First and foremost, for any of those who were, are or will be touched by Hurricane Sandy, we hope you are OK.
Hopefully, for any that were affected, tonight can provide a healthy, much-needed distraction from the "real world", as basketball fans are finally getting meaningful games again. For Dallas, the start of the season is exciting and filled with possibility...though not all those possibilities are good.
Sufficed to say, this is a season of transition, and it won't take long to notice the differences when the starting lineups are announced. As has been covered by Andy and Kirk, there is no Kidd, no Terry, no Dirk (for thankfully different reasons). Shocking as it is, the only player active tonight who saw the court in the postseason during Dallas' championship run that was just 16 months ago is Shawn Marion. Yes, that's it.
So, with so many new faces, questions are abundant, but here are the five I'm looking at as keys for tonight's affair:
1) Can Eddy Curry still play?
- Curry has been the punchline of more than one joke, and with good reason. After struggling with conditioning issues, Curry logged just 74 minutes in three seasons between 2008-09 and 2010-11. After reportedly getting in shape and resurfacing in Miami, he logged just 83 minutes last year during the regular season, on a Heat team that, while very good, had a pretty atrocious center rotation, and suffered several frontcourt injuries in the playoffs that depleted their depth. As capable as Curry looked at times with the Spurs this preseason, I think it is a fair question to ask: if he was any good, why didn't he see the court more?
Even in his slimmer form, Curry is still fairly beefy, and not the fleetest of foot. He will be immediately tested by arguably the most athletic center in the NBA. Honestly, something short of a complete embarrassment should be a huge accomplishment for Curry, but assuming he can play for even short bursts, it isn't inconceivable to think he could be a useful bench player once Kaman returns. Not many 2nd or 3rd string centers will be able to move Curry on the low block, and though historically rebounding and team defense have been, to put it politely, "non-strengths", a scoring post-up specialist would be nice. Curry might represent one of the few efficient scoring options at Carlisle's disposal. But this all hinges on what would be a pretty surprising comeback story for a guy who looked to be on his way to early retirement.
2) Who backs up Collison at the point?
- Rick Carlisle tried his best to remain positive when asked about the backup point minutes in the preseason, but there's no surgarcoating it: without Delonte West, the options are limited. We're all hoping the light comes on for Roddy Beaubois, as now more than ever before the job is right there for the taking, but evidence continues to mount that he is simply not going to cut it. So who does that leave? Dominique Jones? Let's just not go there. Jared Cunningham? Get back to me in a few months. O.J. Mayo? Well, horrifying as it might be, he's your second best passer at the moment. If I had to make a prediction, it would be that Collison and Mayo will get a lot of minutes, and that the latter might end up being the point man when Collison checks out of the ballgame.
3) Can this team rebound?
- The turnover problems came and went and came again for Dallas, but one constant seemed to be Dallas being absolutely punished on the glass. Against the Lakers, I'd say the chances are nearly 100% that Dallas will come out behind in the rebounding column, but remaining somewhat competitive here could represent progress. You see teams occasionally succeed despite a horrendous rebounding disparity (Boston comes to mind), but eliminating second chance opportunities by securing the defensive boards could go a long way in helping Carlisle mold this team into yet another strong Dallas defensive unit.
4) How much small ball can they get away with?
- One major factor here will probably be the game-time decision on one Kobe Bean Bryant. Without Bryant, I'd feel much more comfortable with the many small-ball lineups Carlisle is likely to deploy. Of course, even minus Kobe, the Lakers are an uncommonly big team in the frontcourt, and so the popular deployment of a Carter-Marion forward tandem may be a recipe for disaster. Still, looking at the Lakers lack of perimeter athleticism and near-total absence of depth, a fast-paced, up and down style of play might be a real weapon for Dallas in wearing down LA.
5) Is Jae Crowder for real?
- We asked this at the start of the preseason, after Crowder's impressive Summer League, and Crowder did his best to answer in the affirmative. Now, the games really matter, and the competition level goes up several notches. Players past and present have noted the immense difference in speed and intensity in the regular season compared to the preseason. It is not something we as fans can properly appreciate, I am sure. One thing we can safely assume, though, is that Crowder will get a chance. He almost has to.