A week into NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers Hall of Fame quartet of Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Gary Payton and Karl Malone has meshed well on the court.
Unbeaten through their first three games, the Lakers appear to have filled in the holes that prevented them from winning a fourth straight title last season. It remains to be seen if this on court peaceful coexistence will continue but the early signs are encouraging.
Both of this season’s most highly touted rookies -- LeBron James of Cleveland and Denver’s Carmelo Anthony -- looked impressive in their first week of professional play. It’s questionable whether either team can make the playoffs, especially Denver in the much tougher Western Conference. However, both teams will have improved records due largely to the contributions of their new youngsters.
Pat Riley might have known what he was in for this season before retiring as Miami Heat head coach just prior to the start of the season. The Heat have not looked good in losing their first three games and have already suffered significant injuries. Caron Butler started the season on the injured list and newcomer Lamar Odom was injured in the season opener. Veteran Eddie Jones is also banged up.
Although only 40 games have been played through last Sunday, we’ve already had our share of ugly scores. Miami has scored 74, 75 and 81 points in their first three games. There have already been more than a dozen instances of teams being held below 80 points and two more games in which both teams topped 80 were overtime games in which the score at the end of four quarters was 75 and 73.
NBA fans were also privileged to witness Minnesota’s 73-56 win over Toronto last Friday night. Perhaps we should all root for the Dallas Mavericks to win the NBA title this year. The Mavs have what will be the league’s highest scoring offense and since teams tend to copycat what works for winners, an NBA title for Dallas might end what has been more than a decade of low scoring trends.
Here’s a look at three games to be played this weekend.
T’wolves at Magic (Fri): It is taking time for Minnesota to fully integrate newcomers Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell and Michael Olowokandi to complement superstar Kevin Garnett. But the offensive production should pick up in coming weeks. Orlando relies mostly on Tracy McGrady, although the young supporting cast should improve as the season progresses. Right now Minnesota is the more complete team and the edge clearly goes to the Wolves if the Garnett/McGrady matchup is a standoff. MINNESOTA.
Mavericks at Spurs (Sat): Offense meets defense as Dallas tangles with the defending NBA champions. San Antonio has started the season without point guard Tony Parker but, as long as Tim Duncan is on the court, the Spurs will be favored over virtually all other teams in the NBA. Dallas has great depth but the lack of defense continues to be a concern. San Antonio is physical and can be disruptive on defense, forcing Dallas stars Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash and the recently acquired Antoine Walker to alter their shots. UNDER.
Nets at Pistons (Sun): New Jersey defeated Detroit in four straight games to win the Eastern Conference title last season. Detroit now has Larry Brown as coach and over the course of the season his presence will be decisive in several games. New Jersey may be even stronger than last season with the continued development of Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson, the presence of Jason Kidd and the addition of Alonzo Mourning. If Zo is fully recovered from the illness that sidelined him the past two seasons, the Nets will own best frontcourt in the East. Both teams have played well defensively in winning two of their first three games. UNDER.
Last week: 1-1-1