Category Archives: The Pros

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December 12, 2014: (A Belated) Five Things to Know in the NBA

Blake Wessinger
NBA Columnist

#1 – Conference Focus: West

This week, I will summarize in two sentences or less what I think of each team in the West. This is essentially what I would write next to their names in the Power Rankings if I wanted to make my columns too long for anyone to read.

Pacific Division

Golden State Warriors – This team has been on a tear of late, winners of a league best 14 straight games. Stephen Curry is looking like an early MVP candidate, and new head coach Steve Kerr’s high-motion offense is putting points on the board.

Los Angeles Clippers – The Clippers have turned the corner. They are returning to form, and Chris Paul is having an extremely efficient year so far. I have no doubts that they will finish in the top three this season.

Phoenix Suns – The Suns have sputtered a bit after a very hot start. They suffered a demoralizing home overtime loss to the Clippers on an improbable Blake Griffin fadeaway three pointer. Eric Bledsoe is living up to the max contract he scored this summer.

Sacramento Kings – DeMarcus Cousins was hospitalized this week suffering from a viral infection. Without him, the Kings have struggled. It’s very clear that he is the key player on this team, and we will have to wait for his return to find out if the Kings can hang around out west.

Los Angeles Lakers – I don’t have much to say here. Byron Scott is doing a poor job coaching, and Kobe is the only competent player on the team. It’s going to be a long year in Lakerland.

Southwest Division

Memphis Grizzlies – The Grizzlies are truly dominant down low. These guys can beat you in a lot of ways, and are one of the best coached squads in the NBA. I see no reason they can’t make it to the NBA Finals if they stay healthy.

Houston Rockets – The Rockets have played outstanding basketball this month, but their main focus is gaining an edge on their two in-state rivals. They currently have the best record in Texas, but I will wait to see all of the head-to-head games before I pick a Texas winner. My money is still on the Spurs.

San Antonio Spurs – Speaking of the Spurs, it’s back to business as usual! The Spurs are back up into the top eight spots, despite suffering two bad losses in the last week. Regardless, they were able to beat the Knicks without all five of their starters, so it seems that Gregg Popovich is still getting it done!

Dallas Mavericks – Dallas is a really good team playing in a really tough division. They have the best offense in the NBA, averaging a league-high 110.5 points per game. Threes, dunks, and stiff defense are the recipe for the Mavs.

New Orleans Pelicans – Before this team can even think about contending, they are going to have to wait for Dirk and Duncan to retire. Then, AD and company will be contending for the Southwest title, if he sticks around. This division is just too tough for them right now.

Northwest Division

Portland Trail Blazers – The Blazers are an awesome team, with an extremely talented starting lineup. The bench is still a problem for this team, and they can hear the Thunder breathing down their necks. The next few months is going to show us a lot about this team.

Denver Nuggets – Denver has turned it around after a dismal 2-7 start. They have a solid cast of players who could surprise people if they catch a few breaks. Ty Lawson is a master of the pick-and-roll, and would be in line for an All-Star bid if the point guard class out west wasn’t so strong.

Oklahoma City Thunder – Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are back earlier than expected. Here they come, Western Conference!

Utah Jazz – The Jazz are a team with a lot of heart, who play hard and take a lot of good teams to the wire. Unfortunately, their core of players is just a few years away from being at full potential. The Hayward contract seems a bit more like an overpay as the days pass.

Minnesota Timberwolves – There is a lot of excitement in Minnesota surrounding their talented young guys. At this point, though, it’s more about the watching and thinking about what is to come for T-Wolves fans, because injuries and a tough conference are setting them up for yet another lottery pick.

#2 – Stat Line of the Week

There are two nominees for the week’s most impressive statlines. The first is Rajon Rondo, for having two triple doubles this week. On Sunday night, he had 13 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists in a win over the Washington Wizards. On Wednesday night, he had 12 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in a loss to the Charlotte Hornets. It looks like Rondo is out to prove that he isn’t just a trade chip, and can still do it just as well as he always has.

The second nominee is the Dallas Mavericks for the anomaly that was Tuesday night’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies. They went 18-40 from three-point range. The fact that a team actually attempted 40 threes in a game has to deserve some credit. Why not, if you can shoot 45 percent?

