Which NBA Teams Will Stay Hot?
by Joseph Mattern - 12/20/2006
A few surprise NBA teams have started off well -- maybe too well. Let's take a look at a few teams and see whether or not their hot starts are a fluke.
Utah, Denver, Houston, the Lakers, Golden State and Orlando have all gotten off to quick starts. What's for real, and what is illusion?
Utah: The Jazz have been playing great ball of late. With the second best record in the NBA, Utah has been surprising people all season. They won 12 of their first 13 games and have made themselves a legitimate threat in the west. How have they accomplished this? In a number of ways, but most notably in shooting a high percentage from the floor (several times over 50 percent), and rebounding well. Boozer and Okur combine to average over 20 boards per game, and lots of players can score, with Boozer good for around 22 a game and Deron Williams scoring over 16 per, plus getting around nine assists per game, and Okur chipping in around 15 points a game. So the Jazz do a good job of spreading the ball around. Throw Kirilenko and veteran Derek Fisher into the mix, and this team is starting to look like a real contender. Bonafide superstars can break down their defense, but the Jazz match up well with most of the top teams. I expect them to continue their winning ways, and maybe even shake things up in the playoffs.
Denver: The Nuggets are another interesting club off to a fast start. They score a ton and they like to run. Carmelo will be out serving a suspension for brawling for the next month, but the addition of Allen Iverson really makes this team an offensive force to be reckoned with. With the Iverson deal, they pick up another 30 ppg scorer, and don't lose much in Andre Miller and Joe Smith. They will continue to run their way to the playoffs.
Los Angeles: The Lakers have gotten off to a good start, and Kobe is definitely an impact player, but the loss of Odom will have an effect. It might be a smart play to fade the Lakers against legit teams. NBA insider Andrew Golding says, "Look at which teams have played a larger amount of home games compared to road games (e.g. LAL, GSW). With Odom out, it's easy to get down on (the Lakers). They're a good team intact but they'll really miss Lamar. He's a boat player and Kobe will be pushed." There may be some value in fading this new version of Showtime while Odom is sidelined.
Golden State: The Warriors started off well, but they too have played a high number of home games early in the season. Golding weighs in, saying, "(Golden State) has overachieved and they'll return to earth. JR's injury hurts them a lot. Ellis is not used to this many minutes, he'll revert, the same with Biedrins." In addition, Baron Davis, while a good player, is somewhat fragile, so you can probably expect him to miss some more games down the road. As with the Lakers, the Warriors may represent an opportunity to benefit from a line that is not commensurate with their prospects (i.e. an inflated line that is undeserved for a mediocre team with some early wins at home.)
Houston: For the Rockets, Yao Ming will have to carry the load in the absence of Tracy McGrady. Yao is an awesome presence with tremendous touch for a big man, and has been great so far, but the Rockets are 1-3 since McGrady has been sidelined, and without a healthy TMac, the Rockets will face an uphill battle. Here's another team whose fate will rest on the health of one of its stars. Tread lightly here, but don't be afraid to jump on a wacky line that gives the Rockets more credit than they're worth.
Orlando: the Magic are a real gem in the east. Dwight Howard has been incredible, with his dual threat of scoring and rebounding. He is one of the best players in the league, and he's just getting started in what will probably turn out to be a great career. The old and fragile Grant Hill is playing like a younger version of himself, and despite injuries to Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu, the Magic are a good team in a terrible conference. They are legit, and show no signs of slowing down, so you may not find much value here.