Week two: where the fast starts either become sustained performance or are proven to be flashes in the pan. For those who started badly, they faced a make-or-break week in which winning would see them avoid a season-defining slump and those who lose check into the basement hotel for the (or another) season.
There are a few movers and shakers from week one after a furious seven days that saw the final unbeaten teams lose and the Miami Heat look befuddled.
Overall Record: 55-11 (-1 win)
The Miami Heat (or "Death from Above," as they should be known) finally lost this week to the Atlanta Hawks.
This was a loss that can't be chalked up to "just an off night"; the Hawks showed the Heat a zone defense and it totally perplexed Miami. A weakness in the armor, perhaps?
Whatever the reasons, the zone defense reduced the Heat to being the Big Three plus some extras. It proved that only LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have true consistency and that the rest of the roster is streaky.
The Hawks' success with the zone against Miami might well have shown the rest of the league the way to beating this team. Could we see more teams set up the zone to try to mimic what the Hawks achieved?
The Heat now have to be moved down a tad as teams have been shown a way to beat them.
Overall record: 51-15 (+1 win)
Did you see the Chicago Bulls beat down the Memphis Grizzlies this week? A 40-point win, the team's third in 12 months, shows exactly what this team is capable of on its day. That, and the loss of Zach Randolph for three quarters for the Grizzlies.
As much as the Bulls looked like championship contenders against Memphis, they played about 12 minutes of recognizable basketball against the Atlanta Hawks 48 hours later. The Bulls reverted to 2010-11 mode, scoring just 42 points through three quarters.
Yet, they won. Derrick Rose scored 17 in the final period and Luol Deng chipped in 13 as the Bulls scored 34 in the final quarter. It wasn't pretty but these kind of horrific 13-turnover, 26.7 percent shooting nights that make you want to curl up and die will happen again in this shortened season.
The reason that it will hurt the Bulls less is that they simply refuse to give in, to always pull through these awful performances and steal a win.
How the Bulls fare over the next seven days will be interesting. They travel to Orlando and Atlanta this weekend for big games against playoff rivals before they take on their one and only back-to-back-to-back against Detroit (home), Minnesota (away) and New Jersey (home) to complete a run of seven games in nine days.
Overall Record: 50-16 (-1 win)
So the Thunder aren't really sitting as pretty as their current record suggests. That ugly Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook coexistence debate reared its head again and then Durant was shut down by the Portland Trail Blazers.
It was an incredibly impressive achievement by Portland to defend Durant en masse, limiting him to just 19 points.
The trouble for this team is still experience, as they floundered when their leading scorer was stymied.
Overall Record: 48-18 (+6 wins)
The Atlanta Hawks took down the Miami Heat with a zone defense and nearly took down the Chicago Bulls 24 hours later before throwing it away in the final quarter.
Despite this collapse, the Hawks looked dialed in and in total sync with one another. Josh Smith with his new trim figure is a revelation on offense as he is so much more mobile. Still taking that long two-pointer, though.
This might just be a hot streak for the Hawks, but they've shown some signs of improvement. Joe Johnson, though, keeps on providing plays for the low-basketball-IQ playbook, dribbling for 17 seconds before hoisting a fadeaway jumper from 18 feet over 6'9" Luol Deng. Predictably, it barely touched the rim.
Keeping up the performances we saw in Chicago and Miami could be the making of this team that I said last week were on their final run as composed. The Hawks must face Miami again at home, before a quick trip to Charlotte precedes a rematch with Chicago. Trips to New Jersey and Indiana make up a nonstop week for Atlanta from which they should return at least 2-2.
Overall record: 47-19 (+1 win)
Last week I said that Kobe Bryant was no longer playing like "Kobe Bryant."
Dear Kobe, I'm sorry. You've still got that ridiculous ability to make shot after shot. Just don't do that 6-of-28 thing again and we're cool.
So yeah, the Lakers didn't look too good in week one, but now that Andrew Bynum is back they look like the Lakers we know and love. Bynum has been incredible on both ends; since his return from suspension, he has averaged 22 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks. That's unlikely to keep up but Bynum seems to have turned another corner in becoming an elite center.
Why is Bynum playing so much better? Could it be down to the fact that he has been openly shopped in Dwight Howard trade discussions? He's either playing to advertise himself or he's playing to show that the Lakers don't need Howard.
As it stands, they probably don't.