#3 – Games To Watch

  • Friday, 12/12
    • LA Clippers @ Washington, 7 pm
    • Cleveland @ New Orleans, 8 pm
  • Saturday, 12/13
    • Golden State @ Dallas, 2 pm
    • Denver @ Houston, 8 pm
  • Sunday, 12/14
    • Chicago @ Miami, 6 pm
    • Phoenix @ Oklahoma City, 7 pm
  • Monday, 12/15
    • Charlotte @ Cleveland, 7 pm
    • Chicago @ Atlanta, 7:30 pm
  • Tuesday, 12/16
    • Golden State @ Memphis, 8 pm (ESPN)
    • Oklahoma City @ Sacramento, 10:30 pm (ESPN)

#4 – Start Spreadin’ The News

New York City, our nation’s biggest media market, has two professional basketball teams playing within its city limits, and both are absolutely terrible. The Knicks are off to a 4-20 start; the worst start in franchise history. The Nets are not much better, and all of their draft picks until 2019 are either traded away or are eligible to be swapped by playoff-quality teams. The Big Apple has seen better days, for sure, but is there any hope?

For the Knicks, there really is no hope. The Carmelo deal is going to haunt them for years to come, and though the Phil Jackson hire had people optimistic about the direction of their organization, until James Dolan is out of the front office, they have very little direction. They are a team in desperate need of a rebuild, yet they just signed a top 10 player to a five-year deal, and gave him a rookie head coach and a new system. The idea seems great, but it was never going to work. The personnel out there on the court just isn’t capable of running the triangle offense effectively, and if they ever want to get any winning seasons for Carmelo Anthony, they need to find a way to lure a big free agent to New York. They should be ready to throw all of their money at Marc Gasol when the time comes, because Carmelo will not be part of a rebuild, and neither will James Dolan. Here’s to hoping!

The Nets have even less hope. Joe Johnson is one of the five highest-paid players in the NBA and he certainly doesn’t play like it. Kevin Garnett will retire soon, Deron Williams seems to be officially past his prime, and the team has no optimism for young talent because they traded all their draft picks away for a championship window that ended after two seasons and only one trip past the first round of the playoffs. It is going to be a few years before the Nets can get back on track, but I think that once they do, they have some pieces that could end up working out for them. My advice is to keep Lionel Hollins as the coach, invest in the young guys (Plumlee and Bogdanovic), and never trade that many draft picks ever again.

#5 – Highlights of the Week

Russell Westbrook says, “I’m back in business” with a huge dunk over two Pistons in the lane and a screaming victory lap.

And here is the Blake Griffin step-back three pointer to beat Phoenix that I mentioned earlier. As Suns coach Jeff Hornacek described it later: “It was so off that it went in.”

December 3, 2014: Five Things to Know in the NBA

Blake Wessinger
NBA Columnist

#1 – Biweekly NBA Power Rankings

Team [record] (last week’s ranking)

Through 12/3/2014

  1. Memphis Grizzlies [15-2] (1)
  2. Golden State Warriors [15-2] (2)
  3. San Antonio Spurs [13-4] (7)
  4. Dallas Mavericks [14-5] (3)
  5. Toronto Raptors [14-4] (4)
  6. Houston Rockets [13-4] (5)
  7. Portland Trail Blazers [14-4] (9)
  8. Chicago Bulls [11-7] (6)
  9. Washington Wizards [11-5] (10)
  10. Los Angeles Clippers [12-5] (12)
  11. Cleveland Cavaliers [9-7] (14)
  12. Milwaukee Bucks [10-9] (17)
  13. Sacramento Kings [9-9] (11)
  14. Miami Heat [9-8] (8)
  15. Phoenix Suns [11-8] (15)
  16. Atlanta Hawks [10-6] (16)
  17. Denver Nuggets [9-9] (22)
  18. New Orleans Pelicans [8-8] (13)
  19. Orlando Magic [7-13] (20)
  20. Indiana Pacers [7-11] (23)
  21. Brooklyn Nets [7-9] (18)
  22. Oklahoma City Thunder [5-13] (25)
  23. Utah Jazz [5-13] (21)
  24. Los Angeles Lakers [5-13] (29)
  25. Charlotte Hornets [4-14] (19)
  26. Minnesota Timberwolves [4-12] (26)
  27. Boston Celtics [4-11] (24)
  28. New York Knicks [4-15] (27)
  29. Detroit Pistons [3-15] (28)
  30. Philadelphia 76ers [0-17] (30)

