The NBA preseason is in full swing, which means expectations for the regular season are taking shape. Some teams are looking as though they'll surprise the fans with dream seasons, while others are looking like science experiments gone wrong.
Yes, these games are meaningless and won't have any bearing on how a team fares in the standings, but they are still important.
Preseason contests are an opportunity for coaches to adjust their team's on-court chemistry and determine what does and does not work. That way, once the regular season starts and the games begin counting, they'll have the best formula for success.
To name one team that's shocked fans this preseason, the Los Angeles Lakers and their new-look lineup have been completely disappointing.
With Dwight Howard still rehabbing a back injury, the team has lost all of its games by wide margins, which can't be what GM Mitch Kupchak had in mind when he acquired both Howard and point man Steve Nash. Needless to say, the preseason in L.A. has been anything but pleasing.
That being said, as the preseason nears its halfway point, perhaps each NBA team should get a visit from team ownership and receive some sort of performance evaluation. In doing this, the wrinkles may be ironed out before the season begins, and thus a disaster may be avoided.
This coming season is going to be sort of transitional for the Hawks, as shooting guard Joe Johnson and his hefty contract were traded to the Brooklyn Nets for a handful of reserve players and draft picks over the summer.
That means Josh Smith is the new top dog in town. Combined with big man Al Horford, Atlanta should still be able to contend in the Eastern Conference.
Yet, with a 1-2 record in the preseason, the Hawks backcourt leaves a little something to be desired. Point guard Devin Harris is coming off of one of the worst seasons of his career, and rookie John Jenkins is overly reliant on his three-point shot.
The same can be said for another newcomer, Anthony Morrow, who takes about half of his shots per game from long range.
Still, Atlanta managed to open the preseason with a victory over the defending champion Miami Heat, who were without star guard Dwyane Wade. Inconsistent backcourt or not, that's still pretty impressive.
The Celtics are slowly bringing in the young guns to take over for the elder statesmen, which has led to a 1-3 preseason record. Again, this isn't at all a measure of how good or bad the team is, but an overtime loss to the equally old New York Knicks is a bit puzzling.
However, one bright spot of the preseason is GM Danny Ainge once again having a good eye for young talent. First-round pick Jared Sullinger (pictured) has proven to be a good low-post presence and solid body under the basket, which is a sigh of relief considering the concerns about his back on draft night.
Assuming he keeps on performing well up to the start of the regular season, this old Boston squad is going to be just fine, even though the preseason record is not what most have come to expect from it.
It may be the preseason, but the new-look Nets are 2-0 and playing as though every game counts. The starters have led the team to victories over the Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers, and every player appears committed to winning and making a statement during the regular season.
From point man Deron Williams to center Brook Lopez, the Nets are running on all cylinders and are playing like there's no tomorrow.
The only true black spot on the team is newcomer Mirza Teletovic, who has overly relied on three-point shooting thus far.
In the game against Philadelphia, Teletovic shot 2-of-13 from the field and scored six points. Unfortunately, 11 of his shots were from long range. If he's going to succeed on the NBA level, that has to change.
Other than his underachieving, the team as a whole looks great and ready to compete starting Nov. 1.
The preseason means practically nothing, but the Charlotte Bobcats' 1-2 record is just a bit troubling. It's not that the team lost two games to an equally young New Orleans Hornets squad, but as a whole, they don't look any different on the court than they did last year.
One of the more guilty parties in this regard is rookie forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who was taken with the second overall pick in this year's draft. Instead of being an explosive go-to guy who can both score points and play defense, the former Kentucky Wildcat looks content to be a supporting character.
In each of Charlotte's three preseason games, his scoring total has dropped, from 14 points in the preseason opener against Washington to just one against New Orleans last Thursday.
Thus, with no real changes happening on the floor, it's hard to really commend anything Charlotte has done up to this point.
The Bulls are in for a challenge this year, as star point guard and 2011 MVP Derrick Rose is still recovering from a knee injury suffered during last season's playoffs.
