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NBA Early Season Surprises
by Jim Feist - 12/07/2013
Preseason prognosticators and handicapping analysis focuses in on what they expect to happen, based on the draft and offseason 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: The young, athletic Hawks battled injuries last season, but appear healthy and formidable early on. On sheer depth and talent alone you can see why this team is playing so well: Al Horford and hard working newcomer Paul Millsap in the frontcourt, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver in the backcourt. This team is loaded with offensive options (third in the NBA in assists), but what is just as impressive is the defense, 16th in points allowed. Are they ready to give the Miami Heat a run for their money in the Southeast? Speaking of which Atlanta is 39-19 under the total against the NBA Southeast, 18-7-1 under the total playing on no days rest.
Bobcats: Say what? Charlotte is alive and kicking? The kids are alright because of defense, fourth in the NBA in points allowed. Al Jefferson has put up good numbers in limited time because of injuries and there is a ton of youth with Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Josh McRoberts and rookie Cody Zeller. Most young teams begin to play well at home first and struggle on the road, but the Bobcats are the opposite, another oddity with this oddball group. The under is 22-8-1 when the Bobcats face a team with a winning percentage above .600.
Blazers: Portland let it be known early that they are a team ready to content in the West, playing 5 of 6 games on the road (4 in the East) and going 6-0 SU/ATS. That was in the middle of an 11-game win streak. LaMarcus Aldridge mans the low post but he’s by no means alone, teaming with Robin Lopez and Nicolas Batum, a trio that gobbles up rebounds. 23-year old Damian Lillard is a keeper in the backcourt out of Weber State not dealing with any sophomore slump, and teams with Wesley Matthews, who can score inside and out. Their second major road trip begins this week, another chance to make a statement, though everyone is noticing now.
LA Clippers: The Clippers flamed out in the playoffs and decided to go after a proven winning head coach in Doc Rivers. There is star power with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and loads of role players with DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick and sparkplug Jamal Crawford off the bench. The Clippers have been flexing their offensive muscles running at teams, second in the NBA in scoring, tops in assists.
But where is the defense? Rivers demanded all-out defense from his Boston teams, getting to the NBA Finals twice and winning once. But this LA team hasn’t yet played much, in the middle of the pack in field goal shooting defense and bottom 10 in points allowed. Run-and-gun is fun and sells tickets, but Doc had better start teaching and demanding some ‘D’ or another playoff flameout is likely. You can’t make a postseason run without it.
Rockets: Speaking of running and gunning the new-look Rockets are blowing right past opponents with a high octane attack, tops in the NBA in scoring behind James Harden (24 ppg), Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin. This bench is loaded with runners, as well, with Aaron Brooks and Francisco Garcia. But wasn’t Dwight Howard supposed to provide defense in the low post? Actually, he is, blocking over 2 shots per contest along with plenty of points and rebounds. Despite a run-and-gun attack for Coach Kevin McHale, Houston is 29-14 under the total against teams with winning records.
Pacers: Only the Spurs and Pacers have been outscoring opponents by a double digit average. Indiana is loaded and playing like a team on a mission, anchored by the best defense in the NBA. Roy Hibbert and David West provide inside muscle at both ends, but the sparkplugs of the offense are 23-year olds Paul George (23 ppg) and Lance Stephenson, plus 27-year old point guard George Hill. This team has an abundance of depth, star power and sparkling role players. It remains unclear when Danny Granger (calf) will be able to return and produce. Indiana hoop fans can dream about a dominant stretch run if Granger is able to contribute. Indiana is 18-7-1 under the total after a win.