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by Larry Ness - 01/20/2005
A cover story in Thursday's USA Today sports section tells of the increased scoring in this year's NBA, something I touched on in my NBA column last week.
Led by the Phoenix Suns average of 107.7 PPG, overall scoring is up by 3.5 PPG per team. The Suns of course are not only the league's top-scoring team, they are its best turnaround story as well. The Suns went just 29-53 (.354) last year and despite a five-game losing streak, own the league's second-best record (games played thru Jan 19) at 31-9, a winning percentage of .775.
That's an increase of .421 over last year, as the Suns are well on their way to becoming just the NINTH team since the ABA-NBA merger, to go from a season of 50 losses to one of 50 wins the next season. The team's 42.1 percent increase in winning percentage, would fall just short of the record set by the San Antonio Spurs of 1997-98 (up 43.9 percent from the previous year).
The Suns are not alone this year in their surprising turnaround. The Seattle Supersonics sit at 27-10, a winning percentage that is 27.9 percent higher than the .451 winning percentage they had last year when they finished at 37-45. Over in the East, the Magic, Bulls and Wizards (the NBA's three-worst teams last year), are all featuring re-birth's this season.
Orlando finished with the NBA's worst record last year at 21-61 and although the Magic are one of just two teams allowing more than 100 PPG, the team is 21-16 and looking as if they are playoff-bound. The Wizards are the other team allowing more than 100 PPG but like the Magic, are scoring enough to find themselves at 22-15.
Of course the injury to Larry Hughes may slow the team's progress, as Hughes, Arenas and Jamison were all averaging over 20 PPG and bidding to become the first NBA team to finish with three 20 PPG scorers since the 1987-88 Seattle Sonics did it with Dale Ellis, Xavier McDaniel and Tom Chambers.
Making the playoffs would be no small feat for Washington, as the franchise has missed the postseason for the last SEVEN years and has made the playoffs just ONCE, in the last 16 seasons!
Speaking of teams missing the playoffs lately, how about the Chicago Bulls? The Bulls currently sit at 17-19, a pace that would get them to around 39-40 wins. That could be enough for them to make the postseason in the Eastern Conference, where just SIX teams currently own winning records. The Bulls won just 23 games last year and haven't been to the postseason since MJ left (the team's best record in that span was in 2002-03, when they went 30-52).
Teams going in the opposite direction are Indiana, New Jersey and New Orleans. The Pacers led the NBA with 61 wins last year but are just 19-18 this year for very OBVIOUS reasons. Ones which I do not need to be go over here!
The Nets went to consecutive NBA Finals before going 47-35 (.573) last year, when they lost to the Pistons in the second round. They are 14-24 (.368) this year. With Martin in Denver, Richard Jefferson lost for the year to an injury and Kidd and Carter not sure what they want to do or where they want to be, I wouldn't count on a late-season SURGE by the Nets.
New Orleans is SOME STORY! The previous five seasons saw the Hornets reach the playoffs every year, averaging 45.4 wins per season. First Paul Silas was fired after four straight playoff trips and then Tim Floyd was dumped after a 41-41 season last year, that ended in a seven-game loss to the Heat in the first round.
Byron Scott was hired and the team opened 2-28, the second-worst 30-game start in NBA history. The Hornets are currently on 'fire' though, having won FOUR of their last six games.
Friday's column will feature my previews of the AFC and NFC Championship Games.