I was already a huge fan of the Association prior to this season, but '07-'08 has been especially enjoyable. Even with the league's attendance and ratings numbers on the decline, the players seem to be giving more effort than at any time in recent memory.
Even the NBA's lowliest teams aren't pushovers anymore.
Take the Minnesota Timberwolves. At 3-15, the Wolves would've seemed a good bet to get destroyed by the powerhouse Phoenix Suns—but Minny battled to an improbable 100-93 victory.
The team's young core—Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Craig Smith, et. al.—is raw but promising. The talent may not be there, but the effort certainly is.
And then there's Portland. Last year, the Trailblazers were one of the worst teams in the NBA. This year, they're off to a respectable 8-12 start, including 7-3 at home.
If there's one thing that's of the utmost importance for a young and rebuilding team, it's winning back disgruntled fans. Winning home games is the best way to do that.
Greg Oden may be out for the year, but Steve Blake, LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, and Co. can get the job done in the Rose Garden—and get Portland fans excited about Blazers' basketball again.
Even the 6-13 Knicks aren't completely hopeless. MSG fans continue to chant "Fire Isiah" during home games, but the Knicks have notched impressive wins over the Bulls and Jazz, and rebounded from a trouncing by the Celtics to pull a remarkable comeback against the Bucks.
Elsewhere, young teams like the Hawks and Sonics are making up for their inexperience with raw energy. On any given night, any of the league's cellar-dwelling squads can topple a powerhouse.
Yes, the Spurs, Magic, Celtics, and Suns are still the favorites, but there's no longer such a thing as a night off in the NBA. If you don't come ready to play, don't be surprised to lose to a bottom-feeder.