Don’t go crazy yet over Toronto, Atlanta

Nov 4, 2008 5:04 PM

Bettin’ on B’ball by Andy Iskoe |

last week

The first week of the NBA season has produced its share of surprises and disappointments even though it is much too early to draw any definitive conclusions.

The defending Western Conference champion Los Angeles Lakers have looked very strong in winning their first three games by an average of more than 20 points. But the Lakers are one of seven teams to start the season unbeaten, albeit winning just two or three games.

It’s probably not much of a surprise that Detroit, Houston, New Orleans and Utah have yet to lose. Each of these teams is expected to be a contender that can make a deep run in the playoffs. A pair of unbeaten teams not expected to go beyond the first round are Toronto (3-0) and Atlanta (2-0).

Four teams were unable to notch a win over the season’s first six days. Sacramento and the Los Angeles Clippers are not expected to fare well so their poor start is not surprising. But San Antonio and Washington are also winless.

For the Spurs this is extremely unsettling as they were unable to make key plays at the end of a pair of close games against Phoenix and Portland. The Spurs are without Manu Ginobili to start the season but they still have a pair of All-Stars in Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.

These early season struggles could be signs that age is finally taking a toll and there may be value come midseason in playing against the Spurs in what will be some tough scheduling spots.

Road underdogs often present great value early in the season as lines are set largely based on last season. That includes Miami and prized rookie Michael Beasley. The better teams are often overvalued while the ones with the most potential for improvement are often underrated.

It usually takes a few weeks for a season to take shape and to determine if early surprises will have staying power and if teams are in decline or just off to slow starts.

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

Hornets at Bobcats (Fri): The Hornets are a legitimate contender following their improvement last season, led by one of the league’s best players, Chris Paul. Charlotte is trying to build up their franchise and have turned to vagabond coach Larry Brown, who has a tremendous history in turning around bad teams in a hurry. He is coaching his record ninth NBA team.

Charlotte will be the underdog in this game but don’t be surprised if the Bobcats not only keep this game competitive, but also spring the upset. BOBCATS.

Cavaliers at Bulls (Sat): Both teams are expected to be playoff contenders this season with many observers picking Cleveland to unseat Boston as Eastern Conference champs. The Cavs have started 1-2 with both losses coming to more talented teams, Boston and New Orleans. LeBron James is Cleveland’s leader and his supporting cast has been upgraded.

Chicago is expected to rebound from last season when they reversed their 49-33 record of a season earlier. They are relying on youth, especially rookie point guard Derrick Rose who has great upside potential. Right now the Cavs are the more mature team. CAVALIERS.

Rockets at Lakers (Sun): The Lakers are clearly the team to beat in the West as the season unfolds, while Houston is one of several legitimate contenders to pull the upset. With Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady and Ron Artest, the Rockets have the requisite trio so often mentioned as the key ingredients to winning an NBA title.

The Lakers are again led by Kobe Bryant, the reigning MVP. He has solid help in now healthy Andrew Bynum, who was emerging as an All-Star caliber player before being injured in the middle of last season. These teams hooked up in a trio of defensive battles last season. Only once did either side score more than 95 points in their matchups last season. UNDER.