In his place is Kirk Hinrich, who, though talented, is more of a shooter. Thus far, the Bulls' "new" team has worked its way to a 1-2 preseason record, which isn't necessarily a reflection of their talent as a whole.
The sad truth is that with Rose out, the bulk of production falls on the shoulders of Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer.
Ever since he signed with Chicago, Boozer has looked soft under the basket and just seems to move a lot slower than he did when he was a double-double machine with the Utah Jazz.
Unless head coach Tom Thibodeau can make an adjustment, it's going to be one long winter in the Windy City.
Another young NBA team, the Cleveland Cavaliers are headed in the right direction, as Kyrie Irving proved last year that he can be an effective scoring point guard who also plays pesky defense. This year, he has two go-to guys to help him shoulder the load in rookies Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller.
This young trio has played hard in all five of Cleveland's preseason games thus far. Though it is unclear how many minutes both Waiters and Zeller will receive once the regular season begins, head coach Byron Scott has two tough players ready willing and able to step in whenever he gives them the call.
Throw in continued improvement from second-year man Tristan Thompson, and the Cavs are headed in the right direction—back towards playoff basketball.
After a season in which the loss of Tyson Chandler clearly hurt the team, the Mavs appear to be back in business, even though just one of their three preseason games has been against an NBA team, with the first two being against Alba Berlin and FC Barcelona.
What makes Dallas' 2-1 record all the better is that two of the wins came without star player Dirk Nowitzki, who has been out with a sore knee.
In his absence, rookie Jae Crowder (pictured) and newcomers Chris Kaman and Darren Collison have picked up some of the slack.
The team has played hard despite it being the preseason and appears ready to redeem itself following the disappointment of last season. They aren't of championship caliber just yet, but as the NBA has shown us before, there's always the chance of a surprise.
Now that the incredibly athletic Andre Iguodala is in the starting lineup, the Nuggets have come to the preseason with a fire flowing through the collective veins.
They have gone 3-0 thus far, and while each game has been close, the wins have come against talented teams in the Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors. Once the regular season starts, they are certainly going to be a team to watch.
Yet out of all the players, none of the starters have been the most surprising. That honor belongs to bench player Corey Brewer, who has come out of nowhere to become the best bench player on the team this preseason.
The former Florida Gator scored 24 points in 22 minutes against the Spurs. He has proven that he is more than capable of competing on the NBA level after a couple of off seasons.
With him coming off the bench for regular minutes, the Nuggets could very well strike gold once the regular season begins.
Detroit is a young team, so the key to improving upon last season is consistency. They have gone 1-2 thus far, partly because their go-to scorers have not been able to get the ball in the basket regularly and the defense has been hit-or-miss.
The sole bright spot has been rookie big man Andre Drummond, who pulled down 19 points and 10 boards while swatting away two shots in the team's last game against the Milwaukee Bucks, which they lost, 108-91.
Despite being just 19 years old, he already plays like a veteran center.
Still, until the rest of the team can rally around Drummond and a leader steps forward, there's not much to say about this preseason.
Golden State is an offensive team, but the presence of Andrew Bogut at center gives it some much-needed help in the paint so that forward David Lee is not the only one pursuing the ball on defense.
Though Bogut has yet to play in the preseason, the Warriors have gone 3-1 on the backs of hot scoring from Lee, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson (pictured) and many others.
The best part about the Warriors preseason, however, is a 27-point win over their state rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers. That's impressive from every angle and could potentially cement Golden State's status as a team to watch for the upcoming season.
The Rockets made a huge splash in free agency over the summer, prying point guard Jeremy Lin away from the New York Knicks in hopes of bringing the Linsanity to the Lone Star State on the backs of three first-round rookies: guard Jeremy Lamb and forwards Terrence Jones and Royce White.
While Houston has gone 2-2 in the preseason, Lin has been anything but electrifying.
The Harvard grad has done fine in terms of passing the ball and playing tight defense, but his scoring game has essentially abandoned him.
In a loss to the San Antonio Spurs on October 14, Lin shot 1-of-10 from the field and racked up just one assist and steal over 25 minutes. Coincidentally, he did not play in the team's next game.
