It’s early in the NBA season, but I can’t resist giving a few shoutouts to some teams that have gotten my attention.
The main three teams are doing what’s expected and still will be there along with Orlando when it’s all said and done.
The Lakers are trying to do something that only a few teams have been able to accomplish and that is three-peat. I honestly thought they were going to wait until the All –Star break, but the goings on in Miami and the retooling in Boston have given them the motivation they needed to win the Western Conference.
Pau Gasol has arrived and now I will honestly say he is without a doubt the best power forward in basketball. His efficiency has been stunning and he is making very good defenders look helpless. He is doing exactly what Phil Jackson hoped for and that is taking pressure off of Kobe Bryant, allowing him to heal.
Miami has struggled a bit offensively and that was expected, but what they are doing defensively should get noticed. I will go on board and say that they will hold a team to 60 points this year. Their defense is stifling. The Utah loss will be a huge wake-up call and I expect the Big Three to figure it out offensively. When they do, I expect double-figure winning streaks multiple times this season.
The Boston Celtics sent a message early in beating Miami, but the message they are sending now was expected by me. My biggest worry for the Celtics was their health and signals are it will be a problem all year long. The one advantage Doc Rivers has is a plethora of big men, but he didn’t expect all three to be hurting at once.
Rajon Rondo is worth the price of admission and what he is doing so far this year has been spectacular.
That said, there are four teams that have surprised me and I expect them to continue to get my attention if they stay healthy.
4. New York Knicks
I knew when they acquired Amare Stoudemire a few players in New York would start to have career seasons. Why? Because Amare commands attention. It is obvious that Amare misses the pin-point passing of Steve Nash because he is shooting a career-low 42 percent from the field and turning it over four times a game, but look at what Tony Douglas (16.5 ppg, 2 steals), Raymond Felton (7.8 assists) and Wilson Chandler (16.3) are doing.
They are taking advantage of being free and having opportunities not afforded before Amare arrived. Throw in rookie Landry Fields and Ronny Turiaf’s hard-nose play and the Knicks might have a solid enough base to sneak into the playoffs this season.
The key is Danilo Gallinari’s shot and the health of multi-faceted Anthony Randolph off the bench.
Expect Amare to raise his field-goal percentage and if so the Knicks will win enough ball games to contend for a final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
I did not expect this team to win 25 games this year and chances are they still might not, but I like what I have seen so far. It has to be hard to lose your general and ultimate warrior in LeBron James and put on a uniform to compete. Teams remember all the dancing and the parties the leftover players had the last few years at their expense, but yet the Cavaliers are fighting and competing to show that they are worthy of respect and I love it.
I really like JJ Hickson (18.7 ppg). He has assumed the role people expected he would after watching him grow as a player last year. I also like the fact Mo Williams and Booby Gibson are shooting the ball well and wanting to step up in crunch time.
Anderson Varejao could finish Top 5 in rebounding this year and that alone will give a team that lost 50 points of production this year in James a chance to win on most nights.
The next three games will shed some light on what this season could be when the play the Nets, Sixers and the Pacers.
2. Golden State Warriors
I always enjoy when the Warriors win because they have a tremendous fan base and if any city deserves a winner it’s Oakland.
They have the most potent backcourt in basketball right now. Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry are lighting up defenses with ease.
I left Ellis off my Top 25 list, but at this rate he is going to shoot up the charts. He can flat out score and also be a nuisance on defense.
Curry is fast becoming another Steve Nash. I can’t believe this is the kid I shot jumpers against after Hornets’ practices. His IQ is off the charts when it comes to basketball decisions and now he has some solid players to get the ball to.
Dorell Wright (16.4) and David Lee were huge offseason acquisitions. Along with rebounding machine Andris Biedrins, they give the Warriors second possessions off the glass, which has allowed them to jump off to a 5-2 start.
The Warriors are the most exciting team to watch and if they stay healthy, we might be watching them in late April.
1. New Orleans Hornets
Chris Paul is mad and hungry. Injuries has bothered him over the last couple of years and now he is rock-solid healthy. He is putting up All-NBA 1st Team numbers again. Monty Williams knew when he got the coaching job he needed Paul and shipped out Darren Collison to send that message quickly.
He did not put in an offensive system until he met with Paul and right now he looks like a genius.
David West, who regressed last year, seems to be back at All-Star form.
Also, the Hornets have been stingy defensively – allowing 42 percent opponent shooting and holding teams to 91 points a game, which is fifth best.
The key player in this resurgence has been Emeka Okafor. He has dominated the paint (8.3 rebounds and 2 blocks a game) and added some solid offense as well. Toss in Trevor Ariza and Marco Bellinelli and the Hornets have shocked the league after the first two weeks by beating San Antonio on the road and shocking the Heat at home.