Early season NBA hoops
playing well in Utah

Nov 14, 2006 6:39 AM

Barely two weeks old, the NBA is starting off much as recent seasons have, with the balance of power clearly in the Western Conference.

At 6-1 (3-1 on the road), the Utah Jazz own the league’s best mark. As has been discussed many times over the years, an ability to win on the road is what makes for championship contenders.

It’s still early but the Jazz were expected to be an improved team this season after a couple of seasons in transition from the days of Karl Malone and John Stockton to Andrei Kirilenko and Carlos Boozer. Kirilenko was injured in the win at Milwaukee last Saturday so his status should be monitored closely before getting too enthusiastic about the Jazz prospects for the full season. If healthy, Utah will be a force in the Conference.

San Antonio is considered by most experts as the class of the West and its 5-1 start does little to question those opinions. The Los Angeles Clippers have also started 5-1. All five wins have come at home.

There are no unbeaten or winless teams remaining but two in the East and one in the West have won just once. Boston and Charlotte are both 1-5 beginning this week while Memphis has gotten off to the same start in the West. All three got their lone win at home.

The biggest surprise has been Atlanta, winners of four of its first six games. Cleveland is also 4-2 and New Jersey has started 3-2. Obviously it’s still very early and the Hawks might not be mentioned again when discussing "good" teams. However, with their perception of being a "bad" team, it should give added value to them with the line in the near term.

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

Bulls at Spurs (Fri): Both teams are being touted as likely NBA finalists. Getting Ben Wallace acclimated to the lineup might be a partial reason for the sluggish start, needing to develop chemistry and rhythm. But he will be the same defensive force for the Bulls as in his years with Detroit. Surprisingly these teams played a pair of high scoring games last season. With Wallace, Chicago now has the ability to match the defensive tenacity of the Spurs inside. UNDER.

Blazers at Nets (Sat): Portland is a team in transition, having made numerous roster changes since last season. As such, it should take a couple of months before this season’s Trailblazers establish an identity. The 4-3 start gives their fans reason for hope down the road. New Jersey is a veteran laden team and should be a contender again this season. Their nucleus of Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson give them multiple options, enough to confuse the Blazers. Both teams won at home last season when the teams met, with each game ”˜under’ the total. NETS.

Bulls at Lakers (Sun): Only two games will be played this day, but both are marquee attractions. The Bulls continue their road trip to face Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom and the rest of the Lakers. Los Angeles has started the season 5-3, including a pair of wins with Kobe absent from the lineup. Coach Phil Jackson has assembled a coachable roster with a balanced blend of youth and experience and the Lakers figure to be at best a .500 team at season’s end. This game may be played at more of an uptempo pace. Kirk Heinrich and Luol Deng have each been productive for the Bulls and are each shooting 50 percent from the field. The Lakers also have four players scoring double digits. The Totals line is likely to be deflated a couple of points. OVER.