NBA-mazing! Cavs-Clips serious stuff

Dec 6, 2005 5:36 AM

This NBA season has seen plenty of surprises and major disappointments.

In a game last week featuring two teams that failed to make the playoffs, the Cavaliers topped the Clippers 112-105 in overtime. Both are on the rise and stocked with some prime young talent, none more famous than Cleveland star LeBron James.

It’s hard to believe James is just 20 years old, turning 21 at the end of this month. James is the glue that’s holding the rising young Cavs together. Cleveland nearly made the playoffs last year after a late-season fold, but appears focused to not let that happen again.

After that Clippers/Cavaliers game last week, James noted, "Clippers Coach Mike Dunleavy has a great system and they have a great group of guys. They are just like us. They are up and coming on the West Coast, and we are up and coming on the East Coast."

His observation is on the mark, at least in the early going. Here’s a more detailed look at these early season surprises.

CAVS: James (28 ppg) is third in the NBA in scoring behind Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant. But there’s a big difference in their team’s play: The Lakers and 76ers are struggling, while Cleveland started 10-4 SU, 9-5 ATS and has stepped up as one of the better teams in the East. The Cavs lead the NBA in free throw shooting at 80 percent, which can help on late covers.

Newcomer Larry Hughes has been a great addition to the Cavs, and the trio of 7-foot-3 Zydrunas Ilgauskas, 6-10 Drew Gooden and 6-9 Donyell Marshall have been outstanding on the boards. One thing to keep in mind: Cleveland started 3-3 on the road and 7-1 SU/6-2 ATS at home. A year ago, the Cavs were 30-12 SU, 25-16 ATS at home.

CLIPS: No longer the laughingstocks of the NBA, the Clippers are finally getting better. They already had a good frontcourt with hard working Elton Brand, 7-foot Chris Kaman and Corey Maggette. This season they brought in veteran guards Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley to solidify the backcourt. Los Angeles started 5-1 SU at home and 6-3 ATS on the road.

Most impressive is that this group allows just 41 percent shooting by opponents, best in the NBA! They are also one of the top free throw shooting squads. Oh, they beat the Lakers as a 2-point favorite, 97-91, in the opening bragging rights for the City of Angels. The next meeting: January 7.

PISTONS: The fact they are winning and playing great is not a surprise. After all, Detroit won the NBA title two years ago and made it to the Finals in June. It’s how they’re winning that’s surprising. New coach Flip Saunders does not demand stifling defense like coach Larry Brown did, but more creative freedom on offense from players.

Thus far, the mood has been harmonious. The Pistons are averaging 114 points per game at The Palace, where they started 5-0 "over" the total. Detroit allows 96 ppg at home, a far cry from the 86 surrendered last season under Brown. Yes, coaches can make a difference in a team’s style of play, which can affect betting numbers.

BOBCATS: This team is a year or two away, but a 9-6 ATS start has impressed, along with some hard-working young talent. The backcourt is competitive with rookie Raymond Felton and Brevin Knight. The young frontcourt has great building blocks in a pair of 23-year olds — 6-7 Gerald Wallace and 6-10 Emeka Okafor. You want quickness and hustle? Charlotte leads the league in steals, with an average of 11 per game. Young teams in pro and college basketball often play better at home than on the road. That’s the case with the Cats, starting 1-8 SU away, but 4-3 SU and 4-2-1 ATS in Charlotte.

WARRIORS: Another team that has stockpiled high draft picks for several years. It’s too bad 24-year old Jason Richardson isn’t in a major TV market. JR is one of the most exciting young players in the league. Teamed with ex-Hornets point guard Baron Davis, acquired late last season, this electric backcourt is fifth in the West in assists.

Forwards Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy provide offense and rebounding for Golden State, which started the season 11-6 both SU and ATS. Perhaps most impressive is that the Warriors are playing solid defense, only yielding 92 ppg.