The new season is just two weeks old and there have already been some surprises.
Perhaps the biggest surprise has been the 4-3 start fashioned by the Los Angeles Lakers. With a season’s projected Wins Total of 25.5, lowest in the Western Conference, the Lakers have responded well to new coach Luke Walton who obviously learned well as an assistant and interim head coach at Golden State under Steve Kerr.
After upsetting Houston to open the season the Lakers lost their next three games before beginning a three-game winning streak with a 7-point win at Atlanta as 12-point underdogs. Two nights later they returned home and blasted Golden State in an easy 117-97 win, leading by 9 after the first quarter and by 16 at the half.
It’s unlikely this early season success can be sustained but perhaps the arrival of Walton and the retirement of Kobe Bryant has changed the culture surrounding the Lakers and, barring injuries, this relatively young team can develop and mature and give hope to their legion of fans for a return to the Playoffs in two to three seasons if not next season.
Only Cleveland, the defending NBA Champions, are unbeaten at 6-0 as we go to press. Golden State is 4-2, losing at home by 29 points to San Antonio to open the season before winning four straight prior to the Lakers loss.
Life after Kevin Durant has not been all that bad for Oklahoma City as the Thunder, relying on Russell Westbrook for the bulk of their offense, has started 5-1. Also starting 5-1 has been the Los Angeles Clippers, no longer that “other” team in LA.
The Spurs have also fared well despite the retirement of Tim Duncan, starting 5-2, which includes avenging their first loss of the season, a home loss to Utah, with a road win at Utah three nights later. But the very next night the Spurs were routed at home by the Clippers, 116-92.
Charlotte is the lone one loss team in the East at 4-1.
Philadelphia and New Orleans are the only teams yet to post a victory, entering this week at 0-5 and 0-6 respectively. Washington, Dallas and Minnesota have won just once and those starts can be considered surprises as well.
Here’s a look at three games to be played this weekend.
Toronto at Charlotte (Friday): Toronto is off to a 4-2 start with Charlotte starting 4-1. The Raptors were predicted by many to finish third in the East behind Cleveland and Boston while Charlotte was expected to contend for one of the final Playoff spots. Toronto was an excellent road team last season and has plenty of veteran talent. The Hornets are still a young team looking to develop. The scheduling spot favors the hosts, who don’t play again until Sunday at Cleveland. Toronto plays Saturday at home against the Knicks. The home team won all three meetings last season. CHARLOTTE.
San Antonio at Houston (Saturday): The Spurs have started 5-2 with the losses to Utah and the Clippers, both of which are highly regarded and projected to finish as two of the top four teams in the West. Houston has started 3-2 with a pair of wins over struggling Dallas and the other over the Knicks. They were upset at the Lakers and also lost at Cleveland and Atlanta, although they did cover in the Cleveland loss. This is the second game in four nights between these rivals as the Spurs hosted the Rockets Wednesday night. Houston has not played since but the Spurs hosted Detroit Friday night. The big difference between these teams is San Antonio plays defense as a priority and Houston does so almost by accident. If Houston pulled the upset Wednesday night the play here would be on SAN ANTONIO. If the Spurs won on Wednesday the play here would be either the Spurs if laying 4 points or less or, if laying more, UNDER.
Denver at Portland (Sunday): Portland won the first meeting with the Nuggets, 115-113 at Denver, as 1 point road underdogs on October 29 as part of their 4-3 start. Denver has started 3-3 but five of those games have been on the road. Underdogs in all five, the Nuggets covered in four and won three outright. Portland has lost twice in three home games, to Golden State by 23 and to the Clippers by 8. Their lone home win was over Utah on opening night and they had to overcome a late fourth quarter deficit to do so. Portland is likely to be a solid favorite here as they seek to defeat Denver again. There should be added value in the line for the visitors who hosted Detroit Saturday night while the Blazers last played Friday night hosting Sacramento. DENVER.