Overall record: 45-21 (+6 wins)
Panic over? Perhaps. This time last week the Dallas Mavericks were a pathetic excuse for a professional team, being manhandled twice in quick succession to 30-plus-point deficits.
Since then, they've gotten some consistency back; they've found a groove and Lamar Odom has turned it up. They beat the Thunder after a heartbreaking loss to them a few days earlier. They haven't recovered to .500 after hemorrhaging losses in the opening week.
Overall Record: 44-22 (+1 win)
What makes this run of four straight victories slightly hollow is that two have come against the winless Washington Wizards, one was over the hapless Detroit Pistons and the final was over the New Jersey Nets devoid of both Deron Williams and Kris Humphries.
It certainly doesn't mean the victories are meaningless as you can only beat what is put in front of you. The Celtics are back to looking like the team that they were last season and appear to have found a groove again with Rajon Rondo, Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen once again leading the way.
I don't quite know how the Celtics have managed it, but they will have a four-day break between games against Indiana and Dallas this week. Dallas and Chicago both make trips to the TD Garden in a crucial week for momentum building.
Overall Record: 42-24 (+11 wins)
Sorry, Portland, for doubting you last week. The Trail Blazers are as hot as the inside of the sun right now; they got everything right against Oklahoma City earlier this week as they limited Kevin Durant to just 19 points.
Now obviously this prediction is a tad generous and there's a chance they won't be competing at this level all season. At the moment, however, the Trail Blazers are giving their fans something to cheer about as they sit proudly atop the Western Conference at 4-1.
This next week will tell us a lot more about the Trail Blazers. They play by far the biggest game of their season against the suddenly in-form L.A. Lakers tonight and they also face visits from the Clippers and Dwight Howard's Orlando Magic.
If they can come out of this next week with a record better than 2-2 then we can really start talking about this team going deep in the playoffs.
Overall Record: 40-26 (No Change/NC)
The Orlando Magic have quietly and efficiently gotten off to a 5-2 start to the new season. The Magic and Dwight Howard were the nation's favorite conversation before the season began and since then, Orlando has gone largely unnoticed by sportswriters.
They have cruised through most of those games, albeit having one of the easiest opening schedules I've ever seen. After starting with a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Magic have faced and beaten the Houston Rockets, Charlotte Bobcats, Toronto Raptors, New Jersey Nets and the winless Washington Wizards.
Ryan Anderson has had a bit of a coming-out party of late, scoring game highs in wins over the Bobcats, Raptors and Nets. If he keeps it up the Magic look a little bit better. Not good enough to win any more than previously predicted, but enough to keep Howard interested in staying.
Overall Record: 39-27 (+1 win)
The Denver Nuggets are still fun to watch. They split a mini-series with the L.A. Lakers which they should have won 2-0 if Danilo Gallinari could convert a simple uncontested lay-in and the Nuggets had converted just one more of those offensive rebounds into a made basket.
The Nuggets, after seven games, sit on the same pace as the current Western Conference leaders Portland. Who would have guessed that they would be second in points per game and fourth in point differential?
Highlight of the week? Had to be rookie Kenneth Faried's abuse of Travis Outlaw on Wednesday night (see above). Blocks like that should be illegal.
Overall Record: 38-28 (-8 wins)
I, like a ton of other sportswriters, got caught up in the Lob City mayhem last week and perhaps overestimated the L.A. Clippers.
Their high-octane, fast-break dunk frenzy will get them past some opponents, but as the Chicago Bulls proved, the Clippers are weak in half-court offense. The Bulls stopped them from scoring too much on the break and forced the Clippers to beat them in structured offense.
Because Chris Paul and Caron Butler are new to the team and Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are still learning, this team will struggle in the half court against top defensive sides like Chicago and Miami. By season's end this will have improved mightily as Griffin begins to understand his range and Paul integrates himself more with coach Vinny Del Negro's offensive strategy.
Overall Record: 37-29 (-11 wins)
So the Knicks aren't quite who we thought they were. I claimed last week that they were legitimate title contenders. Big thanks to small sample sizes for making me look stupid.
They still don't have championship-caliber defense despite the addition of Tyson Chandler to create a frontcourt partnership with Amar'e Stoudemire and they don't quite have the championship-caliber offense to compensate.
I suspect that will change with time but in a shortened season with very little practice time, will it take too long for the Knicks to get into their groove on both ends and force them into the bottom half of the playoff seeds?
Overall Record: 37-29 (-1 wins)
The San Antonio Spurs lost Manu Ginobili (above) for up to two months with a broken bone in his left hand, yet they only drop back by one win?
