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Shaun Powell

The Suns got off to a hot start, but they might not be able to play better than they are now.
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For these teams, things aren't quite what they seem

Posted Nov 24 2009 1:35PM

Bill Parcells, famous football coach, once said you are what your record says you are. If that's so, then the Nets aren't much.

They've lost 13 straight to start the season and with all due respect to Parcells, everybody knows they're not this bad, because there's no way they go 0-82. Right? Anybody agree? Or heaven forbid, disagree?

Every year, a handful of teams start hot or cold and come April they wind up in a whole different place than where they started. The season is a six-month grind that forces teams to ultimately reveal themselves over time.

That's why it's best to take what you see right now, from a few select teams, and chalk it up to a false start. There are factors why they're up or down. They're really not that bad. Or that good. And remember, when Parcells made his statement, he meant a team's record at the end of the season. So we have a ways to go.

One month into the season, here's a quick look at the 10 teams who we suspect jumped the gun, one direction or another.

Five teams that aren't as bad as they seem

5. Toronto: You know that old stereotype about foreigners and how they can't play defense? Well, the Raptors aren't exactly shattering that perception. Team United Nations is giving up points at a rate that's embarrassing for a playoff-contending team, and yes, despite the losing start, the Raptors will still be playoff contenders. Notice we didn't say "championship contenders" because, in addition to their lack of a certified A-list franchise player (Chris Bosh hasn't led his team anywhere special, unlike Kobe and LeBron and D-Wade), the Raptors will not go far without issuing a little more D. It's not that they haven't applied themselves on defense. They can't play defense.

But, please. Toronto will not finish under .500. There's too much variety on offense, too many decent veteran players to prevent a disaster from happening. Plus, Toronto will play the Knicks and Nets eight times. That helps.

Losing on the road to Dallas, San Antonio, Phoenix, Denver and Utah is no shame. Toronto will turn it around. No such guarantees for the defense, though.

4. Utah: Opened the season 2-6 and had some bad losses to Houston and Sacramento, but that appears to be history. Carlos Boozer has decided to forget his perplexing summer and just play. Lately, he's looked like the old Boozer, collecting double-doubles and taking the scoring load from Deron Williams (tough almost every night). Oh, and there's been an Andrei Kirilenko sighting. He's still coming off the bench, but his minutes are up and so is his production. This might be the most confident AK-47's been in years.

As long as rookies Wes Matthews and Eric Maynor continue to improve in the scattered minutes they're getting, the bench will give Utah extra benefits as the season, and their win total, moves forward.

3. Los Angeles Clippers: Everything's on hold until Blake Griffin is good to go. If the rookie is solid from the jump, he and Chris Kaman will push this team up. If not, then Mike Dunleavy better not check his inbox.

2. Detroit: They had a brutal West Coast trip and missed Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince for virtually the entire first month. Once the Pistons get their two best players back, and find a way to rotate in their 297 guards, they'll be better than a basement dweller. Figure around break-even.

1. San Antonio: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have all missed time. Now you know.

Five teams that aren't as good as they seem

5. Oklahoma City: Could be wrong about a team that has already beaten the Spurs and Magic. Kevin Durant is obviously the real deal, Jeff Green is shaping up nicely in a Scottie Pippen role and if Russell Westbrook trims his turnovers, look out. Still, it's hard to imagine OKC improving by so much so soon. Are they really poised to crack 40 wins? And press for a playoff role? That's what they're on pace to do.

4. Phoenix: This is no reflection on Alvin Gentry, a player's coach. Or Nash. Or Amare. Or even Channing Frye, an early season revelation. And yes, the Suns did well on their Eastern trip, winning four of five. But they can't keep making half their shots, can they? The ball's gotta stop falling at some point. The Suns deserve all the applause they're getting, and yet there's the nagging suspicion that this is the best Phoenix can play.

3. Milwaukee: Look, everybody loves what the kid is doing. Remarkable stuff. But this is a mirage. Not Brandon Jennings. The Bucks. Unless you really think they're gonna win 50-plus games and the division. True, Michael Redd is back and Andrew Bogut is playing the best ball of his life. They won seven of eight but only one was over a decent team (Denver). Let's see what the next few weeks bring (Magic, Cavs twice, Lakers, etc.). You saw what happened in San Antonio on Monday.

2. Sacramento: Started cold, then went hot, now it's chilly again. That's what happens when you put such a young team on the floor. The schedule is soft for the rest of the month, then look out. As a whole, the Kings do have intriguing young talent and will be genuinely better in the spring than they are now, when they get more consistency from Spencer Hawes, Jason Thompson and Tyreke Evans.

1. Miami: They started 6-1 but the last few weeks have been more representative of where the Heat really stand. The schedule toughened up and so did the chance for wins. This is still a team of role players led by a superstar. For the most part, nothing's changed since last season, when Wade carried the club. Must give some respect, however, to Jermaine O'Neal. He's averaging roughly 16 points and six rebounds, bounce-back numbers for someone long believed to be finished as a productive player. Still, how much longer can he keep this up? The Heat are still waiting for Michael Beasley to break out. So far, he hasn't.

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