Despite this, the rest of the team has performed well. Assuming Lin can shake off the rust and help a little more on offense, Houston's prospects look promising.
The Pacers have gone 1-1 in the preseason thus far, and while that may not seem like enough to review their performance, they have actually been very impressive. Both games were against the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Indiana has not had star player Danny Granger for either contest.
As a result, head coach Frank Vogel has shown off his team's tremendous depth, most notably guard Gerald Green.
The 2005 first-round pick came out of nowhere last year to have a handful of great games for the then-New Jersey Nets. In the Pacers' last game, he scored 18 points and pulled down six rebounds.
Thus, though the Pacers have not played as often as most other teams, there is no doubt that they are headed in the right direction.
The Clippers have only had Chris Paul for one of their three preseason games, and their sole win came in that game.
Yet even in the losses, players like Jamal Crawford and backup point guard Eric Bledsoe showed great scoring ability and more when they had the ball.
In the Clippers' first preseason game against the Denver Nuggets, Bledsoe scored 25 points, pulled down eight rebounds, dished out six assists and even had five steals. That's not at all bad for someone just 6'1".
It's so hard to put a grade on the Clippers' preseason performance, though, not only because they have only had Paul for one game, but also because their last two games have been played in China. The time difference alone could be enough to put some players off their game.
Thus, until the team can play together as a full unit, they simply cannot be graded.
Though the Lakers are 0-3 in the preseason, coach Mike Brown deserves credit for making sure that every player gets involved. From guys under contract for next season to those just fighting for a roster spot, the Lakers easily win the variety award.
Unfortunately, that's not what the preseason is about.
Yes, one can understand why Dwight Howard's absence could make the Lakers view the preseason contests as throwaway games, but that's just the opposite.
Instead of playing fast and loose with the rotation, Brown should be concentrating on the players he's most serious about and doing his best to figure out the second unit. His approach thus far has led to three Lakers losses, all of which were by double-digit margins.
Again, the games are meaningless, but the lack of a star center isn't at all an excuse for going through each contest on autopilot.
The Grizzlies just continue to get better, and if Lionel Hollins continues to showcase the team's depth for the rest of the preseason, it could be the sign of good things to come in Memphis.
Veteran guard Ronald "Flip" Murray contributed 11 points off the bench in one game, and even center Jerome Jordan chipped in 13 points the same contest, albeit with fewer minutes.
The craziest part is that Hollins has yet to use NBA Summer League co-MVP Josh Selby in a game, as the former Kansas Jayhawk has been recovering from an ankle injury.
In five summer league games, Selby averaged 24.2 points and 2.4 steals per game while shooting 55 percent from the floor and an astounding 64 percent from long range.
If he can come back at 100 percent and put up similar numbers against NBA regulars, then the Grizzlies will look extra dangerous.
Miami is just 1-2 this preseason, partly because Dwyane Wade just came back from knee surgery and the team's last two games have been played in China.
Still, LeBron James has managed to carry the team despite the circumstances. Even though both of Miami's losses were by double-digit margins, the team as a whole looks good.
Erik Spoelstra seems to be handling the players a bit gingerly. Yes, it's the preseason, and rust could be a factor, but the Heat are the defending NBA champions.
If anything, they should be eager to show off their new depth, including Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.
Milwaukee has only played two preseason games, but they both resulted in wins and clarified a couple of things regarding the Bucks' upcoming season.
While Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis will be the cornerstones of the offense, Ersan Ilyasova will help turn the dynamic duo into a terrific trio every so often.
On defense, rookie John Henson has shown that he can keep up, having pulled down six rebounds and swatting four shots in the team's last game.
Though the games mean nothing, Bucks coach Scott Skiles has his team running on all cylinders and ready to make a run for the playoffs this year.
This time, however, Milwaukee doesn't seem content to stand on the outside looking in once the postseason starts. If the current approach holds up, then the fans will be beyond satisfied.
