After one week of the NBA, these nine teams are looking good to start the season. With a shortened off-season and barely any preseason games a lot teams came out of the gate flat (Dallas), but expect some of these old, veteran filled teams to figure it out over the next couple of weeks.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder lost in Dallas and against Portland, but that can’t take away from the fact that this team started out as hot as anyone in the league. The Thunder already have some impressive wins over good teams, and are putting up great offensive numbers early in the year (4th in ppg, 4th in fg %, 4th in 3 pt %). The only issue with this team right now is an internal one, and it needs to be solved soon. As my friend who saw this team play in person last night said, “the only person who can stop Kevin Durant is Russell Westbrook.” If Westbrook stops turning the ball over and learns to get the ball to the best scorer in the league, watch out for this young team.
2. Miami Heat
The Heat also got their undefeated start to the season ended two nights ago by the Hawks. That shouldn’t take away from what has been an equally as impressive start to the season as OKC. LeBron looks like a man on a mission, and D-Wade is just doing his usual thing. Everyone saw the beat down the Heat handed Dallas on the first day of the season, but even after that the Heat have some impressive wins especially some on the road including comeback wins in the last minutes at Charlotte and at a much improved Minnesota team. I expect the Heat and the Thunder to hold down these top two spots for much of the regular season.
3. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls beat my sleeper pick in the West, the Memphis Grizzlies, by over 40 points on Sunday night, and just beat the Hawks in a tight game. That win as well as an opening night win at Staples Center against the Lakers have the Bulls looking good already in 2012. If it wasn’t for a pretty brutal west-coast trip to start the season the Bulls may have started undefeated out the gate as well. Derrick Rose is continuing to show why he was league MVP last year, and if Richard Hamilton can stay in the lineup this team is down right scary.
4. Orlando Magic
In my mind this is where the biggest drop-off is in the power rankings even if you were to go down the list and do all 30 teams. The Magic looked impressive in their first five games, led by Dwight Howard who is leading the league in rebounds, but two nights ago to the lowly Detroit Pistons. If the Magic stay consistent and keeping feeding superman (assuming they don’t trade the big fella) they will have the opportunity to win a lot of games.
5. Portland Trail Blazers
Although the Blazers have only played give games this season, they have looked good in this young season. The Blazers are taking care of their duties on the glass (2nd in the NBA in rpg) led by Marcus Camby who at age 37 can still be a beast on the boards. The Blazers have also gotten a nice spark off their bench with newly signed Jamal Crawford. Their only loss this season was a close one against the Lob City Clippers, and they just had a big win against the Thunder last night.
6. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets have started out the season as hot as anyone out West with a record of 4-2. Denver already has two impressive wins; at Dallas and at home against the Lakers. The Nuggets balanced attack led by Ty Lawson (18.2 ppg) and Nene (13.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg) have them at third in the league in ppg. If George Karl can get this team playing defense like it did in the fourth quarter against the Bucks and the Lakers, this team will be a hard out in the Western Conference.
7. Indiana Pacers
My sleeper pick in the East has been doing a hell of a lot better than my sleeper in the West to start the season. As of yesterday the Pacers were tied for first in the Central with the Bulls at a record of 4-1. Led by young star Danny Granger (17 ppg), this team hasn’t really played anyone tough yet, but we will see what they are made of this coming week. Indiana plays in Miami, followed by another road game in Boston on Friday.
8. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks had arguably the easiest schedule in the entire league to start out the season, but that sure does change this week. After an extremely impressive win against the Heat at American Airlines Arena, led by the resurgence of Tracy McGrady in the fourth quarter. Last night the Hawks played the red-hot Bulls and barely lost in Chicago, and face-off against the Heat again Thursday in Atlanta. If Joe Johnson can keep this Hawks team playing unselfish and hard every night look for them to climb up the Eastern Conference standings throughout the season.
9. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs get the last spot in my top 9 after falling from fifth on the list to ninth in one night. Not only did the Spurs lose to the Timberwolves, but they also lost maybe their best player Manu Ginobli to injury. Manu broke his hand, and while reports from San Antonio are saying he is yet to be evaluated medically others are saying he is out indefinitely. That’s not a good sign for San Antonio who can’t afford to lose one of their top three players for an extended period of time.