Dec 9, 2003 9:28 AM

Halloween and Thanksgiving are in the rear view mirror, but there are still some surprises in the autumn air. NBA surprises, that is.

It’s been an important season in the history of the league, with highly heralded rookies Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James creating excitement and playing even better than advertised. Let’s take a look at some of the early-season NBA surprises.

The Good

Nuggets: For a team that won just 17 games a year ago, it hasn’t taken Denver long to get pointed in the right direction. This team has great balance, with new point guard Andre Miller directing the break, Nene Hilario and Marcus Camby crashing the boards and a rookie named Carmelo Anthony becoming the go-to guy on offense.

Anthony’s all-around play has been impressive, while coach Jeff Bzdelik is getting the most out of this young team. The Nuggets still need consistency on the road, like many young teams, but notice they went 8-1 SU/ATS in their first nine home games!

Grizzlies: General Manager Jerry West built two championship teams in LA, with a core of Kareem Abdul Jabbar/Magic Johnson/James Worthy in the 80’s, and Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in the 90’s. Are we witnessing the birth of dynasty No. 3 by West here in Memphis?

This is a talented young team, with rising stars in Paul Gasol, Mike Miller and Jason Williams. Coach Hubie Brown has a run-and-gun style to take advantage of all these young legs and Memphis started 11-6 "over" the total. Also, West orchestrated another steal last week trading Wesley Person to Portland for Bonzi Wells.

Jazz: The value of a great coach can be seen here. Jerry Sloan has the rebuilding Jazz playing well, one of the pleasant surprises of the season. The cornerstones of the younger-looking Jazz are forwards Andrei Kirilenko (22), Matt Harpring (27) and point guard Carlos Arroyo (24).

After 17 games Utah was a sizzling 13-3 ATS and, as usual, tough at home. The Jazz started 9-1 SU and 6-2 ATS in Salt Lake City.

Warriors: Golden State unloaded its two best players (Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison) during the off-season and was picked by many to finish last in the league. Instead, the Warriors have been competitive, particularly at home.

Jason Richardson, Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy form a talented young nucleus, while Erick Dampier has blossomed into the Western Conference version of Ben Wallace ”” a rebounding machine. Golden State started 7-4 SU and ATS at home, giving the fans some hope this season rather than in the future.

The Bad

Nets: This is not a bad team, but their play has been surprisingly poor. Coach Byron Scott has made strange moves during playoff games the last few years, and now seems to be lost as to what ails this team.

Early-season injuries have disrupted the chemistry a bit, but there’s still plenty of time to get well. And, there is loads of talent. Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson and Kerry Kittles are a strong nucleus that started a poor 7-11 SU and 6-12 ATS.

Spurs: The defending champs disappointing? Yes, they have been, particularly on the road. Late last week the Spurs found themselves in last place in the Midwest Division, looking up at Memphis, Denver and Houston ”” three teams that didn’t even make the playoffs last year.

They should be better, with Tim Duncan and a slew of talented role players. However, the Spurs started 2-7 SU and 2-6-1 ATS on the road. San Antonio has already lost three times to the Lakers (0-3 SU, 1-2 ATS).

The Ugly

Magic: The Clippers normally monopolize this space, but this year even L.A.’s second team has been pushed aside by the stunning turn of events in Orlando. The Magic opened the season with an impressive 85-83 overtime win at New York to begin the season undefeated (1-0).

After that, a nightmare beyond belief followed. Orlando lost 17 games in a row, including 1-16 ATS! Orlando began the season a remarkable 0-10 both SU and ATS at home! Talk about packing it in before the Magic Kingdom home fans! As a home favorite, Orlando is 0-7 both SU and ATS. The Magic will be home favorites less frequently if they keep this slide up.