NBA opening night reaction

Tim Cowlishaw, Dallas Morning News: How different are the Mavericks? We have a long time to try and figure that out, but clearly the arrival of Shawn Marion and Drew Gooden won’t answer all of Dallas’ problems right away. Mostly, the Mavs opened the season looking a lot like what we have seen around here. Dirk Nowitzki scored 34 but didn’t have one of his better shooting nights. The offensive energy came from J.J. Barea (13 points, six rebounds, four assists) as it often does. But it was clear in the Denver series last spring that the Mavericks just weren’t quite good enough at the defensive end of the floor. Since then, not much that was done here was designed to change that.

Brian Windhorst, Cleveland.com: It was quite obvious the Cavs were uncomfortable and in search mode from the top on down. Mike Brown was changing lineups and strategies on the fly, the defense was a mess for long stretches and the offense was in its old, but infamous, all-James, all-the-time mode in the final minutes. This, of course, is what the Cavs were afraid of after a somewhat ineffective preseason. While there’s plenty of time to deal with those bumps — though the Celtics will have strong bragging rights until the teams meet again on Feb. 25 — perhaps most disturbing was the effect of Shaquille O’Neal in his first real game as a Cav. He had just 10 points on 5-of-11 shooting with 10 rebounds in 29 minutes. Deeper than those vanilla numbers, however, was his inability to deliver at all in the fourth quarter. Three different times James went to him with the score tight and the game on the line and three different times he was unable to come through.

Jay Mariotti, Fanhouse: All it means it that this is a work in progress, that no magic carpet will sweep the Cavs into June and a much-desired Finals matchup with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. The Celtics didn’t look like a team whose Big Three is a combined 100 years old. Rather, they were energized again by the dynamic point guard, Rajon Rondo, and bolstered by the offense and outside shooting of a widely despised newcomer, Rasheed Wallace. The Cavs couldn’t match up at times with Wallace, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, and with Garnett looking sturdy and effective in his first game in seven months, the Celtics made a statement that they aren’t dead yet as a contender.

Elliott Teaford, Los Angeles Daily News:
Ron Artest had 10 points, five rebounds and four assists in his Lakers debut. At game’s end, Jackson praised Artest for his standout defensive work against Al Thornton, who had eight points on 4-for-11 shooting and nine rebounds in place of injured rookie forward Blake Griffin. “He played shut-down defense very well against their scoring forward, Thornton,” Jackson said. “I thought he looked like he was in the offensive mix most of the time.”

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Cavs’ newcomers can’t get it done

The much ballyhooed opener between the Cavs and the Celtics ended in disappointment for Cleveland, as Boston grinded out narrow win, beating the Cavs, 95-89.

LeBron had a great game — it’s sad when we don’t think twice about a 38-point, 8-assist, 4-rebound, 4-block, 2- steal effort — but he once again didn’t get what he needed from his supporting cast.

Shaquille O’Neal was serviceable, posting 10 points and 10 rebounds in 29 minutes, but he missed a pair of crucial free throws in the fourth quarter when the Cavs were trying to mount a comeback. Anthony Parker, starting in place of the still-missing Delonte West, scored 10 points (on 3-9 shooting), but had a bad sequence in crunch time. In the last three minutes, he missed an open jumper, retreated too early on defense after LeBron shot a long three (missing an opportunity for an easy offensive rebound) and let a James pass sail through his hands and out of bounds. Parker is a good player, but he didn’t show it down the stretch.

As for the Celtics, Doc Rivers was hoping to limit Kevin Garnett to 30 minutes, but he kept him in the game in the fourth quarter when he saw an opportunity to beat the Cavs on their home floor. KG finished with 13/10 (in 33 minutes) and hit a difficult bank shot over O’Neal in the fourth quarter.

Rasheed Wallace came off the bench to score 12 points in 24 minutes. He was in the game in crunch time, essentially splitting time with Kendrick Perkins at center. Paul Pierce led the way for the C’s with 23 points and 11 rebounds.

League suspends Ray Allen for one game

The NBA has handed down a one-game suspension for the elbow Ray Allen threw at Anderson Varejao’s family jewels.

Allen, who averages 18.2 points and 3.5 rebounds, will serve his suspension when the Celtics visit the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday. Allen will be docked more than $167,000 in salary. Kevin Garnett also will miss the game to rest his strained knee.

Varejao flung Boston’s guard to the floor, and Allen responded with a well placed elbow into the forward’s groin area. Both players jawed at each other before getting technical fouls.

“It was a dirty play,” Allen said. “He locked my arm and threw me to the ground. I wasn’t going to allow him to think he could do whatever he wanted. I’m always going to stand up for myself. It’s one thing for a team to be beating us, but they’re not going to walk all over us.”

The frizzy-haired Varejao had his own take.

“You don’t hit a man in his [groin],” he said. “He doesn’t like Brazilians or he doesn’t like my hair.”

Holy crap: Ray Allen makes $167,000 per game. Amazing.

It was a cheap shot, but given Varejao’s actions, I still think Allen’s elbow was justified. Though I don’t know that it was worth $167 K.

Ray Allen elbows Anderson Varejao in the groin…

…and I don’t blame him.

You can see that Varejao locked Allen’s elbow and wouldn’t let go, throwing him to the floor. Everybody focuses on the elbow to the groin, but what Varejao did was just as bad. Why is he locking Allen’s arm up on the free throw? Is he trying to injure him? If Varejao releases Allen’s arm there, nothing happens.

Pay attention! Cavs/Celtics tonight

The Celtics are a game back of the Cavs and are still without the services of Kevin Garnett, but they’ll have home court advantage tonight when they host Cleveland in the third of four regular season meetings between the two teams.

The Cavs have won four straight and nine of their last ten, while the Celtics have split their last four, with losses to Detroit at home (ouch!) and to the Clippers in L.A. (double-ouch!). They are 4-3 without Garnett (if you count the game he was injured) and it’s unfortunate that he isn’t able to play in this crucial matchup.

What’s at stake? Well, since KG is out, the C’s have a built in excuse if they lose, so the psychological impact won’t be great (unless, of course, Boston can pull out a win without one of its stars). So far, the home team has won each matchup this season with the Celtics winning back in October and the Cavs rolling at home in January.

Home court is huge in the playoffs, so this game is doubly important. It’s one thing to win a game, but it’s another to win and hang a loss on your biggest rival for the #1 seed.

Tip-off is at 8 PM on ESPN.

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