We're in the final week of pre-season hoops before the real games begin next week and I'm happy about that! Here are some quick NBA thoughts for you on a Monday afternoon.
1. Amare Stoudemire (Knicks): Rolled the dice a few years back, giving him almost $100 million with shaky knees and a contract that has major risk on the insurance side. Saw him on Friday night in Montreal and he looked okay and then you hear the announcement that he'll be out for a few weeks. Big blow for their team early on and more importantly, is this a sign of things to come where, as we saw last year, he's only able to give you a diminishing percentage of games and at what level. Long-term deals can blow up in your face if a guy has a history health-wise and the law of averages works against guys with lots of mileage on them.
2. Kevin Love and Dirk Nowitzki: Raptors fans all know that the early schedule is brutal with 15 of the first 22 games coming on the road. Look at November 4th vs. Minnesota and November 7th at Dallas. Raptors just caught an early break. All Stars Love and Nowitzki won't play against them on those dates. Gotta take advantage those dates. No game and/or winning it is easy, yet at some point, if you're going to improve and contend for a playoff spot, you must seize the breaks that come your way.
3. Dwight Howard (Lakers): His debut on Sunday was impressive to say the least. Dominant yet far from tip-top game shape. Watch out! Love the passes that teammates were delivering for him - a very favorable target to say the least. His ability to block/alter shots as well as be a huge force on the defensive boards makes this team so much better than the soft defensive team we saw at times last season. He gives them an attitude, willingness and ability to play aggressively because he's back there to clean things up. Nice major league luxury to have.
4. Raptors Depth: Impressive. Watched them each day at training camp and have seen all of their five pre-season games. Do they have that superstar/star #1 or 2 guy? No. But and it's a big but, over the long marathon-like course of an 82-game regular season, they've got something that might/should help them steal some W's along the way when you're dealing with injuries, fatigue and the grind of back-to-backs, three games in four days and four games in five days. Lots of options for Dwane Casey and he and his staff are starting to feel better about what they have to work with compared to last year. More importantly, the confidence level of the players and the knowledge of the fact that they're more talented as a group is growing. The returning players like Ed Davis, Amir Johnson and DeMar DeRozan to name a few should be commended; they paid their dues in the off-season. They're in terrific shape. I'm seeing lots of 'buy-in' from many guys.
5. Montreal: Once again, Awesome! Two Raptors games in the past three years there and both sellouts in front of folks that were into the games and enthusiastic. Could Montreal support an NBA team? In my opinion, probably not. I'm still 100% sold that it would work in Vancouver if it returned there. But could they host one or two Raptors regular season games per year? Yes, I think so. Wouldn't be surprised if the powers that be there in Montreal aren't asking themselves that exact question today upon reflection of the success the two games there have had.