Biggest Jumps: Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, Denver Nuggets (5 places)

Biggest Drops: Miami Heat (6 places), New Orleans Pelicans (5 places)

 

#2 – Kobe Bryant’s Time Machine

Kobe Bryant has been the topic of a lot of discussion all throughout last season and this past offseason, leading up to his return from a lateral tibial plateau fracture in his left knee at the beginning of this year. Everyone knew the Lakers had very little talent outside of the 36 year-old Kobe, but unlike the rest of basketball-watching America, the Lakers had faith that old Kobe could still get it done .They were right. This man has been scoring like it’s 2006 all over again, albeit on an awful 39 percent from the field. I chalk that up to two things: 1.) Kobe being Kobe and taking a high volume of shots, and 2.) Him literally having to take every meaningful shot because when he looks around his starting lineup, he sees Jeremy Lin, Nick “Swaggy P” Young, Carlos Boozer, and Jordan Hill. If Lin isn’t wide open cutting to the basket, and Swaggy P isn’t wide open for three, I’ll take a contested fade away from Kobe as the highest percentage shot on the court, to be perfectly honest.

It isn’t just his lack of help that is forcing him to put up big numbers; Kobe is actually playing some productive minutes for the Lakers. I saw a detailed analysis of a full Lakers game done by an avid Lakers fan on the Internet in which he broke down each play in which Kobe touched the ball. Long story short, he found that Kobe rescues more broken plays put together by the worst coach in the NBA, Byron Scott, than he ruins by being selfish. A lot of times, his teammates just don’t cut when they should, and even at age 36, old man Bryant can put it on the floor, back you down, or shoot the jumper in your face. As soon as a play breaks down, Kobe isolation is the backup plan. The man has been a walking one-on-one mismatch since he came out of Lower Merion H.S. in 1996.

He is leading the league with an average of 26.6 points per game, which I fully expect to be surpassed by LeBron, Healthy KD, Carmelo, after the Knicks give up the triangle, or Anthony Davis by about mid-January. Any way you slice it, 26 points per game is a pretty vicious number for a guy coming off an injury like his. You do see some gradual decline, however, as he has not averaged less than 27 points per game in a full season since the 2010-11 season. His .392 shooting percentage is the worry in Kobe’s game right now. I think if he can do just a bit more to get himself more open looks and involve Jeremy Lin more in the offense, which will come with time, the Lakers could win 35 games and not be a total embarrassment.

Last year, I would have said Kobe should retire after the season, but he won’t because of the money he has left on the table. Another reason: this man can still play. Say what you will about the Lakers, but Kobe Bryant is not quitting, and is one of the greatest competitors of all time. He’s a natural-born winner, and at 36, he’s still Kobe Bryant.

 

#3 – My Way-Too-Early All Star Votes

WEST

G: Stephen Curry (GSW), James Harden (HOU)

F: Kevin Durant (OKC), Anthony Davis (NO)

C: Marc Gasol (MEM)

Reserves: Russell Westbrook (OKC), Chris Paul (LAC), Blake Griffin (LAC), DeMarcus Cousins (SAC), Kobe             Bryant (LAL), LaMarcus Aldridge (POR), Dwight Howard (HOU)

EAST

G: John Wall (WAS), Derrick Rose (CHI)

F: LeBron James (CLE), Carmelo Anthony (NYK)

C: Joakim Noah (CHI)

Reserves: Chris Bosh (MIA), Kyrie Irving (CLE), Kyle Lowry (TOR), Paul Millsap (ATL), Al Jefferson (CHA), Kevin Love (CLE), Rajon Rondo (BOS)

#4 – Minor Tidbits to Remember

Oklahoma City’s stars are back! The reigning MVP Kevin Durant and his cohort Russell Westbrook were back in action together Tuesday night against the New Orleans Pelicans, as they fell 112-104. Their record through the first 18 games of the season stands at 5-13, needing a finishing record of 44-20 through the last 64 games to equal the record of the 2014 eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks. This team will be the scariest eight-seed in history if they can manage to pull it off. I have my doubts about their playoff push, but it is definitely something to keep an eye on.

