Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix Suns: The NBA's Top Contenders and Pretenders

Brandon Ribak@reebokforthreeSenior Writer INovember 22, 2009

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 6:  Josh Smith #5 of the Atlanta Hawks drives the ball up court during the game against the Charlotte Bobcats on November 6, 2009 at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina.  The Bobcats won 103-83.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

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There really is nothing better then when your favorite team exceeds expectations during the regular season.

Teams such as the Atlanta Hawks and the Phoenix Suns have absolutely shined thus far, ranking at the cream of the crop in both conferences.

But with such great success rises a crucial question, will these teams be able to extend their hot streak throughout the entire season?

NBA Primetime breaks down the Top Three Contenders and Pretenders in the NBA and explains why three organizations will ultimately continue their scorching tear on the season and why the other three will fizzle down within the next few weeks.

Top Three Contenders  

1. Atlanta Hawks (11-3, .786)—first in East

Atlanta is clearly the hottest team in the league right now with an 11-3 overall record on the season.

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With big victories against the Celtics (in Boston), the Nuggets, and the Blazers (twice), the Hawks are obviously a legitamite team this season.

Point-guard Mike Bibby fell to an ankle injury during the teams last game, but with the offseason acquiring of Jamal Crawford, Hawks fans can rely on the sharp-shooter to contribute in loads in replace of the veteran.

The Hawks are averaging 108 PPG, ranking third in the league in scoring. If the starting core can continue to produce at the high level that they are, there is no doubt that Atlanta will rank amongst the elite in the East all season long.

2. Dallas Mavericks (10-3, .769)- T-first in West

Similar to Atlanta, the Mavericks are off to a teriffic start in the early stages of the NBA season.

Dallas' roster continues to fill up the stat sheet each and every night with forward Dirk Nowitzki leading the way, averaging 26.9 PPG (eighth in NBA).

With Josh Howard still sidelined, the Mavericks bench has managed to step up and help contribute to the teams success.

If Dallas can keep racking up the W's it is blatanly obvious that they will remain as one of the teams on top of the Western conference standings.

3. Denver Nuggets (9-4, .692)—fourth in West

Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets have shown early on this season that they have the mindset capable of making it far into the postseason this year.

Melo currently leads the league in scoring dropping 30.5 PPG on 47.9 percent shooting in 13 games.

Anthony is a top candidate in the early MVP talks thus far and is undoubtedly playing his best basketball since first entering the league.

With a supporting cast consisting of Billups, Lawson, Smith, Nene, Martin, and Anderson, all Melo needs to do is keep up the production and his team will receive the respect that they deserve.

The Top Three Pretenders

1. Phoenix Suns (10-3, .769)- T-first in West

While the Suns do indeed rank on top in the West, NBA Primetime expects a quick drop in their overall standings within the next few weeks as they will face up against the Lakers (twice), Cavaliers (twice), Magic, Mavericks, Spurs, Blazers, Celtics, and Nuggets next month.

In addition, in 13 games played thus far the Suns have compiled 10 wins, with five of the ten coming from teams under .500.  

Teams with easy schedules during the first month of the season tend to have an inflated record and with an extremely difficult schedule in the month of December, the Suns will struggle to hold their first place record.

2. Milwaukee Bucks (8-3, .727)- fourth in East

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