NBA preseason opening night: Lakers youngster steals spotlight; Wall, Cousins impress; Bench Melo is a problem

If you feel like last NBA season just ended, you’re kind of right. Only 60 days after the Los Angeles Lakers were crowned champions in Orlando, the 2020-21 preseason kicked off on Friday with five games. Those very Lakers were on the slate, though their roster looked different with offseason additions Montrezl Harrell, Dennis Schroder and Wesley Matthews making their debuts, plus LeBron James, Anthony Davis and other key players sitting out.

While most of the Lakers are coming off the shortest offseason of their careers, other teams took the court for the first time in nine months, making for an eventful evening to say the least. Below are the scores from the first NBA preseason games of 2020-21, along with some takeaways from the night’s action. Welcome back, folks … it’s like we never left.

NBA preseason scores for Friday, Dec. 11

Yeah, this is weird

The NBA did a great job with the production in the bubble, and by the time the Lakers won the title the backdrop and the Disney courts became surprisingly familiar. The same will happen with empty NBA arenas this season, but it will once again take some getting used to. One look at mask-clad Pistons dancers busting moves by themselves in a sea of empty seats lets you know how strange this season is going to be.

Wall, Cousins reunited … and it looks so good

John Wall hadn’t played in an NBA basketball game for nearly two years. DeMarcus Cousins last played 18 months ago in the Finals. So it’s hard to imagine a more encouraging Rockets debut, even in the preseason, than the two former Kentucky teammates turned in on Friday. Wall got on the board early with a driving layup, then found Cousins for a 3-pointer, and things only got better from there. Wall finished with 13 points, nine assists, five rebounds and two steals in 18 minutes, while Cousins added 14 points, five rebounds and two blocks in 14 minutes.

This has to give hope to a Rockets franchise that appears to be in tatters following the exodus of Russell Westbrook, Mike D’Antoni and Daryl Morey, plus the standing trade request from James Harden. Perhaps Wall and Cousins’ performance will give Harden hope that Houston can still be a contender. But probably not.

Trez gets first crack at revenge

We had a feeling new Lakers center Montrezl Harrell would have a little extra energy against his former Clippers, who reportedly didn’t want him back this offseason after his Sixth Man of the Year campaign. Harrell put up 13 points and 12 rebounds on Friday in his Lakers preseason debut, and shot more than one glance toward the Clipper bench after scoring. The trash talk went both ways, however, as Clippers guard Patrick Beverley — never one to sit idly by — openly heckled his former teammate after a missed midrange jumper.

Trash talk is a part of the game and will likely continue all year long, but it will be strange to see Harrell playing for the Lakers this season after he was such an integral part of the Clippers’ success over the past few seasons.

Nice to meet you, Bench Melo

Carmelo Anthony openly admitted that he had some trouble coming to grips with a projected bench role with the Blazers this season, but judging from Friday night’s performance, he’s truly embraced it. Anthony was instant offense as a reserve, scoring 10 points in his first four minutes on the floor en route to 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, including 3-of-3 from behind the arc.

If Portland commits to running the offense through Anthony with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on the bench, there’s a chance he could put up big numbers and be a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year candidate. It would only be another chapter in what’s been a fascinating, roller-coaster career.

THT hype train has officially left the station

To be honest this actually started with a couple of strong performances in the bubble, but the Talen Horton-Tucker hype train is in full effect in Laker land after the second-year guard put up a game-high 19 points to go along with nine rebounds, four assists and three steals in a preseason win over the Clippers. The Lakers were without LeBron James, Anthony Davis and a host of other rotation players, and Horton-Tucker took full advantage of his 37 minutes.

With the Lakers expected to rest starters intermittently throughout the season given the quick turnaround from the bubble, Horton-Tucker might see the floor more often than the six games he played last year. If so, he could end up eventually earning a spot in the rotation.

Big debut for Obi

Knicks rookie Obi Toppin was considered to be one of the most NBA-ready players in the draft, and he proved it in his preseason debut on Friday. He looked extremely comfortable while putting up 11 points, seven rebounds and a block in 20 minutes. Toppin showcased his athleticism and offensive ability, scoring in transition and the post while displaying solid ball-handling ability for his 6-9 frame.

Toppin mostly played as the power forward alongside 7-footer Mitchell Robinson, which gives the Knicks a ton of length and athleticism in the frontcourt.

“I wouldn’t say (nerves) hit me, but it was kind of a shock as soon as Coach called my name and told me to go to the scorer’s table. I was like, ‘Uh oh, it’s my time,’ ” Toppin said after his debut, via SNY. “I wasn’t really nervous or scared just because I knew everybody else would pick me up. I just went out there and did what I do best, and that’s play basketball.”

Shaking off the rust

It had been nine months since some of these teams played, so it wasn’t surprising to see some sloppy play during stretches throughout the night. This sequence in the Knicks-Pistons game pretty much embodies how 2020 has gone for most of us:

Combined, the teams committed 46 turnovers and shot 15-62 from 3-point range. Yeesh. Despite the occasional bumps in the road, however, it was still great to see live NBA basketball once again.

Trae goes five-hole

Trae Young got in the holiday spirit by adding a little nutmeg to the Hawks-Magic game on Friday night. He dropped a sweet pass right between Nikola Vucevic’s legs to find a cutting Clint Capela for an easy layup.

Young didn’t have the best night, but he’ll be one of the league’s most entertaining players this season on a Hawks team that appears dead-set on fighting for a playoff spot.


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