By: Lamonte Thomas
Headline Graphic: Darrell Owens-LMS Network
Houston has been rolling since the NBA restart has been in effect. Russell Westbrook’s quarantine and return was timely and proved not to have bursted the Rockets’ bubble, so to speak. Luc Mbah a Moute has returned to the team and has recovered from full-blown Covid-19 symptoms. As Houston approaches the official league restart, they seem to be full in stride. James Harden scored 30 points in the first half against the Celtics in their last scrimmage, and the Rockets took advantage of a short-handed Boston. Eric Gordon left the game after an ankle injury; though his X-rays were negative he will be missed as long as he’s out. This Houston team will go as far as the explosive backcourt will take them, though it remains to be seen if the small-ball strategy can work against a sizable, talented team like the Lakers, Clippers or Bucks.
Indiana is doing what they can to live up to their name as the lead Pacers are setting the tone. Sunday they defeated Dallas in their scrimmage with help from Myles Turner’s return; The big man recorded 15 points and 8 rebounds in his first action since his calf bruise, blending well with Victor Oladipo who added 16 points and 7 rebounds. Four starters added 15 points or more during limited court time. Guard Aaron Holiday perhaps has a really difficult task in replacing Indiana’s only all-star Domantas Sabonis in the starting lineup, as the Center is in LA recovering from plantar fasciitis. Holiday’s minutes with Oladipo and Malcolm Brogdon will be key down the stretch for the Pacers if they want to continue a balanced attack. Myles Turner will assume the Center position in Sabonis’s absence, while Indiana looks to recover from Tuesday’s loss to San Antonio with crunch time around the corner.
San Antonio Spurs
As previously mentioned, San Antonio defeated Indiana 118-111 in Tuesday’s scrimmage. The most impressive thing about the win is that they did it with their younger talent. LaMarcus Aldridge is still recovering from shoulder surgery he had three months ago, and Patty Mills has been banged up as of late. DeMar DeRozan appears to have let the young core take the reins; The likes of Dejontae Murray, Lonnie Walker IV and Derrick White have been the gel of this team in exhibition play, as they combined for 15 assists in the scrimmage vs Indiana. In the first two scrimmage games, DeRozan was 6th in shot attempts after Murray, Walker IV, White, Rudy Gay and Bryn Forbes. The move looks as if DeRozan is evaluating the Spurs’ young talent and whether or not he wants to exercise his $27.7 Million option next year. Throughout scrimmage play San Antonio appears to have a young core– something that has not been said about this team in quite a while.
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Charlotte has not exactly been the spark of the NBA, but they did have some bright spots despite their 23-42 shortened season. The most apparent upside is Terry Rozier who averaged 18 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists, even improving to a .553 true shooting percentage. Devonte Graham may be a candidate for Most Improved Player- as his averages of 4.7 points and 2.6 assists from last year have soared to 18.2 points and 7.5 assists per game this season. Combine the backcourt improvement with the occasional shine of the newcomers such as rookie PJ Washington from Kentucky (who scored 27 points, 7 three-pointers in the opening game vs Chicago), Charlotte may actually have a foundation to build upon in years to come. As long as he and the athletic, versatile Miles Bridges continue to develop on a consistent basis, the team is in position to compete at a level it has been striving to reach for years. The Hornets are projected to have the 8th pick in the 2020 draft, which can land them a two-way player to turn around their 29th ranked offense and 24th ranked defense– let’s just hope they stay off the “Big man bad contract” carousel that plagued them before. (See Cody Zeller, Bismack Byombo, Timofey Mosgov and Dwight Howard before his career saving move to LA). Albeit the players and money are in the right place, expect the Charlotte Hornets to make waves as a team that can compete as a middle of the pack team in the NBA soon.