NBA early season report, good & bad

Dec 1, 2009 5:04 PM

Nothing tops Nets’ horrible losing streak

Preseason prognosticators and handicappers focus on what they expect to happen, based on the draft and off-season moves, but there are always surprises at the start of each season. Here’s a look at some of the early NBA surprises – good, bad and ugly.

Hawks: Didn’t we see this athletic young team taking Boston to seven games in the playoffs? That was two years ago. The hype from that performance seems to be finally bearing fruit after last season’s injury-plagued campaign. The Hawks surprised everyone, including oddsmakers, as they started 10-2 SU, 11-1 ATS.

On sheer depth and talent alone you can see why this team is playing so well: Josh Smith, Marvin Williams and Al Horford in the frontcourt, Jamal Crawford, Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby in the backcourt. This team is loaded with offensive options, ranked fifth in the NBA in points scored. That explains a sizzling 10-4 over the total start to the season. But is their defense strong enough to put them in the NBA elite? They are 19th in the league allowing over 45percent shooting by opponents, an area they will need to improve.

Bucks: Milwaukee has been a big surprise. Forget about Michael Redd, who hasn’t been healthy, the guy leading the offense is 20-year-old point guard Brandon Jennings. He appears to be the clear frontrunner to win Rookie of the Year and has been absolutely stellar to start the season. He is averaging 25 points, 5.9 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 2.7 treys.

After a slow start on offense, the Bucks ripped off a stretch going over the total in six of seven games. Bucks center Andrew Bogut will be out two to four weeks after suffering a leg muscle strain and contusion during last week’s 99-85 win against New Jersey. Like many young teams, the Bucks have been great at home but have a losing road mark.

Blazers: We’ve all been waiting the last two years for all this talent to begin to mesh and it is happening. This is a deep, talented young team for Coach Nate McMillan. There’s probably too much focus and high expectations for Greg Oden, but what’s great about what the Blazers are doing is asking him to be more of a role player, concentrating on defense and rebounding. It is working, as not only is Portland winning but they are tops in the NBA in points allowed. They started 11-5 under the total.

There is plenty of star power alongside Oden with sparkplugs Brandon Roy and Andre Miller in the backcourt, plus LaMarcus Aldridge and 30-year old role playing Center Joel Przybilla up front. Role players can be just as significant as stars on winning teams. Last year they struggled on the road, but this year’s team has improved significantly away from home. They should be a force in the West all season.

Suns: Dump Shaq and the half-court game, which was a failure last season, and get back to the uptempo game with Steve Nash running the show. It sounds simple, but that’s what the Suns have done and it’s worked during a blistering start. Despite starting the year with twice as many road games as home contests, the Suns have been red-hot. Phoenix is tops in the NBA in three-point shooting, a sizzling 44%.

Nash has Amar’e Stoudemire and Jason Richardson to dish the ball off to, while role players Channing Frye, Grant Hill and Leandro Barbosa have been solid. They opened eyes the first month of the season with a 4-1 SU/ATS East Coast trip, even winning at Boston, 110-103 as a +10 dog. In fact, they are 3-1 SU/ATS as a dog this season.

Mavericks: It’s no secret how the Dallas Mavericks are surprising opponents early in the season: Running! Dallas loves the uptempo game, in the Top 10 in scoring. What is surprising is their attention to defense, allowing 44% shooting by opponents, fifth-best in the league. That has been a weakness in the past, but not this year – at least not yet.

Of greater concern is probably age, with 31-year-old Dirk Nowitzki, 36-year old Jason Kidd and 31-year-old Shawn Marion carrying the offense. It may not be a factor now, but over an 82-game grind, will all that wear and tear have a toll on some of those 30-something legs?

They had an embarrassing defeat at home last week, as the the six-man Warriors slammed the door on the Mavericks, in a 111-103 upset. The Warriors had three men play all 48 minutes and used only six players for the entire game! The Mavs can lack focus at times. "It came back to bite us," Mavs center Drew Gooden said. "We’ve got to know that we’ve got to put games away."

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Jim Fiest