The Cleveland Cavaliers appear to have turned a corner. Their big three scored a combined 81 points Tuesday night en route to a home victory against the Milwaukee Bucks. Still, this Cavaliers team does not do a good job of pulling away from teams, and I think it is because of their defensive shortcomings. Whether their soft defense is a result of the skill set of their roster, or the defensive schemes put together by the coaches remains to be seen. Even so, the Cavs are hot right now, having won four games in a row after their 5-7 start. I expect to see them up at the top of the Eastern Conference ladder in a few weeks.

Speaking of the Milwaukee Bucks, I really did not expect them to play this well. As far as surprises go, I have spent so much time watching Sacramento and trying to discern whether or not they are for real that I have completely ignored this young, athletic Milwaukee team. They may not be able to keep it up this year, but I think Milwaukee fans should have faith in their young core. Jabari Parker is so far in the lead for Rookie of the Year and I’m not sure it’s worth it to think about who’s in second. The Bucks are a very fun team to watch, and I think they will be in the running for a playoff spot within a year or two. Jason Kidd is doing a phenomenal job with these guys.

    

#5 – Highlights of the Week – The Greek Freak (with a Touch of Curry)

Giannis Antetokounmpo, a.k.a The Greek Freak, is quite possibly the longest perimeter player in the league. In this highlight, his Euro Step move (or “Gyro Step” as Milwaukee fans have dubbed it) starts at the three point line and ends in a finger roll. I’m not convinced there is a single other player in the NBA who can make this happen.

Here is another Giannis “Gyro Step”, except this one ends in a thunderous jam over his Greek countryman Kostas Papanikolaou.

[Editor’s Addition] Last night’s Steph Curry game-winner to beat Orlando, just because if you don’t like watching Steph play the game, you don’t like fun.

November 26, 2014: Five Things to Know in the NBA

Blake Wessinger
Sports Contributor

#1 – Conference Focus: EAST
This week, I will summarize in two sentences or less what I think of each team in the East. Next week, I will do the same for the West. This is essentially what I would write next to their names in the Power Rankings if I wanted to make my columns too long for anyone to read.

Atlantic Division
Toronto Raptors – This is the most relentless team in the NBA. They have a deep bench and a young core of talent that simply never stops playing at 110 percent effort. You will see these guys late in the playoffs making noise.
Boston Celtics – The Celtics are a really interesting team, but I won’t be able to draw many conclusions about their future until they figure out the Rajon Rondo situation. For what it’s worth, I love Jared Sullinger as a beastly stretch four, and Jeff Green is having a seriously good season.
Brooklyn Nets – There is not much about this team that I like. It seems like they have a lot of locker room issues, and they are getting older every day. No Joe Johnson magic is going to save them from the lottery this year.
New York Knicks – This lazy attempt at the triangle offense has been offset by Carmelo Anthony’s brilliance on the offensive end of the floor. This will be a good season for Melo’s stats, but not the Knicks’ win column.
Philadelphia 76ers – I have no words for this tankfest. It says a lot about an organization when 0-14 doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

Central Division
Chicago Bulls – This team is awesome to watch, but every time more Derrick Rose news surfaces, I start to like their chances at a title less and less. The frontcourt is as good as advertised, and Jimmy Butler is playing like a man on a mission.
Cleveland Cavaliers – Just wait, it will click. LeBron James has been fantastic so far this year, but his team continues to struggle on defense. I think more minutes for Tristan Thompson early in games could be the answer, but we will have to wait and see.
Indiana Pacers – This team misses Paul George badly, but the guys they have acquired to pick up his slack have done a fabulous job. If PG13 really does plan on a March comeback as he has hinted at previously, they may have a shot at the playoffs.
Milwaukee Bucks – The young guys on this team have been as good as advertised. Jabari Parker is an early favorite for Rookie of the Year, and Giannis Antetokounmpo has been as freakish as always. These young guns, along with the rejuvenated O.J. Mayo and Larry Sanders can lead this team to new heights.
Detroit Pistons – This team has been underwhelming at best. Stan Van Gundy’s obsession with experimenting with ultra-big lineups and Andre Drummond post-up plays shows that the Pistons are still very much in the rebuilding phase

