A number of NBA teams started the season with their key star player recovering from an injury, and fans naturally worried about how their favorite squad would fare in their leaders' absence. These players are superstars for a reason, and their teammates rely on them to carry them to victory.
However, despite these players not being on the court, the teams that are sans superstar have fared quite well over the first two weeks of the season. Not one has been absolutely terrible, and as of this afternoon, each one is at .500 or better.
The fact is that in the absence of the alpha dogs, the other players on each of the teams missing a key component have stepped up and kept their team in competition. From the Minnesota Timberwolves being near the top of their division to the Dallas Mavericks playing well minus Dirk Nowitzki, the teams that most thought would stumble out of the starting gate have fared much better than anticipated and are playing to the cheers of fans.
It just goes to show that in some particular cases, the absence of a team's best player proves just how good a team can be.
Now, it's hard to include the Knicks on this list, as they still have Carmelo Anthony in the lineup while his fellow superstar, Amar'e Stoudemire, recovers from knee surgery. Still, there is so much hype surrounding whether or not the two can play together that their season thus far must be mentioned.
With Stoudemire still a number of weeks away from returning, I'm about to say something that some fans probably thought would never be said by anyone. Thus far, the Knicks have played exceptionally well without their star power forward. Their four wins include a win over the defending champion Miami Heat and the young and deep Dallas Mavericks.
More importantly, the Knicks playing so well on the backs of Anthony, Tyson Chandler and role players like J.R. Smith could be a sign that Stoudemire, though talented, just isn't needed in New York anymore. Sure, the team could look even better once he comes back, but why try and fix a machine that has yet to show any signs of breaking down?
Keep in mind the Knicks have won each of their games by a double-digit margin, and that cannot be overlooked.
Derrick Rose is the unquestioned leader of the Bulls, and as we saw following his knee injury in last year's playoffs, the team crumbled in his absence. Thus, once the regular season began, it was pretty clear that Chicago wouldn't look as dominant as it had the previous two years when it was the best overall team in the NBA.
Instead, the Bulls have done a fine job of keeping pace in the Central Division. They are just half a game behind the Milwaukee Bucks, who are 4-2.
Much of the team's success this season is thanks to center Joakim Noah, who has done an incredible job stepping up in his teammate's absence. In seven games, the former Florida Gator has averaged 15.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game as the new leader on both sides of the floor.
It's great to see the Bulls doing so well without Rose, but according to Royce Young of CBSSports.com, the 2011 MVP has just started cutting drills. This is an essential step in him coming back from his knee injury.
However, since the Bulls higher-ups have indicated that Rose will not be rushed back and the team is playing is so well without him, why bring him back this season at all?
Dallas may be on a three-game losing streak, but it doesn't take away from the fact that the team has played remarkably well as team leader and star Dirk Nowitzki recovers from knee surgery. In the face of the franchise's absence, new guard O.J. Mayo has become the new go-to guy and is averaging 21.4 points per game.
On top of that, he is shooting an astounding 60 percent from long range and leads the NBA in three-pointers made.
Dallas has also seen solid production from point guard Darren Collison, who has run the offense with poise and determination in Nowitzki's absence. Rookie Jae Crowder has also looked good as a tough defender and solid shooter off the bench.
Given how Nowitzki's recovery is going slower than anticipated, there's no reason to believe that the Mavericks won't continue to play as hard as they have been all season long. This is a young and determined team that has thus far shown they can play together as a strong unit.
Losing streak aside, this team is something special.
Considering how the Timberwolves started the season without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, they have played exceptionally well as other key players like Chase Budinger and Nikola Pekovic have also gotten hurt since. Seeing as how the team plays in the tough NBA Northwest division with teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets, the fact that it has done so well with a lineup full of reserves is testament to how deep the team itself really is.
The fact of the matter is that head coach Rick Adelman is finally without any selfish dead weight now that Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson have taken their hot-shooting talents to the Phoenix Suns. As a result, he can fully and effectively employ his ball-sharing philosophies and turn Minnesota back into a playoff contender.
More importantly, according to Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN.com, Love is expected back in two weeks. If Minnesota looks good now, it'll look truly great once its double-double machine is back in the lineup.
Still, the fact that they performed so well without him is a testament to how deep and talented the Timberwolves really are.
After reaching Game 7 of the Conference Semis last season, the Philadelphia 76ers had high hopes entering this season after acquiring Andrew Bynum via the Dwight Howard trade. However, Bynum's knee has become an issue again, and according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN, he is expected to be out five more weeks.
This would seemingly put the Sixers in a pickle, as the rest of the team is full of young and inexperienced players (save for veteran guard Jason Richardson) and there is no real star who can take over in crunch time. However, head coach Doug Collins has taught his youngsters well, as they have maintained pace in the tough Atlantic Division early in the season.
Much of the thanks goes to point guard Jrue Holiday, who has really come into his own as a floor general this season.
The former UCLA Bruin has averaged 19.1 points and nine assists per game while shooting an incredible 44 percent from long range. He has carried the team on his back without hesitation and is more than happy to do so.
Once Bynum comes back, there's no telling how deadly a 1-2 punch he and Holiday can be as the Sixers look to build off of last season and make a statement in the Eastern Conference.