K(nicked)

Nov 5, 2002 7:32 AM

   The NBA season is just about a week old and already we can see the New York Knicks are a bad team.

   New York has displayed some spunk and firepower in getting out to early leads, but the lack of depth created by the loss of Antonio McDyess and Latrell Sprewell have caused second half collapses.

   That’s not the case in Chicago. Bill Cartwright has done a fine job in coaching the Bulls. There is a fine mixture of youth and veteran leadership that suggests this will be far from the worst team in the Eastern Conference.

   It might be a stretch to suggest the Bulls can make a run at the playoffs, but they could emerge with a better record than Michael Jordan’s current team, Washington.

   Looking around the league, Milwaukee and coach George Karl have lost their first two games. Karl was also the coach of the American team that lost badly in international competition this past summer. A bad start could make Karl the season’s first coaching casualty.

   New Jersey has gotten off to a quick start, but keep an eye on New Orleans and Orlando. Both teams are deep and should contend with the Nets for the top team in the East. Another pair of surprises from last season, Boston and Detroit, should slip back this season although both figure to be Playoff contenders.

   Dallas and Sacramento have gotten off to solid starts and that bodes well for those who like high scoring basketball games. Seattle has been a pleasant surprise, winning its first three games. Desmond Mason and Brent Barry have provided star Gary Payton with solid support.

   The Sonics appear to be much improved and could finish third in the Pacific Division, their best finish since they were atop the Division for a number of years in the mid 1990’s.

   Here’s a look at three games this weekend.

   Sonics at Magic (Friday): Seattle is playing their third game in four nights, including 24 hours earlier at Miami. Orlando is well rested, having last hosted Sacramento on Tuesday. Grant Hill is healthy and off to a strong start. This is a good scheduling spot for the Magic, who figure to be favored at 5-to-7 points. ORLANDO (-2).

   Blazers at Spurs (Saturday): Portland has struggled in the opening week, losing three of four games. San Antonio lost at Golden State the night after winning at the Lakers to open the season. The Spurs are a talented team with more than just Tim Duncan and David Robinson. Portland has decent talent surrounding Rasheed Wallace but this game is likely to be decided by defense. SAN ANTONIO (-7).

   Hawks at Kings (Sunday): Atlanta is improved and has already gotten some solid efforts from Glenn Robinson who was acquired from Milwaukee. Ownership has promised season ticket holders a partial rebate if the Hawks don’t make the playoffs. Sacramento may be the deepest team in the league. Should be high scoring with both clearing the century mark. OVER (195).