Minnesota may be 1-2, but it's looking as feisty as ever in the preseason. GM David Kahn kept busy over the summer in acquiring Chase Budinger (pictured) from the Houston Rockets and bringing Brandon Roy out of retirement and Andrei Kirilenko back to the NBA.
Long story short, this team is going to look great once point guard Ricky Rubio is back in the lineup. Roy is playing as though he never had one knee problem in his life, and center Nikola Pekovic turned in a 16-point, 17-rebound performance against the Chicago Bulls last Saturday.
It's only the preseason, but just watch. Minnesota is going to be the surprise team of 2012-13.
Thus far, 2012 No. 1 pick Anthony Davis has looked nothing short of spectacular for the New Orleans Hornets. His team is 3-1 in the preseason, and in a game against the Charlotte Bobcats, he scored 22 points while pulling down nine rebounds and blocking one shot.
The best part is that New Orleans has posted this record without star guard Eric Gordon, who continues to work his way back from knee troubles.
This is a testament to Davis' potential and status as a future superstar. He can step forward and instantly put up great numbers in the absence of a teammate who is a lock for 20-plus points per game.
Once Gordon comes back, this team is certainly going to be fun to watch, both in the preseason, regular season and, if certain chips fall into place, the postseason. However, they must first beat a playoff-caliber team.
The Knicks are 2-0 in the preseason, and they have done it without Amar'e Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert or newcomers Ronnie Brewer and Marcus Camby.
Instead, Carmelo Anthony has taken over with help from guys like Chris Copeland, who scored 21 points in an overtime win against the Boston Celtics, and sharpshooters Steve Novak and J.R. Smith, who combined for 41 points in the preseason opener against the Washington Wizards.
It should be noted that in that game, Washington outscored New York 35-15 in the second quarter and opened said quarter on a 20-0 run.
Still, this New York squad managed to claw its way back without some of its key players. The high-quality performances from the reserves is a sign that the team is destined for a good season. At this point, coach Mike Woodson is doing everything right.
Scott Brooks has taken an interesting approach this preseason, as he has let the reserves get quite a bit of playing time while the starters pretty much play the first half and not much else.
As a result, the team has thus gone 0-2.
The fact that former first-round pick and current D-Leaguer extraordinaire Cole Aldrich (pictured) recently had an 11-point, 10-rebound, three-block, three-steal game is kind of ridiculous.
Though the bench players have looked decent in two games, Oklahoma City has yet to look like a true team in the preseason. Brooks needs to play his rotation as though it's a regular-season game, and only then can an effective evaluation be given.
That the Magic are 0-3 is no fault of their own. New stars in Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington are both dealing with nagging injuries, which leaves Glen "Big Baby" Davis as the go-to guy. He has more than answered the bell, and in Orlando's last game, he scored 27 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
That being said, though the Magic get an A for effort, the team just looks awkward as a whole. Now that Dwight Howard is out of the picture, it is time for them to find a new identity, which is hard to do with two of the best players hurt.
At this point, they just look average, which won't fly in the regular season.
Philly was the epitome of team play last season, and though it suffered a late-season collapse and only advanced to the conference semifinals because of Derrick Rose injuring his knee, it's hard to look say that the Sixers' year wasn't successful.
They played hard night after night and will continue to play the same game this season, as it has resulted in a 2-1 preseason thus far.
Newly acquired center Andrew Bynum may be having injury troubles again, but the Sixers are still playing hard and doing well. Guard Nick Young (pictured) has done a fine job as the new sixth man, and in the team's first preseason game against the Orlando Magic, he scored 22 points off the bench.
Though they don't have a go-to star player, the Sixers are doing it right in that if one player is having a bad game, another can step forward and pick up the slack almost immediately. It's unconventional, but it's effective enough to work.
The Suns have gone 1-1 in the preseason, but something seems off. Normally a high-scoring team, coach Alvin Gentry seems to be shying away from his fast-paced offense in favor of a balanced attack.
That isn't a bad idea by any means, but the Suns' game is something of a cultural icon in Phoenix, and fans come to games to see some speedy, high-scoring action. Also puzzling is that new point guard Goran Dragic has only scored 17 points over the course of the two games.
