Opening night in the NBA

By Jason Wojciechowski on November 2, 2006 at 4:53 AM

The Lakers opened their season against the Suns last night in a game I thought they needed Kobe to win. Turns out, though, that all they needed was a strong game from Lamar Odom, an "auspicious start" (in the words of Phil Jackson) from Andrew Bynum, and everybody on the team except Sasha Vujacic to shoot better than fifty percent (Vujacic, who got the start in place of Bryant, went 0-4, with all his shots coming from beyond the arc).

Odom, especially, was exactly as huge as he needed to be in a game against a superior team, whether his best teammate was on the floor or not. Obviously, there's no sense in expecting 34/13/6 with three steals every night, but that kind of line is well within his talent level. It's not like Brian Cook suddenly jumped out with those numbers.

Leandro Barbosa jumped all over LA, scoring 30 points off the bench. You can let him have that, though, if you (a) score enough; and (b) don't let anyone else on the Suns also have a big game. the Lakers succeeded on both counts, putting up 114 points and not letting any Sun outside of Barbara score more than 16 points. The three starters that Phoenix counts on to score, Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, and Raja Bell, combined for just 17-41 shooting. Had they shot the combined 50% you tend to expect from the Suns, that's three or four more shots made. When you consider that the Lakers won by eight, three or four shots is all you need to decide the game.

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The Heat, on the other hand, needed a lot more than three or four shots. They were absolutely demolished at home by Chicago, who won by 42 points. Kirk Hinrich led the way with 26 points and Chris Duhon complemented him nicely, shooting 7-8 off the bench. Only Ben Gordon had a bad game for the Bulls, going 1-9 and not really adding anything in the non-scoring department. Of course, that's the trouble with these shooting guards. If they're not shooting, they're often not doing much at all.

Tyrus Thomas and Thabo Sefolosha made their debuts, and the latter's was "auspicious," as he shot 4-4 and made all three of his free throws in just eleven minutes. Thomas had less luck, breaking his nose in a rebound battle with James Posey. It doesn't seem like it's serious, so expect Ty to don one of those goofy masks and be right back in the mix soon.

As to the Heat, they embarrassed themselves. The world champ in any sport should not get blown out on opening night (unless there's been some type of Marlins-style fire sale in the off-season). Only Dwyane Wade played a game worthy of his ring. This doesn't really mean too much for Miami long-term, but reports did have the team a step slow, which should surprise no one, given the reliance the team has on Shaq, Gary Payton, and Antoine Walker. There's not a spring chicken in the bunch.