Southeast Division
Washington Wizards – This team has done an excellent job of building on last year’s success, and is on the right track to improve on it this year. The Paul Pierce experiment has worked much better than any of us really expected.
Miami Heat – It is a bit worrisome that Dwyane Wade has had so many health struggles early in the year, but the good news is that Chris Bosh has not missed a beat. Mario Chalmers and Luol Deng are filling the perimeter scoring void very nicely.
Atlanta Hawks – The Hawks are an interesting team, and are off to a good start. The healthy Horford-Millsap frontcourt is doing work on the boards, but I think this entire team settles for way too many jump shots considering their size inside.
Charlotte Hornets – Being a Hornets fan this year has been agonizing as they blow leads, struggle with injuries, and opened the year with the hardest part of their schedule. The season is not lost by a long shot, but this team cannot continue to throw away wins.
Orlando Magic – In what is essentially a tryout season for the end of a rebuilding era, Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris are emerging as high-quality NBA starters. This young team is overachieving so far, and is only a few years away from the playoffs, in my opinion.

#2 – Who Will Win MVP?

First of all, I will point out that it is way too early to make these predictions, but I think it is important to address all of these questions, and I will give my early predictions. However, keep in mind that the second half of the season is infinitely more important than the first in terms of MVP voting because of recency bias and playoff seed status.

Who has had the best start? At this point in the season, there is absolutely no doubt who is playing the best basketball in the NBA. Anthony Davis is averaging 26.3 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game, and posting an otherworldly 35.96 PER. These are easily MVP numbers if he is able to keep them up, which is fairly unlikely. Even if he does keep these numbers up, it will be almost impossible to win MVP without being a top three-seed in the playoffs, which I can almost guarantee New Orleans is not going to be able to do in the wild, wild Western Conference.

Okay, so who SHOULD win the award at this point? The guy with the best numbers can’t win without having a team that succeeds. See: Kobe Bryant pretty much every year throughout the mid-2000s. The guy who should win the MVP through these first two months is Marc Gasol, the incredibly efficient Memphis Grizzlies center who is soon to be a free agent. He has averaged 20 points and 8 rebounds per game so far, which is no small feat, and has led his team to a league-best 12-2. In my mind, he has been the most valuable player on a top five team, giving him the strongest late-November MVP resume.

Who would you like to see win it? This is a no-brainer. DeMarcus Cousins has been incredible this year in every single way except for his tendency to be in foul trouble. If the Kings keep winning and Boogie keeps these numbers up, he is a guaranteed top-10 finisher in MVP voting. He was selected as Player of the Week this week in the NBA, and I expect him to continue to accumulate these accolades. I would love to see him win the MVP award, after honing his game and growing into the mentally tough leader Sacramento needed. I love the way Cousins plays the game, and to me, he has been the most impressive player in the league this year, and should be a first ballot All-Star.

Who is going to win the award at the end of the season? Come on. You all know exactly what’s going to happen. The Cavaliers will sit around the middle of the pack until January and LeBron James will lead them back as they storm to the two-seed and set up a Conference Finals matchup against Chicago. He will win his 5th MVP award (his third in Cleveland), tying him with Michael Jordan. That is what’s going to happen. I have no doubt.

#3 – Games to Watch
Here are the best games of the coming week as we finish out November and roll into the final month of 2014. Be sure to catch a few of these, there are some great ones on the schedule!

Wednesday, 11/26
Washington @ Cleveland, 7:00
Sacramento @ Houston, 8:00

Thursday, 11/27
No games scheduled. Happy Turkey Day! Enjoy some football.

Friday, 11/28
Dallas @ Toronto, 7:30
Memphis @ Portland, 10:00

Saturday, 11/29
New Orleans @ Washington, 7:00
Charlotte @ Atlanta, 7:30

Sunday, 11/30
Memphis @ Sacramento, 6:00
Miami @ New York, 7:30

Monday, 12/1
Miami @ Washington, 7:00
Minnesota @ LA Clippers, 10:30

Tuesday, 12/2
Milwaukee @ Cleveland, 7:00
Dallas @ Chicago, 8:00
Bonus: Oklahoma City @ New Orleans (if KD and Russell Westbrook are back), 8:00

#4 – Stat Lines of the Week

Two players had career highs in points that helped lead their teams to key victories on Saturday night. In an eight point victory against the Utah Jazz in New Orleans, Anthony Davis recorded a career best 43 points and 14 rebounds on 16-23 shooting and 11-12 from the free throw line. It was yet another dominating performance from the Brow, and another key victory for his Pelicans.

