It’s only a handful of games into the season but it’s these games that can set the pace for teams. Some have started the season off well. Some haven’t. Some are building what could be formidable playoff teams while others are already snowballing into what will turn them into lottery teams next summer. However they are starting the season, every team is setting a theme for both the best and the worst.
1. Los Angeles Lakers (7-0)
Being the No. 1 scoring team in the league should be at no surprise for the defending champs. Point guards Derek Fisher and Steve Blake are both averaging only four assists per game and they are putting up 22 a game (9th in the league). They are spreading out the ball and utilizing their depth very appropriately. We could still question parts of this bench but Blake and Matt Barnes give them a lot more to work with. As long as Pau Gasol is playing well both defensively and offensively, sky is the limit for the Lakers.
2. New Orleans Hornets (6-0)
The Hornets are only scoring 97 points a game. This stat comes to no surprise when you look at who can really score in New Orleans but the fact that they are still undefeated really sticks out. A team built around arguably the best point guard in the league in Chris Paul would be thought to be perfect this far into the season around offense. Instead, it’s the defense that is propelling this team forward. While giving up only 91 points a game, the Hornets have held Milwaukee to 81, Miami to 93 and San Antonio to 90. This is the best start in franchise history for the Hornets but how long can the winning last?
3. Boston Celtics (6-2)
The pieces are coming together nicely in Boston. Rajon Rondo is averaging 15.5 assists a game and has surely won over the respect of both his teammates and the pundits. Scoring distribution will keep this team fresh and a good man running point will definitely help. Five of their six wins are over teams that were in the playoffs last season. We have yet to see Shaquille O’neal and Kendrick Perkins both active on this roster.
4. Atlanta Hawks (6-2)
It’s balance that is keeping these Hawks afloat and that’s the best thing to build a season on. Josh Smith is making a case for early MVP consideration and will just get better over the course of the season. It’s also looking like extending Al Horford’s contract is looking like a good decision. They are averaging 104 points a game while still collecting 32 defensive boards a game. However, this team needs to recover from its recent two game slide.
5. Miami Heat (5-2)
For those of you that expected the Heat to win 82 games, sorry but that can’t happen now. In addition, loses to both Boston and New Orleans should be nothing to be embarrassed about right now. Erik Spoelstra needs to figure out the best rotation of the bench that wont hurt them too much. Right now, the bench is being outscored and outplayed. It’s a long season and three players cannot carry a team by themselves.
6. Orlando Magic (5-1)
Orlando should technically be 6-1 but issues at Madison Square Garden caused the Knicks to postpone their inevitable loss to the Magic. Regardless, their one loss to the Heat is warranted and Rashard Lewis needs to put up more than 2 points for the Magic to win such a statement game.
7. Denver Nuggets (4-3)
Nene, Chris Anderson and Kenyon Martin are out with injuries. They beat the Mavericks in Dallas with Sheldon Williams starting and that speaks volumes about how this team will perform when their big men return. Their depth will increase tremendously. If Denver keeps winning, it may translate to a happy Carmelo Anthony and when Melo is happy, everyone is happy.
8. Portland Trail Blazers (5-3)
Holding Phoenix to just 92 points and later Milwaukee to only 76 is what is helping this Trail Blazers team make the point that they are serious about defense. Marcus Camby can defend well but Nate McMillen will need to figure out how to get some more scoring from his frontcourt. His starting forwards only scored nine points against the Lakers on Sunday and they aren’t even breaking 100 points per game. It was, however, their fifth game in seven days.
9. Dallas Mavericks (4-2)
Dallas has seven players that will show up every night on the court. Jason Kidd is showing almost no signs of age while the frontcourt is stacked with Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler. Dallas narrowly beat Denver last Wednesday just to lose to them Saturday. The Mavs will rebound once Caron Butler and Shawn Marion hit their strides. However, Dallas needs to clean up its turnovers that are at 16 a game and their bench is ranked second to last in scoring. Although there are no “statement” games in November, beating Boston is the closest you can get to having one.
10. San Antonio Spurs (5-1)
Their record is impressive until you see that they have only beaten one team that made the playoffs last season in Phoenix. They are fourth in the league in scoring with 109 a game and their next three games are easy wins against the Clippers, Bobcats and the 76ers. The youth in San Antonio surrounded by a mix of good coaching and veterans will spell out an interesting season. However, Greg Popavich needs his young guys to get the minutes they need to grow.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder (3-3)
It’s funny that a team with Russell Westbrook is ranked 30th in the league in assists per game but when you look at the depth in OKC, it begins to make sense. The ball isn’t being spread out enough and sheer depth may haunt the Thunder again this season. Again, it’s 82 games and it takes more than an sixth man to get through a season and make the playoffs out West.
12. Memphis Grizzlies (4-4)
Rudy Gay became the first player in franchise history to score at least 25 points a game in five consecutive games. However, it’s their defense that needs to step up since they are allowing their opponents to score 107 points a game. They are undersized and young which is a bad place to be in the Western Conference. It’s going to a long season with hopefully some growth.
13. Utah Jazz (3-3)
Deron Williams and company are obviously hurting from loosing some of their star players. With Mehmet Okur out, the Jazz are limited in size and they are obviously having a hard time scoring when they can only muster up 78 points against the Warriors. It wont get any easier with them playing Miami, Orlando and Atlanta this week.
14. Phoenix Suns (3-4)
Steve Nash entered the season with reservations about the Suns’ chances this season. Losses to Portland, San Antonio and LA aren’t something to be ashamed of this season. In all three of their loses, Hedo Turkoglu has scored six points twice and nine points once. Maybe it’s time to put some production into this starting lineup. Alvin Gentry is going to get to the point where he no longer asks permission to yell at his team.
