If a year ago, someone would have told you that Boston, Indiana, and Charlotte would be the division leaders in the Eastern Conference, you probably would have laughed in their face.
Out of the gate, the 2007-2008 NBA season has brought us some expected, and some super bizarre-o surprises. Let's check it out:
1) Southeast Division
Charlotte on top
Critics and basketball gurus had all predicted at the beginning of the season that the Bobcats would be a much improved team this year. However, I believe all but one member of the mainstream media had them finishing just below a playoff birth.
Well the season has begun, and the 'Cats are off to a quick 2-0 start. In their first game of the season, they beat the much improved Bucks by three—a game they would have most likely lost as they trailed at the half. Their second game was a little more impressive, as the 'Cats beat the Heat by a bucket. Charlotte showed some mental toughness in that game, being led by their new "toy" Jason Richardson, who put down 29 while playing almost the entire game.
The Cats are definitely a much improved team—but their position atop the Southeast won't last very long. They have a ton of youthful talent and a deep bench...they just need time to gel. Look for next season to be a true breakout for the 'Cats.
Miami has started the season 0-3, with two of those losses coming at home to Detroit and Charlotte, and the third on the road in Indiana.
Here's the upside: Dwayne Wade hasn't played in any of their games this year, and just recently returned to full contact practice.
The Heat, however, are a hugely overrated team. Shaq is an injury machine, and with no legitimate backup at the 5 they are in major trouble when he goes down (we saw what happened last season).
Miami will bounce back from this slow start, but they are going to be a 6 or 7 seed in the playoffs at best.
Rebirth in Atlanta
I really, really don't want to jump to conclusions on this one. But I might as well do it: the Hawks look good so far this year, and may just attain the playoff birth that has eluded them for so long.
The Hawks took care of business, beating last year's best regular season team in the Mavericks by 7. Led by Joe Johnson (the former Sun), the Hawks are looking good.
Adding depth and youth in Acie Law and Al Horford, the Hawks are two solid veterans away from actually becoming a legitimate threat. However, they could surprise teams this year—it's not an automatic victory when you play the Hawks.
2) Central Division
There is pretty much only one surprise in the Central, and that's the play of the Pacers.
Pacers Come Together
Last year, the Pacers looked like dysfunctional team, barely able to string wins together. After making a huge trade, sending Al Harrington, Stephen Jackson, and some bench guys to Golden State for Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy, and Ike Diogu last season, I thought the Pacers were looking for that Oden draft pick.
However, it looks like the off-season did the Pacers well, as they look great so far this season. Danny Granger looks like a man possessed so far, leading the team in scoring, while Dunleavy and Jermaine O'Neil have chipped in quite handily.
This team seems like the most legtimate 3-0 team so far to keep their poise and surprise teams in the central.
Baby Bulls Crying
I wrote a piece on why the Bulls are better off without the Kobe trade going down—and I'm sticking to my opinion. That said, the Baby Bulls are making it hard for me to justify my comments.
The Bulls are 0-3 in the basement of the Central, losing to the Nets (in OT), the Bucks (by five points), and the Sixers. These were games the Bulls should have easily won, but it appears that the Bulls are a little unsure of themselves.
The boys from the Windy City need a big confidence boost right now. This is a team that we should not be worried about.
3) Atlantic Division
The Atlantic is pretty much its standard self. Wide-open for anyone to take the crown.
1) Again, Boston
I don't want to spend too much time on the C's because there is so much out there already, but they're good.
Who would have thunk it last year? When Pierce was struggling and the Celtics looked like there was no hope, they make a 7 for 1 trade and become an immediate contender in the East.
Boston looked great in their home opener, beating the Wiz by 20—but seemed a little more human in Toronto, winning in OT with a last second three.
All in all, the East has quite a bizarre feel to it. With teams like Atlanta and Charlotte on the rise—and Miami, Chicago, and even Cleveland at the bottom of their divisions—can we say that the winds in the East are changing?
Is it way too early to jump to conclusions? Absolutely.
But when looking at the standings, I got that uneasy feeling in my stomach that the old powers are slowly dying...