Manu hasn't had a healthy body in four seasons since the Spurs last won the championship. He's gone through a succession of injuries—ankle tweaks, a broken ankle, stress-fractured foot, broken nose and broken elbow—and the Spurs have still come out of it in relatively good shape.
Yes, it means that Tim Duncan and Tony Parker have to take on a bigger role and it puts some pressure on rookie forward Kawhi Leonard to come off the bench and make some plays to fill a big hole in the roster.
Ironically, this could be a blessing in disguise for the Spurs. Manu hasn't been healthy, as I mentioned, for a number of years going into the playoffs. Could a long layoff that could see him miss as many as 33 games (half the season) mean he plays at a higher level in the playoffs should the team survive his absence?
Overall Record: 36-30 (+1 win)
I'm high on the Indiana Pacers so far this season. I really like how this team is composed going forward and especially like how they have continued their run of form that stemmed from their Round 1 playoff loss to Chicago last year.
They've gone 2-2 in the last week, losing to the Detroit Pistons and then getting smacked around by the Miami Heat. Despite the setbacks, I still see this team getting better and better as the season progresses.
Their next four games have them taking on both the Boston Celtics and the in-form Atlanta Hawks. Another 2-2 run seems likely as they lean towards a .500 record.
Overall Record: 35-31 (+1 win)
If I'm high on the Indiana Pacers, then I'm low on the Philadelphia 76ers. Sportswriters still have them in the top four in the Eastern Conference but I still don't believe it.
That said, they could be on the start of a big run, having beaten the Golden State Warriors by 28 and then the New Orleans Hornets by eight, they embark on a string of games against teams they can beat—Detroit Pistons, Toronto Raptors, the Pacers and the Sacramento Kings—in the next week.
Andre Iguodala (above) should be in the All-Star Game this year. He's certainly important enough.
Overall Record: 34-32 (-10 wins)
Stephen Curry's ankle is to blame for this slump. If that's a surprise to you, get out more; it's his third ankle sprain in 16 days.
The Golden State Warriors had two choices with their star player: They either sit him as soon as he re-injured that ankle on December 26th and let it heal fully and for good, or they let him play through it. Having chosen the latter, it looks like the wrong decision.
Whoever's call it was—coach, player or physio—to let Curry play is responsible for whatever happens. Curry has already had his ankle surgically repaired and losing him for a couple of weeks now rather than for a couple of months later in the year seemed like the sensible choice.
By the way, the Warriors are now 2-4 having started 2-1. Clearly worth the risk!
Overall Record: 33-33 (NC)
I love Ricky Rubio. He should be in Rookie of the Year conversations from the start and should be playing in the All-Star Game this year.
Yes, he's an All-Star. How many point guards in the league can control and dominate a game without scoring? I'll answer: two—Rubio and Rajon Rondo. The guy's averaging seven assists and the Wolves are playing their best basketball since Kevin Garnett left.
Minnesota can be happy with its basketball again. They have a double-double machine in Kevin Love, Rubio to dish assists like a magician and they have games against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards to try to get on a run of victories.
Still not quite in the playoffs, though that's no bad thing with a young team.
Overall Record: 32-34 (+11 wins)
Well haven't the Utah Jazz been quite the surprise package going 3-1 in the past seven days? Al Jefferson is averaging 18.4 points per game on 48.8 percent shooting and has led the team so far this season.
Can Tyron Corbin get the rest of the team firing well enough to get them over the .500 hump and into the playoff positions? With a Western Conference flush with teams teetering around playoff contention, all it will take is one sustained run of form to get them there.
The alternative is the horrible doldrums between the top of the draft lottery and being the eighth seed.
Overall Record: 29-37 (+6 wins)
Eric Gordon's little outburst of "you should have kept me" performances seems to have tailed off now. New Orleans has lost four straight and faces a ridiculously tough week with games against the Dallas Mavericks, two against the Denver Nuggets and a visit from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Even going 1-3 in this stretch would be an achievement and would prevent the team hitting eight straight losses and beginning to resemble the post-LeBron Cleveland Cavaliers.
I've predicted them with six more wins than last week because the Hornets look a lot more like a team than many thought they would. A big losing streak from an 0-4 week will test that to breaking point and perhaps beyond.
Overall Record: 28-38 (NC)
The Milwaukee Bucks won't be flirting with a .500 record after this next week. Andrew Bogut is out for an undetermined number of games for what the team calls "a serious personal matter" and since his departure the team has played twice and lost twice.