Toronto visited Cleveland on Saturday night as well, and an unlikely hero stepped up for the Raps. Lou Williams dropped a monster 36 points off the bench, making all 15 of his free throws and knocking down some key three pointers in the second half while being guarded by LeBron James. It was a career high for Williams, who has been a key acquisition for Toronto this season.

#5 – Highlight of the Week – Sharing is Caring

This week, I highlight two assists that had the whole crowd on their feet. First, LeBron James dishes out a beautiful no-look dime to Anderson Varejão for an easy slam dunk in a home loss to the Raptors.

Second, James Harden throws this beauty to Dwight Howard, who shows that all you have to do is throw it vaguely near the baseline and he can catch it and throw it down on any and all defenders. These two superstars really know how to work together.

November 19, 2014: Five Things to Know in the NBA

Blake Wessinger
Sports Contributor

#1 – Biweekly NBA Power Rankings

Team [record] (last week’s ranking)

Through 11/17/2014

  1. Memphis Grizzlies [10-1] (2)
  2. Golden State Warriors [8-2] (1)
  3. Dallas Mavericks [8-3] (3)
  4. Toronto Raptors [8-2] (11)
  5. Houston Rockets [9-2] (6)
  6. Chicago Bulls [8-3] (5)
  7. San Antonio Spurs [6-4] (4)
  8. Miami Heat [6-5] (9)
  9. Portland Trail Blazers [8-3] (17)
  10. Washington Wizards [7-2] (13)
  11. Sacramento Kings [6-4] (12)
  12. Los Angeles Clippers [5-4] (8)
  13. New Orleans Pelicans [5-4] (19)
  14. Cleveland Cavaliers [5-4] (7)
  15. Phoenix Suns [6-5] (10)
  16. Atlanta Hawks [5-4] (14)
  17. Milwaukee Bucks [5-5] (25)
  18. Brooklyn Nets [4-6] (18)
  19. Charlotte Hornets [4-7] (16)
  20. Orlando Magic [5-7] (28)
  21. Utah Jazz [4-7] (23)
  22. Denver Nuggets [3-7] (20)
  23. Indiana Pacers [4-7] (24)
  24. Boston Celtics [3-6] (26)
  25. Oklahoma City Thunder [3-8] (22)
  26. Minnesota Timberwolves [2-7] (21)
  27. New York Knicks [3-8] (15)
  28. Detroit Pistons [3-8] (27)
  29. Los Angeles Lakers [1-9] (29)
  30. Philadelphia 76ers [0-10] (30)

Biggest Drops: New York Knicks (12 places), Cleveland Cavaliers (7 places)

Biggest Jumps: Portland Trail Blazers, Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic (8 places)

#2 – Most Surprising Team So Far

Who has the best record in the league through 11 games? No, not San Antonio. No, not Lebron’s team. No, not the upstart Warriors who are, prematurely, everyone’s “sleeper contender.” No, the best team in the NBA right now is the Memphis Grizzlies. Marc Gasol is going to be a free agent this summer, and though it appears he loves playing in Memphis, he is certainly playing with the kind of attitude you see in a player who wants to hike up his stock. He is without a doubt a max contract player, which plays to Memphis’s advantage because, under the new CBA, they have the right to pay him more than any other team can offer. He’s the best center in the league, and it isn’t even close.

Other than Gasol, this team has some serious weapons. Mike Conley is a great point guard; he distributes well, he shoots well, and he makes clutch shots. Tony Allen, Vince Carter, Courtney Lee, and Tayshaun Prince make a really nice wing rotation, all with different styles, but they play very well together. Dave Joerger is making a case for coach of the year, just one year removed from rumors about him leaving Memphis altogether. Lastly, Z-Bo is Z-Bo as usual. Say what you will about his fitness or his leadership skills, but the man shows up to work every day, does a great job, and outworks everyone. This team should be regarded as a serious title contender if everyone can stay healthy.

