The Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves begin the week tied for the league’s best record at 8-1. While the Lakers are not a surprise, Minnesota’s early play is quite encouraging. They have a talented starting five and decent depth, especially in the backcourt. San Antonio and Sacramento are each off to strong starts as well and this quartet seems to be the class of the west with Dallas perhaps joining this elite group.
Houston and Golden State are also pleasant early season surprises with winning records and both can be expected to be improved over last season.
Utah and Phoenix have struggled out of the gate. Utah may finally be feeling the effects of an aging John Stockton who has struggled more often than not in the first few weeks. The Jazz are likely to be a losing proposition in the second of back to back games this season.
In the East New Jersey and Milwaukee sit atop their respective Divisions and while Milwaukee is not a surprise the play of New Jersey certainly is. They were expected to be improved with the addition of Jason Kidd. But even the most optimistic of Net fans could not have expected a 7-2 start, although it must be noted that they have had a favorable early schedule, winning five of six home games.
Philadelphia has overcome their 0-5 start when G Allen Iverson was out but since his return the 76ers have won all five starts to even their record. Boston is the only other team in the Atlantic Division with a winning record and, in fact, only five teams are above .500 in the Eastern Conference. The power clearly is out west where eight teams are playing winning basketball.
Detroit is another early season surprise, starting 6-2 while several teams, especially New York and Miami, are major early disappointments. Both teams have been beset by injuries to their starting centers and while the Knicks have played well at home both they and the Heat are a combined 0-9 on the road.
Here’s a look at a trio of games this weekend.
Friday, Nov. 23
Magic at Hornets: Both teams are off to sub-.500 starts despite having a pair of the best rosters in the Conference. Orlando is looking to integrate a healthy Grant Hill into the offense which already features a top five player in Tracy McGrady. Charlotte has a steady backcourt anchored by Baron Davis and David Wesley but is seeking steady production up front. These teams will meet again on Saturday in Orlando. Take MAGIC.
Saturday, Nov. 24
Spurs at T’wolves: Minnesota’s Kevin Garnett and the Spurs’ Tim Duncan are two of the best players in the league and have keyed their teams’ strong starts. Minnesota has the better overall talent but the Spurs have David Robinson, and are fundamentally solid on defense. Take UNDER.
Sunday, Nov. 25
76ers at Raptors: The teams meet for the first time since their exciting playoff series last season, won by Philadelphia in seven games. The Sixers have gotten back to .500 after losing all five games Allen Iverson missed due to injury. Toronto’s 7-4 start has featured eight road games, including a six-game swing out west. The Raptors figure to be small favorites here and may be more motivated. Take RAPTORS.