NBA Teams That Must Get Off to a Fast Start in 2013-14
Banking a cluster of victories early in a season can be a boon for any team, even if it’s not an accurate indicator of how an entire campaign will play out.
Wins are wins, and coaches will take them however they come.
The NBA is a league where divisional and playoff hopes can be decided by very slim margins; a hot start could mean the difference between an extended season and an early vacation.
While there are a lot of teams that would love a rally in the first few months, there are some that need it more than others.
With three representatives from both conferences, here are some franchises for whom it is absolutely imperative to get out of the gates fast.
1. Brooklyn Nets
It should come as no surprise, considering that this team has been aggressive with acquiring talent since Mikhail Prokhorov became the owner.
Now All-Stars Deron Williams and Joe Johnson have championship experience to draw from for the 2013-14 campaign.
The Nets' purpose is obvious—a championship—so their play has to match that intention.
Brooklyn needs to win immediately and impressively.
In fact, this is the most “win now” roster since the Heatles formed back in the summer of 2010.
With so many intriguing 2013-14 NBA storylines that include the Miami Heat gunning for a third consecutive championship and the official return of Derrick Rose, the Nets have done a good job of securing some of the spotlight for themselves.
Now they are obligated to make a statement early in the season to show that the upside of bringing in championship veterans, no matter how aged, far exceeds the downside.
2. Toronto Raptors
A strong start for the Toronto Raptors could mean their first playoff appearance since the 2007-08 season.
Last year the team finished four games behind the No. 8-seeded Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bucks, along with the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks, rounded out the bottom three Eastern Conference postseason teams of 2013, and with each team undergoing major changes this past summer, they may not make it back for 2014.
The Raptors are still mostly intact, and with the lower playoff seeds practically up for grabs, a postseason berth is theirs for the taking.
Given that it doesn’t take much to break through in the East, adding five or six wins to the 34 they earned last season is not an unattainable goal.
One way to put themselves on the playoff track is to win as frequently as they can early on.
Quick wins can act as a buffer if and when they get stuck in the doldrums.
There’s no reason to believe the Raptors can’t start fast this season.
They went 7-3 in their final 10 games last year and have looked pretty solid during the preseason.
With a little focus, Canada may play host to some playoff contests.
3. Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors need an early-season victory frenzy mainly for protection against themselves.
While stacked with great talent, Golden State is one injury-prone team.
Andrew Bogut gives the team a legitimate presence in the middle, but he hasn’t had a chance to really make his presence felt since he’s only played in 44 games over the last two years.
It would be great to think optimistically and claim that the team has gotten over the injury bug; however, logic dictates that precautionary measures be taken.
Golden State must do everything it can to protect itself against any kind of fallout if any of its major contributors are forced to miss time.
The chemistry problem can be resolved quickly in preseason play, and that means that the Warriors should be primed to electrify once the regular-season rhythm is rolling.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
They didn’t seem to miss a beat as they went on to post 60 wins and secure the top playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Just as it seemed like their one-two punch of Durant and Westbrook was just as potent as their triple threat, Westbrook went down with a torn meniscus.
The three-time All-Star is expected to miss the first four to six weeks of the regular season after having surgery to repair his knee.
If you do the math, that could potentially be more than 20 games.
Now considering that the team’s point differential went from plus-9.2 with Westbrook in the regular season to plus-1.4 without him in the postseason, and it becomes apparent that the Thunder need to get off to a fast start to stay near the front of a much-improved conference pack.
Given their offensive output in recent years, the Thunder are going to need some consistent scoring from someone other than Durant while Westbrook is out.
There are no standout players on the roster who fit that bill, so it is going to have to be a collective effort.
5. Indiana Pacers
The good news from last season is that the Indiana Pacers won their first Central Division title since the 2003-04 season.
The bad news is they did it winning 49 games, benefiting from a Chicago Bulls team that was without Derrick Rose.
Needless to say, a repeat division win is going to take a lot more than last year’s effort.
Let’s give the Pacers credit, though.
They battled all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals last year and lost to the Miami Heat in a tough seven-game series.
The addition of Luis Scola and return of Danny Granger make them much more formidable opponents for any team.
This Pacers squad needs a fast start to prove that last season was not a fluke.
It has to prove that last year’s gains were not due to the absence of Rose but were the product of its hard work.
It’s all about making a statement, and Indiana needs to proclaim it loudly.
6. Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets are another team that needs to use an early-season tear to justify a summer acquisition.
Howard’s time in Hollywood seemed like an extension of his last days in Orlando.
He never quite meshed with head coach Mike D’Antoni or five-time champion Kobe Bryant.
Maybe coming to Houston on his own terms will help reverse the mental rut he has found himself stuck in over recent seasons.
The Rockets sure do hope so because they are expecting Howard to return to the form that had him dubbed “Superman.”
He certainly opens up the offense.
Howard’s post presence is going to make things so much easier on guys like James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons.
The skill sets are definitely complementary, which means success on the court should be immediately forthcoming.
However, the 2012-13 Lakers squad proved that just because it looks good on paper doesn’t necessarily mean it will be the same over 82 games.
Here’s to hoping that Houston can better manage its talent.
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