NBA report: Remain bullish on Chicago

Jan 18, 2005 8:34 AM
BY MARK MAYERPrior to the start of the 2004-05 NBA season, we offered eight teams that would be good bets to go either "over" or "under" the predicted posted total. As the halfway mark (41 games) approaches, it’s time to assess our report card.HONOR ROLL Miami Heat: This was a steal before the opening tap, and just as solid today. Shaq has mixed in beautifully with Stan Van Gundy’s team concept and has had no problem allowing Dwyane Wade to be the focal point of the offense. Still, when the "heat" is on, all roads lead to O’Neal down low.Dallas Mavericks: Many experts thought the Mavs would take a step back after unloading Steve Nash. Not us. We thought the signing of free agent center Eric Dampier from Golden State would finally add some defense. Also, Josh Howard has stepped up. Dirk Nowitzki remains a scoring machine. Chicago Bulls: When the Bulls began 0-9, we were ashamed. Now, we’re stoked! The Bulls are 12-4 in their last 16 games. Chicago is loaded with excellent, young talent. Former UConn standout Ben Gordon is coming hard as a Rookie of the Year candidate and center Eddy Curry doesn’t look like a green high school kid anymore.ON THE BUBBLE N.Y. Knicks: If you can figure the Knicks, send us an e-mail. They can beat Sacramento, then lose to New Orleans 48 hours later. Guard Stephon Marbury can be All-World one night and worthless another. We really like the Knicks 3-ring backcourt of Marbury, Jamal Crawford and Allen Houston, but they need to be healthy at the same time. L.A. Lakers: We thought the posted total for wins was definitely within reach for the Kobe regime, but the Lakers just don’t play defense. Without Shaq, teams have a clear trail to the hoop for easy dunks. Three-point baskets are rarely challenged. The Lakers can score and there’s still hope for a long win streak, but Kobe can’t do it alone. FLUNKING Sacramento Kings: Clearly our worst selection, thus far. We thought the Maloofs would take a step back this season without Vlade Divac and Chris Webber always subject to season-ending injuries. That honor sadly went to Bobby Jackson, but the Kings have hung in behind Mike Bibby and Peja Stojakovic. But depth is a problem and Sac is way behind Phoenix.Orlando Magic: Orlando got off to a great start in part because of Grant Hill. Our "under" prediction was made on the assumption that Hill’s tender ankles would not hold up for the 82-game grind. We’re pulling hard for Grant, clearly the comeback story of the year. Steve Francis has adjusted well, but success is all about Grant. Denver Nuggets: Along with Minnesota, the biggest disappointments in the NBA this year. The Nuggets fired their coach, but that hasn’t seemed to work. Denver should have improved with Kenyon Martin up front, but Carmelo Anthony is lacking the consistency of his rookie year and the stats show it.