Signature win: 111-110 over Sacramento after a 26 point comeback and a controversial buzzer beating inbound alley-oop to Courtney Lee. See story #5 for the highlight.

#3 – Most Disappointing Teams So Far

I would be a homer here and complain about the Hornets, but they have played an extremely strong schedule with a Western road trip of four games in five nights. The schedule eases up in December, and I’m sure they will be right back in the top five of the Eastern Conference. Hornets fans, don’t be worried. Or at least be happy that this team actually goes into every game with a chance to win unlike a certain other Charlotte-based professional sports franchise we have to watch every Sunday, but I digress.

The Los Angeles Clippers have been extremely disappointing. This year was the year that people began to actually pick the Clippers to win it all. They have been a contender for a while now, but this year many people, including myself, thought that the new owner, improved bench, and rejuvenated fan base would help this team to turn the corner for good. Long story short, it really has not looked that way. Yes, they are sitting at 5-4 right now (not a particularly pretty five wins, for that matter), but you can’t find me one Clippers fan who thinks that this is their team’s best effort.

The Clippers need a small forward. Matt Barnes is not going to get it done, and Jamal Crawford can’t step out of his sixth man role to do that. They rank 21st in the league in opponent scoring, allowing nearly 103 points per game. Their offense has looked really slow and apathetic at times, and they take a lot of very low percentage shots. To go along with their offensive and defensive woes, they are tied for the league lead in technical fouls with 13 through just nine games. I fully expect Doc Rivers to take control and get this team back on track, but so far it has not looked very good. My advice is for Blake Griffin to stop taking bad jump shots just because he thinks he can shoot now. Stretching the floor is a good thing, but if you’re Blake Griffin, you need to always be in the paint, cutting for an alley-oop, or drawing fouls. His infatuation with the 18-foot jump shot destroys his efficiency.

#4 – The Thunder Phenomenon

The Oklahoma City Thunder, a perennial powerhouse and title contender since 2010-11, are sitting at 3-8, and probably feeling a little relieved. With the depleted roster and the injuries they have accrued over these first few weeks, I’m not sure Thunder fans were confident they would win a game. It has been a long time since we have seen a team that we know for a fact is a playoff caliber team suffer injuries and be forced to rally over the last few months of the season to get back into playoff contention. With reigning MVP Kevin Durant and his co-star Russell Westbrook each out until sometime in mid to late-December, the Thunder are in some serious trouble.

It took a whopping 49 wins to snag the eight-seed in the Western conference last year, which is no easy feat for a team at full strength, much less for an injury-riddled group of role players and NBA newcomers. Still, you have to believe that Durant and Westbrook will be on a mission, given that every win will mean so much and every loss will mean even more. So the question remains: how hard is it going to be? Let’s assume the Thunder make it to mid-December through their first 25 games or so with a record of 7-18 (.280 winning percentage to match up with their current .273). The rejuvenated Thunder will have to win 42 of their remaining 57 games to match the record needed to take the eight-seed last year. That is a huge challenge in this strong Western Conference.

Personally, I don’t think they can do it. New Orleans, Phoenix, and Sacramento will all be vying for that last playoff spot, and they are hungry, as none of the three have made the playoffs in any of the last three seasons. Head-to-head matchups between the Thunder and any of these three teams will be extremely entertaining because of this struggle for the right to travel to San Antonio (yeah, I’m going to be blunt about that). It’s going to be very tough, but I think they have a big enough shot for the league to be watching closely, especially those with a shot of that one-seed. If there’s one team as a one-seed you don’t want to play against in the first round, it’s the Oklahoma City Thunder. We may even see some top-of-the-conference tanking, trying to avoid a first round matchup with the reigning MVP and his team. This is definitely something to keep an eye on.

#5 – Highlight of some sort

Memphis beat Sacramento with this controversial buzzer beater by Courtney Lee. They have since appealed the referees’ decision, and the NBA will rule on it by December 2nd.

Toronto’s Terrence Ross converts one of the most difficult and acrobatic alley-oop finishes you will ever see in a home win over the Utah Jazz.