Zion Williamson got to work for his new coach. Chris Paul got started with a new set of teammates.
And on Tuesday, James Harden is expected to do what feels like a little of both.
With a preseason that’s shorter than usual before the NBA season opens on Dec. 22, teams don’t have much time to ready themselves gradually. Some teams are playing just two exhibition games before things count.
That’s probably why Williamson was still on the floor attacking the basket in the fourth quarter in Miami. New Orleans led the Heat comfortably in its debut under Stan Van Gundy, but the veteran coach had his young starters on the floor for more than 30 minutes.
“That’s why I play basketball, to play a lot of minutes and to help my team win,” Williamson said.
Williamson, whose rookie season got off to a late start because of a knee injury that caused his minutes to be limited when he returned, finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds. Brandon Ingram, last season’s Most Improved Player, had 22 points, six rebounds and six assists.
Paul sat out Phoenix’s preseason opener but was in the starting lineup for its loss at Utah, finishing with five points and six assists in 18 minutes. The veteran point guard is yet another reason for optimism around the Suns after they went undefeated in the Walt Disney World bubble.
There were six games on the schedule Monday, including Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo going head-to-head again in Milwaukee, though the biggest news might have been at a practice. Harden took the floor for the Rockets after joining the team late amid reports he wants to be traded.
Coach Stephen Silas said Harden is expected to play Tuesday against San Antonio. The NBA’s leading scorer hasn’t spoken to reporters yet, so there is curiosity all around the league about whether he wants out of a Houston organization that has a new coach and a new backcourt mate for him after swapping Russell Westbrook for John Wall among its numerous changes.
“That part of our business is going to be what it is. There’s no control that we have as players to at least manage what’s being said in terms of rumor mills and what’s being reported. So let’s just leave it at that,” said Kyrie Irving of Brooklyn, one of the teams linked to Harden if there is a trade.
“James is a great player and we wish him well. And I just want him to be happy, be secure in who he is as a man first and then as a basketball player. Whatever happens between those conversations are between them.”
PELICANS 114, HEAT 92
Lonzo Ball had 12 points and six assists for the Pelicans at Miami, where they will play on Christmas Day. Josh Hart added 11 points.
The Heat rested Jimmy Butler in their first game since losing to the Lakers in the NBA Finals. Tyler Herro scored 17 points for Miami, and Duncan Robinson added 14.
Bam Adebayo finished with nine points and eight assists for the Heat.
JAZZ 111, SUNS 92
At Salt Lake City, Bojan Bogdanovic scored 18 points for Utah, and Rudy Gobert had 11 points and 20 rebounds.
Mike Conley scored 16 points for the Jazz, and Donovan Mitchell had 15 points and six rebounds.
Devin Booker scored 27 points for Phoenix. Deandre Ayton took just seven shots and scored four points.
MAVERICKS 128, BUCKS 112
At Milwaukee, Doncic had 27 points, eight rebounds and four assists, while Josh Richardson chipped in 23 points and seven assists.
Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 17 points for Dallas, which also beat Milwaukee on Saturday night.
Antetokounmpo finished with 24 points and 14 rebounds, a night that should have been better except for his 1-for-7 shooting from the free-throw line. Khris Middleton scored 13 points.
RAPTORS 112, HORNETS 109
At Charlotte, Fred VanVleet scored 23 points as Toronto completed its two-game sweep of the Hornets.
Terry Rozier scored 15 points for the Hornets, and Gordon Hayward had 14.
Rookie LaMelo Ball, the No. 3 pick in the draft, had 12 points and two assists in a reserve role. He had been scoreless on 0-for-5 shooting in Toronto’s victory on Saturday.
CAVALIERS 116, PACERS 106
At Cleveland, Dante Exum scored 23 points as the Cavaliers improved their preseason record to 2-0.
Andre Drummond had 17 points and 11 rebounds, and Darius Garland also scored 17 points. Rookie Isaac Okoro finished with 15 points.
Domantas Sabonis had 18 points and nine rebounds for the Pacers (0-2). Aaron Holiday added 16 points but Victor Oladipo had only nine on 2-for-11 shooting.
GRIZZLIES 123, TIMBERWOLVES 104
At Minneapolis, Ja Morant had 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists as Memphis ran away from Minnesota.
Jonas Valanciunas scored 22 points for the Grizzlies, who never trailed. Dillon Brooks added 21 points and Kyle Anderson scored 16.
D’Angelo Russell scored 19 points and Karl-Anthony Towns had 14 points and nine rebounds for Minnesota. No. 1 pick Anthony Edwards finished with 12 points but shot 4 for 14.
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