, spritely point guard who can do things like this:
Jeezus. De'Aaron Fox explodes on the backdoor slam. pic.twitter.com/V0SJfMVO3N— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) October 19, 2017
"Do you like De'Aaron Fox, Kings fans!?!?!?!?" pic.twitter.com/24iUrdhGLK— NBCS Kings News (@NBCSKings) October 19, 2017
Sacramento lost a lot when it traded DeMarcus Cousins, including any chance at above-.500 basketball for at least another season or two. But by expunging the snarly Cousins and importing Fox and some high-approval-rating vets like Vince Carter, the Kings are finally fun again. Like, did you know that the Kings broadcast calls Willie Cauley-Stein “Willie Blocken-Stein”? We have so much to catch up on!
They didn’t, y’know, win, but they came close, losing 105-100 to the mighty Rockets (playing on a back-to-back sans CP3)! Long live Willie Blocken-Stein. Long live the Kings Of Fun.
When Shooting Your Shot Goes Horribly Wrong
Stanley Johnson went 0-13 tonight. Per Elias, that's the worst opening-night shooting performance in the shot clock era (since 1954-55) pic.twitter.com/qqMioKFBr4— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 19, 2017
Chau: The Pistons christened the brand-new Little Caesars Arena in Downtown Detroit with a 102-90 win over the Hornets spearheaded by Tobias Harris, who was an early flamethrower in the game, scoring 17 of his 27 points in the first quarter. It was one of his most efficient offensive performances ever. But arguably more impressive was the way in which Newton’s third law manifested at the Pistons’ new home. Stanley Johnson, Harris’s partner in the frontcourt, was the equal and opposite reaction. Johnson hailed bricks. Thirteen of them. Without a single make. The worst opening-night shooting display in over 60 years. Johnson’s stout, versatile defense is NBA caliber, but his offensive stylings need a serious recalibration.