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Fran Blinebury

The resiliency of the oft-injured Blazers has been one of the best stories of the year.
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Nets, Bucks, Blazers among this season's many surprises

Posted Apr 7 2010 9:11AM

If you flipped the pages on the calendar back six months to the early days of training camp, plenty of things about the 2009-10 NBA season have gone the way most people expected -- the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers are leading their respective conferences, LeBron James is again playing like an MVP and the Dallas Mavericks have once more won 50 games.

But along the way there have also been plenty of surprises:

Brandon Jennings drops in double nickels
There were plenty of eyes on the precocious point guard who spent a year in Italy before entering the NBA Draft. But surely nobody expected the kid to make his NBA debut with a near triple-double of 17 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists on opening night and then outdo himself by hitting the Golden State Warriors for 55 points just seven games into the season. He shot 21-for-34 and was an amazing 7-for-8 on 3-pointers as Jennings broke the Milwaukee Bucks' rookie scoring record that had been held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It was also the highest-scoring game by an NBA rookie since Earl Monroe poured in 56 in 1968. And now he has the resurgent Bucks in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

The Nets flirt with history
Nobody was expecting the New Jersey Nets to make a run at the Larry O'Brien Trophy or, for that matter, even make the playoffs. But with a roster that is not exactly bereft of talent -- Brook Lopez, Devin Harris, Courtney Lee and Yi Jianlian -- were there many who expected the Nets to take until March 29 to reach double figures in the win column? The Nets spent most of the season in a futile dance with the historically bad 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers and their low-water mark of 9-73 for ineptitude before finally breaking through with a stretch of four wins in six games.

That's Amar'e
After spending most of his career as a combination offensive terror/locker room problem child, Amar'e Stoudemire was openly put on the trading block by the Phoenix Suns. But rather than go into a full-court pout, the power forward kept his head in the game and has turned in some of the most inspired and team-oriented ball of his entire career. As a result, the Suns have blossomed over the past two months and are in the running for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Can't douse the Blazers
It was just 21 games into the season when center Greg Oden went down again with a fractured left patella. It was just nine games later when backup Joel Przybilla ruptured his right patella tendon. It wasn't even Christmas yet and the Portland Trail Blazers had every reason to think their season was done. Brandon Roy has been nagged by an assortment of ailments that have kept him out of 15 games. But coach Nate McMillan -- who tore his right Achilles' tendon while filling in at an undermanned practice -- has kept the Blazers motivated, playing hard and somehow they're going back to the playoffs.

What's eating Gilbert?
After getting many preseason nods as the potentially most improved team in the league and a darkhorse team in the Eastern Conference, a slow start finally imploded for the Washington Wizards when Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton engaged in their Christmas Eve gun incident. It was the biggest black eye for the NBA this season and leaves the Wizards franchise still reeling.

Swimming with Salmons
There have been many contributors to the shocking midseason turnaround by the Milwaukee Bucks. The rookie Brandon Jennings gave them star power and a quarterback, center Andrew Bogut gave them a vastly improved defensive presence in the middle and coach Scott Skiles gave them a work ethic, a game plan and a toughness. But there's no getting around that the arrival of John Salmons just after the All-Star break has taken the Bucks to the next level. Just as he did a year ago in Chicago, Salmons joined the team at midseason and has averaged 20 points a game as Milwaukee has run off an 18-6 tear to get into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

No home sweet home in Boston
Over the previous two seasons -- including playoffs -- the Boston Celtics lost only 16 home games. But after a recent three-game skid at the TD Garden to San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Houston, the former champions have now lost 15 games on the famous parquet floor already this season. Blame the spate of injuries. Blame the internal bickering. Blame the weather. It seems that for one reason or another, the Celtics will be able to blame this glaring weakness when they're not raising the trophy in June.

The kids are OK(C)
It was generally accepted that the kiddie corp of Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook were going to take a step up in Oklahoma City this season. But the Thunder have turned that step into a giant stride. Just 16 months since they opened last season with a 1-16 record, Scott Brooks has his kids closing in on a 50-win season and still in the hunt for home-court advantage in the playoffs.

Zach is back
It's one thing to average 20 points a game. Zach Randolph has done that four times before in his NBA career. But this time Z-Bo is not just trying to be a one-man show. He's been a solid veteran presence in the Memphis locker room and one of the main reasons that the Grizzlies managed to keep themselves relevant and above the .500 mark in the rugged Western Conference with an optimistic eye on the future.

What's next, LeBron?
If you're still wondering how anything that LeBron James does is surprising, consider that he was named MVP last season and has been significantly better this time around. With a scoring average of 29.9 and shooting percentage of 50.4, he's got a chance to be the first player other than Michael Jordan to average 30 a game and make half of his shots from the field. Add in those 8.5 assists and 7.3 rebounds per game and you've got the closest thing to Oscar Robertson since, well, Oscar Robertson.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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