Breaking news as we go to press — the Detroit Pistons lost a basketball game!
Yep. You can look it up. Last Friday, Cleveland’s LeBron James celebrated his 21st birthday by leading his Cavaliers to victory over Detroit, handing the Pistons only their fourth loss of the season. Still, Detroit’s 24-4 record is on pace to challenge the all time record of 72-10 set by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls a decade ago.
Detroit remains the strongest and best-balanced team in the league. If healthy, they should easily win at least 65 games and remain the team to beat come the playoffs. They have already opened up a seven game edge over the rest of the Eastern Conference field barely a third of the way through the season.
Out West, San Antonio and Dallas remain 1-2 with the Spurs clinging to a 1Â½ game lead over their Southwest Division rivals. The Spurs, Mavericks and Pistons are the only teams to have lost fewer than 10 games. The Southwest Division is strong. Consider that third place Memphis has the same record (19-10) as Pacific leading Phoenix. And the Grizzlies have won 10 of 15 road games.
Back in the East, New Jersey has taken control in the Atlantic. The Nets begin the new year having won eight in a row and pushing their overall record to 17-12. Jersey is within a half-game of Southeast leader Miami for the
second best record in the Conference. The Nets are a talented team with a trio of Vince Carter, Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson capable of making a run in the playoffs. The key will be in staying healthy, something the Nets could not do last season when Kidd battled injuries and Jefferson missed much of the year.
Several early season strong starters have struggled recently, including the Chicago Bulls. Finishing 2-8 to conclude 2005, the Bulls have fallen to 12-17. Chicago is the only Central Division team with a losing record. Only New York has had a worse 10-game stretch, dropping nine of its last 10 contests. Wonder if Larry Brown might just regret his decision to have left perhaps the best team in the NBA for one of its worst?
A third of the way into the season, New York’s 7-21 mark is tied with Atlanta for the worst record in the league. No signs of improvement have been evident. It will take one of the most impressive coaching jobs in NBA history for Brown to live up to his reputation of changing chicken you-know-what into chicken salad in his first season.
Here’s a look at three attractive matchups this weekend.
Sonics at Pistons (Fri): The run and gun style of Seattle contrasts with the reputation of Detroit for defensive intensity, but that is changing under new Detroit coach Flip Saunders. The Pistons are every bit as capable of running the court as playing tough defense.
On the road Pistons games have averaged 183 total points, but at home Detroit games amass nearly 200 per game. Seattle has been an "over" machine (22-6-1) all season. The Pistons will be a solid favorite, but knowing they will be more than happy to trade baskets with the Sonics. OVER.
Lakers at Clippers (Sat): The Clippers won the first meeting 97-91 in mid-November. After starting the season 14-5, the Clippers have now lost 7 of 10. They clearly miss the presence of injured small forward Corey Maggette. The Lakers have adapted nicely to coach Phil Jackson’s return to the bench, but enter the new year losers of four in a row after climbing to 15-11. Both teams played Friday with the Clippers returning home from Sacramento.
Elton Brand is having an MVP-like season for the Clippers, while the Lakers have Kobe Bryant. The Clippers have another chance to earn some respect from their crosstown rivals. The talent is there and expect Clips to give more sustained effort. CLIPS.
Pacers at Kings (Sun): The Pacers have clearly suffered since the defection of Ron Artest, but showed in the wake of his nearly season long suspension a year ago the ability to adapt. Although they might not be able to dethrone Detroit in the East, the Pacers will be a factor in who does get to the conference finals in May. Sacramento has undergone a major roster overhaul and bares very little resemblance to the Western contender for much of the past half decade.
Contending with injuries, the Kings are languishing at 12-7 and last place in the Pacific. They catch Indiana in the midst of a West Coast swing that has them at the Lakers on Monday for the fourth game in six nights. The Kings have swept the two game series the past three years from Indiana. KINGS.
Season: 11-15-1nights. The Kings won both meetings last season and have swept the two game season series each of the past three years. KINGS.