Kobe Bryant was healthy and motivated. Ron Artest was as advertised. Andrew Bynum continued to become an unstoppable force in the middle. Phil Jackson was even missing one of his pieces as Pau Gasol was nursing a hamstring injury.
Twenty games in, it was the Lakers and everybody else. As we have come to the end of the second quarter of the NBA season, a new team had joined the Lakers atop the NBA pile.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, led by their lame duck superstar LeBron James, have taken control of the East. The Boston Celtics are a veteran threat, but an injury to Kevin Garnett has led them to a few more defeats after their inspired start to the season.
It looks like the next NBA champ will come from those three teams. The Orlando Magic miss Hedo Turkoglu. Vince Carter has been a good fit, but Hedo could play all five positions and play them at a high level.
He has led the Toronto Raptors to a winning record after a tough start to the season.
Out West, the Denver Nuggets could push the Lakers. The Nuggets are as deep as the Lakers and did push them in the West Finals last year. The San Antonio Spurs are coming together as well as their new pieces, Richard Jefferson and DeJuan Blair, are starting to round into shape.
Still, at the halfway point of the season, it looks like a three-horse race.
In a season dominated by next year’s free agent class, there have been a few nice surprises.
Jamal Crawford has found a role on a winning team with the Atlanta Hawks. Joe Johnson is the other dynamic talent on the Hawks' roster.
Kevin Durant has led the Oklahoma City Thunder to a winning record. The Thunder would be the fifth place team in the East but in the loaded West, where 12 teams have at least 20 wins, they are in 10th place.
The Charlotte Bobcats round out the surprises as they would be in the playoffs right now in the East.
Big things were expected from the Portland Trail Blazers and, despite of numerous injuries, they are playing winning basketball in the West and look to make their second straight trip to the playoffs.
For a season that was thought to be a prelude to the free agents of next summer, there have been a lot of nice storylines two quarters into the season.
Allen Iverson proved to be a fan favorite as he will play in his 11th straight All-Star Game.
The NBA All-Star Game: Only the NFL’s Pro Bowl is a bigger waste of time.
At least the NFL is smart enough to not have a slam dunk contest.
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