- Is LeBron James washed? Should the Warriors panic? With the NBA's opening night in the books, The Crossover offers five iron-clad truths after the season's first games.
Editor's note: The Crossover is known for its nuanced analysis and thoughtful columns about NBA basketball. This is not one of those columns.
What a wild opening night in the NBA. Kevin Durant folded in the clutch faster than he could apologize for roasting his ex-team on Twitter. Kyrie Irving looked like the Kyrie Irving to Jaylen Brown’s LeBron James. And Nick Young and Eric Gordon put themselves firmly in the driver’s seat of the MVP race. Let’s discuss some other iron-clad truths after the season’s first two games.
The Warriors need to unleash JaVale
The Warriors are in last place in the West, and they have only themselves to blame. Without the distraction of having Draymond Green on the court in the fourth quarter, Golden State should have cruised to a win over the Rockets. But Steve Kerr chose to get cute, and left Javale McGee on the bench even while his team was bleeding points. There was no reason for McGee to play the same number of minutes as Thicc Klay Thompson. Mike Brown would have had JaVale in the game at the very least for offense-defense switches down the stretch. Instead, Ryan Anderson was allowed to roam free to the tune of three offensive rebounds.
It was shocking that McGee didn’t play in the wake of injuries to Green and Andre Iguodala. The Warriors were exposed as a thin team on Tuesday. When Golden State is reduced to playing with only three Hall-of-Famers at a time, the Dubs absolutely crumble under the pressure.
Bottom line: When the game is hanging in the balance, you want a champion on the court. McGee should have been out there.
Houston needs to tighten up
With Clint Capela playing a ghastly 18 minutes Tuesday night, Mike D’Antoni basically employed a seven-and-a-half man rotation against the Warriors. That’s about two-and-a-half players too many. I’m sorry, but why are NBA players posting selfies of them working out in the gym all summer if they don't have the conditioning needed to play a full 48? Did Houston really need those Chris Paul minutes last night? What did Capela even do other than some cool dunks and iffy defense? These guys will never be more fresh than for the first game of the season.
Players can rest during the extra week the NBA has graciously given them to complete the 82-game schedule. There are more than enough commercial breaks for guys to stay fresh for an entire game. Heck, with those new jersey sponsors, the entire game is basically one big commercial break now.
D’Antoni is giving his team too much trust. If he’s going to play small-ball lineups that look like something your 12-year-old sibling would dream up in a game of NBA 2K18, then D’Antoni may as well turn fatigue off and play his best five the whole way.
Nick Young has it figured out
Has Paul George ever come off the bench and given his team 23 points on 6 of 7 shooting from three? What about Carmelo Anthony? While everyone was playing checkers this offseason, the Warriors were playing a game that is still light years away from being invented. Young is obviously the most important free-agent signing of the summer. While Irving is too busy playing buddy-buddy with his old teammates, Young looks ready to take Zaza Pachulia’s spot in the starting lineup, hitting open threes and exposing his tongue with the same joie de vivre as a Miami Dolphins offensive line coach. While Irving airballed a potential game-tying shot, Young watched his team lose from the bench, resting so he could drop another 20 in Golden State’s next game. Remember Young’s unselfishness when guys like Durant, George, Anthony and Irving chuck up end-of-game misses this year. They could stand to learn a thing or two from Swaggy P.
LeBron is losing a step
When we last saw LeBron James, he had just become the first player to average a triple double for an entire NBA Finals. But the NBA is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, and the James we saw Tuesday is clearly a cut below the player we saw in the 2017 Finals. James finished with 29-16-9 against the Celtics, which is clearly not a triple double. It’s those kind of statlines that cost James Harden an MVP award last season. Are the minutes finally catching up to James? He’s played over 50,000 of them now, and it’s only going to get harder and harder for him to will himself to that last assist he needs for a triple double every night.
With James, it’s difficult to know if this is the new reality or if it’s just hard for him to move at full speed when Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade are on the court at the same time. Kendrick Perkins won’t be there to save him if this is the year everything goes south.
Irving won the Cavs-Celtics trade
Aside from some competition from Brown, Irving got a chance to shine with the Celtics on Tuesday. When else have you ever seen Irving with the ball in his hands on the right wing with an opportunity to shoot a three and decide the game? These are the kind of scenarios Irving has been dreaming about his whole life, and finally, in Game 1 of the regular season, Irving found himself as the man with a chance to take the big shot. That’s why you play in the NBA. You want to be the player who has a chance to have the ball in their hands down the stretch of an important game. Few games are more important than your first game against the team you went to three straight Finals with. It’s early in the season, sure, but Irving’s shift to the Celtics is already paying off in ways he could have never imagined.