Brandon Jennings is shooting 37 percent and seems to be totally confused by the concept of shot selection. I just don't know how sustained winning is supposed to happen with this roster.
Overall Record: 27-39 (-8 wins)
Zach Randolph is injured, which means Memphis has to go backwards in the rankings. He's out for as many as eight weeks, which means he could miss more than a third of the season.
That Randolph is gone means the Grizzlies have lost their identity. Averaging 14.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game makes him the key player and now that he's gone, Marc Gasol and the rest of the roster are going to have to step up big time to stop the Grizzlies going on a massive tailspin until Randolph returns sometime in February.
It's tough to see a player leave the game with an injury, especially a star in the making.
Overall Record: 26-40 (-3 wins)
The Phoenix Suns should have traded Steve Nash by now. They didn't due to some feeling of sentimentality but in reality, Nash's departure needed to happen by now to allow Phoenix's rebuilding to begin.
It's too early to really tell where the Suns will end up this season as so much depends on whether Nash continues to dish out assists or if he even hangs around past the trade deadline.
Overall Record: 25-41 (-5 wins)
Head coach Paul Westphal is gone after a torrid run of results since the team beat the L.A. Lakers in their opening game of the season. Since then they've gone 1-5 in a spell punctuated by large numbers of turnovers and few assists (averaging fewest in the NBA).
All of this culminated in very interesting comments from Tyreke Evans and perennial troublemaker DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins was asked by the Sacramento Bee about the Kings' struggles on offense: "What offense?" Evans stated that "it's like when the first pass gets through, we're done."
What followed was Cousins being told not to turn up for the Kings' next game against New Orleans after he allegedly asked for a trade; the team then said that the second-year player would not be going anywhere.
After that, it was only a matter of time before Westphal was fired as the owners seemingly put their weight behind Cousins.
They fall by five wins as they will undoubtedly struggle while a new coach is located.
Overall Record: 25-41 (NC)
The Rockets are who we thought they are.
After a 20-point rout of the San Antonio Spurs in their home opener, the Rockets have since gone a disappointing 1-3, a period which included one 20-point loss to the Memphis Grizzlies and a 28-point loss to the L.A. Clippers. In between these they did record an impressive victory over a tough Atlanta Hawks team, but allowing the Lakers to shoot 52 percent and win by nine was another setback.
The Rockets' immediate schedule doesn't bode well for recovery. They have back-to-back games against Oklahoma City and a rematch in San Antonio.
They could come out of that run looking pretty ugly unless someone on the roster steps up in a big way.
Overall Record: 21-45 (+4 wins)
Another team on the rise, the Cleveland Cavaliers rookies look mightily impressive and surprisingly settled into NBA life.
Kyrie Irving (unsurprisingly) will be a strong contender for Rookie of the Year and Tristan Thompson has real potential for the future.
What has boosted the Cavaliers to a 2-1 week has been the play of big man Anderson Varejao, who is averaging just under a double-double at 8.7 points and nine rebounds per game so far this year. Varejao missed a ton of games last season that led to the Cavs embarking on a depressing 26-game losing streak, a U.S. sports record.
Overall Record: 20-46 (NC)
Poor old Detroit Pistons—what has become of you? The 2004 NBA champions failed to even get 10,000 into the Palace for the visit of the Derrick Rose-led Chicago Bulls. The 9,000 tally announced by the Pistons even looked generous as the arena boasted several sections devoid of people and even empty seats courtside.
The display their team put on pretty much explains the lack of enthusiasm. The Pistons are in dire need of an overhaul either in philosophy or in personnel. When Richard Hamilton left for the Windy City this offseason it presented as good an opportunity as any to begin seriously rebuilding a team with a proud history.
The immediate future doesn't bode well for Detroit either with a journey to Philadelphia before visits from the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks sandwich a trip to Chicago. If the Pistons can grab a victory from these four they'll be doing well.
Overall Record: 19-47 (+5 wins)
Don't be fooled by the current two-game streak. The Raptors won't be hovering around the .500 mark for long. I have to move them ahead of a few teams as, like I hinted at last week, the Raptors are showing signs of being a team.
Andrea Bargnani has been playing like a man possessed so far this season, averaging a staggering 24 points per game on nearly 55 percent shooting. Whatever it is that's taken hold, Raptors fans must be loving the play of the big man from Italy.
