Early developments from the Northwest division:
Portland Trail Blazers beat the Houston Rockets
Houston entered the game 2-0 behind James Harden and Jeremy Lin. Portland limped into the game, having been beat handily by the Oklahoma City Thunder the night before. James Harden was supposed to put up monster stats and the Trail Blazers were supposed to lose valiantly. Somebody forgot to tell the Trail Blazers they are in rebuild mode, though. Nicolas Batum exploded in the third quarter drilling back to back three’s to calm the Toyota Center and the Trail Blazers roared back to claim their second win in three tries.
Why it was important: An opening night win over the LA Lakers grabbed headlines, but it was hardly a surprise. The Lakers are dreadful when they play in the Rose Garden; the Lakers fell to 2-6 in their last 8 on the Blazers home court. The Houston contest showed resilience. The Blazers could have easily folded in the second leg of the back-to-back but instead finished strong and are sitting pretty at 2-1 after the first week.
Denver starts the season 0-3
There is no shame in losing to the Miami Heat by 3. Likewise with the Philadelphia 76ers. Losing convincingly to the Orlando Magic will raise some red flags, though. Put it all together and the result is a slow start for the Nuggets. Without a premier player, the Nuggets are struggling to put up points. A 0-3 hole is not a bottomless pit, but the Nuggets can’t afford to drop games like this if they expect to compete for the division title.
Why it’s important: Many people have Denver pegged as a dark house contender. With the slow start, some may have revised their predictions. The Nuggets have yet to play a home-game and should get back on track Tuesday against the Pistons, but the Nuggets have dug themselves an early hole to climb out of.
Atlanta beats Oklahoma City
The departure of James Harden was questioned widely, and it appears the Thunder are hurting early without the beard. Oklahoma City dropped 2 of 3 to start (OKC's only win was over the Portland Trailblazers). Likewise the Nuggets, they have faced stiff competition. However, unlike the Nuggets, the Thunder are not holding down home court.
Why it’s important: The Oklahoma City Thunder were (and rightfully so) the trendy pick to reclaim the Western Conference title. Without James Harden it seems the chemistry has disappeared. The Thunder stumbled out of the gates to a 1-2 start that leaves Thunder fans scratching their head and wondering if they were sold a raw deal. It’s early, but Oklahoma City is showing signs of weakness that they did not exhibit with James Harden.