First place L.A.? Please Clip and save

Nov 22, 2005 5:35 AM

The NBA game has again become an entertaining game to watch.

Through three weeks there are some clear surprise teams that bear watching. Strong starts by both Golden State and the Los Angeles Clippers have been the biggest surprises to date. Below .500 starts by fellow Pacific Division teams Phoenix, Sacramento and the Lakers have caught most observers by surprise. Remember, the Clippers had a better record last season than the Lakers.

San Antonio and Dallas are each off to strong starts as expected. The Spurs have the depth to be close to a 70-win team this season barring injuries. The Mavericks have the misfortune of playing in the same division which means they likely can do no better than gain the fourth seed in the Western Conference.

Toronto’s win this past Sunday leaves Atlanta as the NBA’s only winless team. The Hawks have some intriguing young talent that needs time to develop, but their lack of a fan base and playing before sparse home crowds will make it tough to achieve their potential in the near future.

Cleveland continues to play excellent basketball with only division leading Detroit having a better record. The addition of Donyell Marshall and Larry Hughes has surrounded star LeBron James with enough talent to suggest the Cavs will not only make the playoffs but challenge for the Central title. Indiana is still a force in what is likely to be the league’s best overall division with Chicago and Milwaukee also improved.

It is possible that all five Central teams could make the playoffs. The Atlantic Division appears very average and the Southeast is likely to be a two team race between Miami and Washington.

It’s still early and much can happen, including those always unforeseen injuries. However, the overall quality of play seems to be up markedly over the season’s first three weeks.

Last week: 1-2

Season: 4-5

Here’s a look at three games to be played this weekend.

Dallas at Miami (Fri): Miami has managed to play well despite the loss to injury of Shaquille O’Neal. A favorable schedule has seen the Heat win five of six home games. Dwyane Wade continues to improve in all aspects of his game and will be a popular choice for MVP next spring. Dallas has started the season 7-2 and begins the week on a five game win streak. Dallas swept the two games last season, each topping 200 points. OVER.

Detroit at Milwaukee (Sat): Milwaukee has cooled of late, while Detroit won its first eight before being humbled in Dallas. These two division rivals split four games last season, each winning twice at home. The Pistons are more run and gun under new coach Flip Saunders and are a better balanced team than the Bucks at this stage. Milwaukee has great upside, but the Pistons should outrun and outscore the hosts. PISTONS.

Indiana at LAC (Sun): It’s hard to utter the phrase "the first place LA Clippers" but it’s true. The Clippers are well balanced and getting excellent contributions from acquisitions Sam Cassell and Cutino Mobley. Indiana is off to a solid start with Ron Artest behaving and playing very well. The Clippers swept both games last season and will look at this matchup as another chance to show they can contend against one of the elite. CLIPPERS.