Chairman Yaolifts Rockets

Nov 11, 2003 7:38 AM

Although the NBA season is but two weeks old there are some early surprises worth noting.

The early season play of Houston and Utah in the West and of Detroit and Indiana in the East may present us with some favorable opportunities over the next few weeks. This quartet has combined for a 19-5 start to the season and can be considered for play as road underdogs.

Early-season efforts indicate they may be undervalued for at least a short while. This is especially true for Utah and Houston.

The Jazz have lost both John Stockton and Karl Malone but coach Jerry Sloan has his team well prepared to start the season. Eventually the decreased talent level will become evident in wins and losses but, for the short term, Utah is playing confident fundamentally sound ball.

Houston is improving with center Yao Ming in his second season benefiting from the tutelage of assistant coach Patrick Ewing and ex-Knicks coach Jeff van Gundy in their first season on the Rockets sideline.

Not all surprises have been pleasant. Cleveland’s 1-5 start is a disappointment in light of all the hype given to rookie LeBron James. He has already shown the talent that has made him one of the richest teenagers in history but to turn around a franchise you need to have some talented teammates.

It’s still early and there is plenty of time for the Cavs to show improvement but expectations of making the playoffs may have been a bit premature by some.

Dallas would have to also be considered a disappointment in the early going with the offense yet to click, despite several key offseason additions. Sacramento, at 3-3, is also not playing to its potential. The Kings miss Chris Webber much more than they thought as they await his return from injury and suspension.

Miami’s 0-6 start is not a shock but perhaps Pat Riley knew what to expect when he resigned just prior to the start of the season. Miami remains the only winless team as the week began.

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

Raptors at Kings (Fri): Looks like Toronto coach Kevin O’Neill emphasizes defense. Through six games the Raptors are averaging 75.7 points on offense and allowing just 78.7. Four of those games have been wins. Sacramento plays a much more wide-open game but defense often controls the tempo. The Kings played at Portland on Thursday night and could be a bit weary. Toronto uses its defense to stay close. UNDER.

Blazers at Hornets (Sat): Portland is between games against Sacramento and Dallas. The Trailblazers have a formidable frontcourt with unheralded Zach Randolph teaming with Rasheed Wallace. The Hornets are led by Baron Davis and are a team with depth in the backcourt. Portland won here last season by a point in overtime but may be focused more on the matchup in Dallas. The Mavs ousted the Blazers from the playoffs last season after Portland had overcome a 3-0 deficit to force a Game 7. NEW ORLEANS.

Heat at Lakers (Sun): It’s been a woeful start for Miami, which begins a five game road trip after playing at home 48 hours earlier. The Lakers have played well with their All Star roster. The lone loss at New Orleans followed a double overtime win the night before in San Antonio. Miami has neither the frontline players nor the depth to compete with the Lakers. Los Angeles won at Staples Center by 25 last years, after Miami had won the earlier meeting at home without Shaq. LA LAKERS.

Last week: 2-1

Season: 3-2