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NBA Stars Didn't Disappoint In Season Openers


Perhaps more than any other major professional sports league in this country, the National Basketball Association is star-driven. And yesterday, the stars did not disappoint. A Christmas slate of season-opening games featured the electric play of the league's Most Valuable Player, Derrick Rose, and the NBA's top scorer, Kevin Durant, and this guy named LeBron James as well. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman monitored as much as he could of 13 hours of NBA action. And he joins me now.

Good morning, Tom.


WERTHEIMER: So what did you learn from the first five games of this lockout-shortened season?

GOLDMAN: I learned once again why NBA commissioner David Stern often flashes that Cheshire cat grin, even when fans were hating his league for nearly canceling the season because of a labor dispute. Stern knows what we saw again yesterday - the power to mend fans' hurt feelings with masterful performances on the court.

You know, we have All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony scoring 37 points and leading the New York Knicks to thrilling two-point win over Boston. We have LeBron James scoring 37 as the Heat humiliated the defending champion Dallas Mavericks on the day the Mavericks raised their championship banner from last season.

We have Derrick Rose capping off a Chicago rally. The Bulls were down 11 against the L.A. Lakers with less than four minutes to play, and then Rose hits the winning shot with seconds left on the clock. We have Kevin Durant scoring 30 points to lead Oklahoma City.

And the nightcap, those new-look L.A. Clippers easily beat Golden State with big help from their snazzy new point guard, Chris Paul. He had 20 points and nine assists.

WERTHEIMER: OK. So it's early in the season, but are you prepared to draw any conclusions about what you saw yesterday?

GOLDMAN: Well, you know, of course every game you have to preface with it was only the first game. And some of these teams may want to lean on that more than others.

For example, the Lakers; they can say, well, we almost beat a Chicago team that's considered one of the Eastern Conference elite. We're still adjusting to the loss of one of our key players, Lamar Odom, who was traded to Dallas, and we didn't have our starting center, Andrew Bynum. He's serving a four-game suspension to start out the season.

Same for the Boston Celtics, who like the Lakers, they're said to be ready for a down year because they're old. The Celtics didn't have their top player, Paul Pierce. He's out with a heel injury and they still almost beat those star-studded Knicks.

Now, on the other hand, you've got the two teams picked by many to be in the finals - Miami and Oklahoma City. They looked ready for that championship round now. For them it was like, yeah, it was just game one and we sure want to keep playing like that.

WERTHEIMER: But still, it sounds like the Heat were the big deal of the opener.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, they made a big statement. They beat Dallas in Dallas by 11. But Miami led by more than 30 points at times. They thoroughly dominated the Mavs. The entire team was so sharp on defense. LeBron James was at his all-court best - scoring, passing, defending. You and I talked Friday about James, how he'd been working on his game. He added some new skills down close to the basket and he showed off some of that.

WERTHEIMER: What about the defending champions? Any talk of a repeat performance?

GOLDMAN: Well, there's less of it after yesterday. As I mentioned before the game, Dallas raised its championship banner. And one snarky commentator said at halftime: Maybe they should take it down.

They looked unprepared, basically. And they really seemed to miss two key players from last year who signed with other teams - guard JJ Barea. He was so effective with his darting drives to the hoop and his ability to break down defenses. And 7-foot center Tyson Chandler. He was so dominant around the basket for the Mavs, especially on defense. They could've used those guys yesterday and going forward.

WERTHEIMER: Tom, thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: You bet.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's senior national correspondent, Linda Wertheimer travels the country and the globe for NPR News, bringing her unique insights and wealth of experience to bear on the day's top news stories.
Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.