To make things look even better for Toronto, DeMar DeRozan is finally shooting the basketball well from distance. To date he's hit 10-of-16 three-pointers for 62.5 percent, a massive 53 percent increase from last season.
Overall Record: 18-48 (NC)
The Charlotte Bobcats lost by 39 to the Miami Heat this past week. They also beat the New York Knicks by 18 points at the Madison Square Garden. Whether this was Charlotte winning or New York not defending is up to you.
Turns out that playing Boris Diaw at center isn't such a bad idea after all; the veteran bagged 27 points in the victory in New York. Kemba Walker continues to prove himself a solid draft and, while not quite scoring like Kyrie Irving, he's doing enough to ensure the Bobcats are at least competitive in some games.
The defeat of the Knicks was one for the books as the 'Cats shot 55 percent from the floor including a staggering 62 percent from behind the arc; they also showed off some balance by holding New York to just 49 percent from the floor (37 percent from three).
The next week, however, poses some difficult questions for the oft-offensively challenged Bobcats. A visit from the Atlanta Hawks, currently leading the league in defense comes before trips to Indiana and Houston and a rematch in New York. Going 0-4 this week looks entirely possible.
Overall Record: 14-42 (-10 wins)
Young, directionless, inexperienced, immature. That pretty much sums up the 2011-12 Washington Wizards. They lack a true leader (Andray Blatche is in that role) and they have a trio of unpredictable characters in John Wall, JaVale McGee and Nick Young.
It was always going to be tough for this young team to really push on in a top-heavy Eastern Conference, but nobody expected it to be like this.
The Wizards gave up a 21-point lead to the New Jersey Nets in their opening game of the year, while this didn't set alarm bells ringing, perhaps it should have. The Wizards have yet to hold a team to fewer than 90 points as they lack energy on the defensive end of the court.
What's worse is that their immediate schedule sees them host the New York Knicks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Toronto Raptors before they head to Chicago to lose to the Bulls.
The good news? It can honestly only get better for the winless Wizards.
Overall Record: 12-54 (-2 wins)
Yes, the New Jersey Nets are that bad. That is Shelden Williams dunking on his own face. Perhaps he's trying to join the hefty injury list building in New Jersey so he doesn't have to be a part of this horrible show.
The Nets were dealt a double blow when both Kris Humphries and Deron Williams picked up injuries. The rest of the roster has since proven to potential trade target Dwight Howard that the rest of the roster is nowhere near good enough to be a meaningful part in a trade that leaves enough behind in New Jersey to make them contenders.
Let's face the music: Howard won't be rolling into Brooklyn next season and Williams won't hang around past this season when he realizes this. When that happens, the Nets are going to go into free fall unless they draft well this summer.
I feel sorry for you, Nets fans. You also have to look forward to Miami and Atlanta utterly destroying you in the next seven days.
To recap, here's a quick rundown of the updated predictions list:
1. Miami Heat (-1 win)
2. Chicago Bulls (+1 win)
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (-1 win)
4. Atlanta Hawks (+6 wins)
5. Los Angeles Lakers (+1 win)
6. Dallas Mavericks (+6 wins)
7. Boston Celtics (+1 win)
8. Portland Trail Blazers (+11 wins)
9. Orlando Magic (No Change)
10. Denver Nuggets (+1 win)
11. Los Angeles Clippers (-8 wins)
12. New York Knicks (-11 wins)
13. San Antonio Spurs (-1 win)
14. Indiana Pacers (+1 win)
15. Philadelphia 76ers (+1 win)
16. Golden State Warriors (-10 wins)
17. Minnesota Timberwolves (No Change)
18. Utah Jazz (+11 wins)
19. New Orleans Hornets (+6 wins)
20. Milwaukee Bucks (No Change)
21. Memphis Grizzlies (-8 wins)
22. Phoenix Suns (-3 wins)
23. Sacramento Kings (-5 wins)
24. Houston Rockets (No Change)
25. Cleveland Cavaliers (+4 wins)
26. Detroit Pistons (No Change)
27. Toronto Raptors (+5 wins)
28. Charlotte Bobcats (No Change)
29. Washington Wizards (-10 wins)
30. New Jersey Nets (-2 wins)
Winners of the Week: Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz (+11 wins)
Losers of the Week: New York Knicks (-11 wins)
Tune into: Chicago at Orlando, Friday night
Avoid, Avoid, Avoid: Anything with New Jersey in it
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