15. Chicago Bulls (3-3)
Derrick Rose and the Bulls really took it to the Celtics last Friday in a come back that forced overtime. They fell short in the extra minutes but the play of both Rose and Joakim Noah should keep Bulls fans optimistic. If Tom Thibodeau and company want to win, Ronnie Brewer needs more minutes and Carlos Boozer needs to return from injury.
16. Golden State Warriors (5-2)
The Warriors have started the season off 4-0 for the first time in 20 years. Subsequently, three of those four wins are against teams that failed to reach the postseason last year and Utah isn’t the beast it once was. Monta Ellis has already had two very impressive outings of 46 and 39 points and the return of Stephen Curry will greatly help this backcourt.
17. New York Knicks (3-3)
A win in Chicago could or couldn’t be a big deal this early in the season since we have yet to see them form. Their other two wins were against Toronto and Washington which both paint a better picture of what this team is truly capable of. We all know that Mike D’antoni teams can get worn out and that Amar’e Stoudemire’s heightened level of play wont last.
18. Cleveland Cavaliers (3-3)
Cleveland has the fourth best bench as far as scoring in the league. That same bench never got LeBron James a ring so we don’t really expect the same to pan out for Antawn Jamison and friends. Byron Scott is letting them grow but that’s about all we expect from this season. An initial win over Boston is impressive until you see that they lost to Toronto and Sacramento the following days.
19. Sacramento Kings (3-3)
The Kings are scoring but still allowing their opponents to rack up 107 points a game. DeMarcus Cousins has yet to record a 10-rebound game and Tyreke Evans is still trying to do too much on the court. Good news is that their both young and when they click, it could mean a lot to wherever the Kings end up playing next.
20. Milwaukee Bucks (2-5)
Scott Skiles is having a hard time getting the Bucks rolling into this season. They are 30th in the league in scoring at only 89 a game and it’s mainly due to their depth. Drew Gooden is giving them some more power up front but with just Corey Maggette producing off of the bench, it may be a long road for the Bucks.
21. Houston Rockets (1-5)
All five of Houston’s losses came from very formidable teams this season (Lakers, Warriors, Spurs, Hornets and Nuggets). Aaron Brooks will be missed and Kyle Lowry will not be able to carry the load by himself. Luis Scola and Kevin Martin are working out well with all the injuries but Rick Adelman needs a healthy roster in order to compete.
22. Philadelphia 76ers (2-5)
Philly started the season off with losses against Miami, Atlanta, Indiana and Washington. If you are surprised, close this window immediately. Evan Turner’s scoring has been up and down but what can you expect from a rookie surrounded by a bunch of trash? Surprisingly, their bench is ranked first in scoring.
23. Indiana Pacers (2-3)
At first, it’s looks like Darren Collison may be a little in over his head at running Indiana’s point. Then again, look at who this young man is passing to. He filled in when Westbrook went down at UCLA and stepped up last season when Paul went down in New Orleans. However, the talent is pretty thin in Indiana. Danny Granger seems to be approaching a nice stride but there isn’t much other good news coming out of Indiana.
24. Detroit Pistons (2-5)
The Pistons are bottom feeders in almost every statistical category. This does not bode well for a team that is striving to achieve mediocrity. However, they have won their last two contests. Pistons fans should take any small achievement as good news because there will not be much this season.
25. Los Angeles Clippers (1-6)
At least one team in L.A. has a tough start to their schedule. The Clippers have faced the likes of Portland, Dallas, San Antonio, Denver, Oklahoma City, and Utah in their first seven games with their only win coming against the struggling Thunder. It must be hard to be the bastard child of the Staples center and see the Lakers with a sugarplum and lolly pop schedule until late January.
26. New Jersey Nets (2-4)
Right now the Nets are on a better winning pace than last year. That is the upside. It doesn’t look like Avery Johnson is ever going to let third overall draft pick, Derrick Favors, into the starting lineup anytime soon now that Troy Murphy is back. In their most recent loss, the Nets did their best Washington Generals impersonation to the Heat’s Globetrotter act.
27. Washington Wizards (1-4)
John Wall and Gilbert Arena will be reunited again. That’s good. Their one win however, well, that’s not so good. December is going to be a rough month for the Wiz so now is their best opportunity to get some wins under their belt. Hopefully, the Republicans won’t try to filibuster their next win.
28. Charlotte Bobcats (1-6)
They were in the playoffs last season and had the number one rated team defense in the league. Now, they have a defensive rating ranked 20th. Not good. Maybe His Airness can breathe some life into this franchise. Something needs to happen, and quick, if they want another playoff birth.
29. Toronto Raptors (1-6)
The Raptors are bad. We knew they would be. They were bad last year even with Chris Bosh on their roster so what are the expectaions of them now that he is gone? Right, there are none. One thing that Raptors fans can take delight in is that the so-called Young Gunz on the team will put on a decent show every night. Jose Calderon needs to be back in the starting lineup otherwise the team’s assists will continue to be dreadful.
30. Minnesota Timberwolves (1-6)
We wrote an open letter to David Kahn. This is something we normally wouldn’t do. However, the T-Wolves are terrible. Kurt Rambis coaches like a chicken with his head cut off and has no sense that Kevin Love is their best player. They are ranked last in most every statistical category. They only thing that Minnesota fans have to look forward to is the high draft pick that the team will get next summer…which Kahn will promptly waste on yet another point guard. KAAAAHHN!