Simply put, the team that has shown up this preseason is not the Suns the fans know and love, and while it may just be in the interest of gradually bringing the players back into a routine, it could ultimately hurt the team in the long run given the pace at which they've been used to playing.
New Blazers coach Terry Stotts deserves a lot of credit. Portland is 1-2 in the preseason, but he has coached each game as though it is the regular season, and he balances the rotation out accordingly. Each starting lineup has been different, but the same players have gotten the same playing time.
Still, one thing is certain: Portland's future hinges on rookies Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard. Lillard is looking like a fine scoring point guard already, but Leonard still has some work to do. He just moves very awkwardly on the court and isn't quite ready to be an elite center.
In time, however, this team could make it back to the postseason on the backs of youngsters and the veterans who mentor them.
It's official, ladies and gentlemen: The Sacramento Kings are finally headed back in the right direction. Head coach Keith Smart has his young players responding well, and though they have only played two preseason games, they have won both on the back of soon-to-be star big man DeMarcus Cousins.
Like the aforementioned Terry Stotts, Smart has coached as though it's already the regular season, and he's really just trying to figure out the second unit. The problem is that many bench players have looked good, which is going to make cutting anyone a tough task. Even second-year man Jimmer Fredette has looked better than last year, most recently with an 11-point effort against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Yet there is a difference between Stotts and Smart's teams. While Portland is banking on a rookie to run the offense, Sacramento's players have already had a couple of seasons together, which gives them a distinct advantage.
In retrospect, it's really not at all surprising that they've won both of their preseason games.
If we were looking for more proof of Gregg Popovich being a coaching genius, we may have found it. In his Spurs' second preseason game, he guided them to a win with all of the star regulars sitting on the bench.
Moreover, San Antonio is 3-1 in the preseason, and their second unit has looked fantastic. This team contends for a championship year after year, and playing hard in the preseason could very well be the reason why.
Yes, the Raptors are 2-1 in the preseason, but it's nothing anyone should get excited about. The team's wins came against Real Madrid and the Detroit Pistons, which can't really be compared since Detroit isn't necessarily a great team and European teams play a different type of basketball, one very focused on offense.
Moreover, apart from the fact that Toronto has yet to really be tested, rookie center Jonas Valanciunas (pictured) has only had one big game. In a win against the Pistons, the Lithuanian sensation scored 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
Also, it should be noted that the Raptors have been without point guard Kyle Lowry, who is nursing a leg injury. When push comes to shove, this team is simply average and will remain that way until we see how it does when tested by a stronger team.
Utah relies on size to bring the victory home, and a fine group consisting of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and youngster Derrick Favors can be relied upon to make that happen. Yet, this preseason, Millsap has been away from the team due to the death of his grandmother.
However, even in his absence, the Jazz have managed to go 2-1 in the preseason thanks to second-year center Enes Kanter.
Kanter only averaged 4.6 points and 4.2 rebounds in his rookie year, but the absence of Millsap thus far has led to more playing time. As a result, he has posted a double-double in each of Utah's three preseason games.
Simply put, coach Tyrone Corbin has his team playing hungry in the preseason, which is just what he has to do in order to get back to the playoffs. Once the guards start producing consistently and taking some of the pressure off of the big guys, Utah will go from singing the blues to swinging with style.
The Wizards have gone a dismal 1-3 this preseason, but much of the blame can be placed on star point man John Wall being injured.
This leaves the team without their leader on the floor, and on a young team like Washington, that can be disastrous. An injured Nene and inconsistent play from everyone else doesn't help, either.
In fact, the sole consistent player on the team has been rookie Bradley Beal (pictured), who is a consistent scorer even in the absence of Wall. If he can keep up his performance into the regular season, then he will play a key role in the resurrection of the Wizards.
Still, despite all of the team's flaws, let's not forget that the Wizards went on a 20-0 run to open the second quarter in a preseason matchup against the New York Knicks. If a young and inconsistent squad can do that against a team comprised mostly of veterans, then they can't be all that bad.