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Lakers, Celtics not holding anything back in early going

By John Schuhmann,
Posted Nov 8 2010 11:02AM

The lesson that the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers taught us last year -- that great teams can pace themselves in the regular season and flip the switch once the playoffs begin -- has apparently been forgotten by the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers.

With the exception of Boston's post-opener hangover in Cleveland, the two conference champs have been perfect through the first two weeks of the season. While other contenders are still trying to find their rhythm or losing focus from night to night, the Lakers and Celtics have hit the ground running, despite injuries to key players.

The Lakers are the third most improved team statistically from last season, which is kind of scary. Even scarier is that they have the No. 1 offense in the league with Kobe Bryant shooting worse than he did last season and Ron Artest shooting just 39 percent.

The Celtics haven't been quite as dominant, but they're not holding back. Rajon Rondo (40.4), Ray Allen (39.1), Paul Pierce (37.3) and Kevin Garnett (33.6) are all averaging more minutes than they did last season, with Doc Rivers going only nine-deep in his rotation thus far.

Can the two veteran teams keep this up? We'll learn a lot on Thursday, when they both face tough challenges on TNT. The Celtics visit the Heat (8 p.m. ET) and the Lakers visit the Nuggets (10:30 p.m. ET) in what is clearly the best doubleheader of the season thus far.

• Last week: East contenders provide a fascinating Week 1
• This time last year: Suns Rise to the Top With Big Road Wins -- No teams remained unbeaten, the Blazers were trying to figure out if Andre Miller and Brandon Roy could play together, Tony Parker got hurt for the first time, the Clippers rebounded after an 0-4 start and Allen Iverson's Memphis Grizzlies career was already over.

Hero Team of the Week: New Orleans (3-0) -- Another three games, three more quality wins. They're not blowing anybody out, but no one said they had to.
Zero Team of the Week: Minnesota (0-4) -- The Wolves had the dreaded back-to-back in Miami and Orlando, but an average margin of defeat of 27.5 points over four games just can't be forgiven.

High jumps of the week: Philadelphia (+8), New Orleans (+7), Golden State (+5), San Antonio (+5)
Free falls of the week: Portland (-7), Toronto (-6), Milwaukee (-5), Minnesota (-5)

East vs. West: The West is 16-8 (.667) against the East, 8-6 this week.

Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
Off: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
Def: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league averages 96.9 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 102.9 points scored per 100 possessions.

1 L.A. Lakers (7-0)
Pace: 99.2 (8), Off: 115.0 (1), Def: 101.2 (11)
Maybe it's time to start the "MVP" chant at Staples whenever Pau Gasol shoots free throws. He's not only outscoring Kobe Bryant, but he leads the league in raw +/- at plus-113 and matched Bryant with a triple-double of his own against the Blazers on Sunday.
Previous: 1

2 Boston (6-1)
Pace: 93.8 (24), Off: 103.9 (15), Def: 95.6 (3)
Boston has to be anticipating Delonte West's return from suspension. In addition to alleviating the load that Allen and Pierce have been carrying, he will provide a boost to the offense, which has been rather mediocre. Thursday's game is huge, but the Celtics can't look past Dallas on Monday.
Previous: 2

3 New Orleans (6-0)
Pace: 93.9 (23), Off: 105.1 (11), Def: 96.2 (4)
None of the Hornets' six wins has come by more than nine points, but that should come as little surprise. With Chris Paul on the floor, New Orleans is 112-68 (.662) all-time in games determined by nine points or less, as opposed to 85-86 (.497) in games determined by 10 points or more.
Previous: 10

4 Miami (5-2)
Pace: 93.7 (25), Off: 107.5 (5), Def: 91.2 (1)
No issues here with Eddie House getting the first "last shot," because he was the open man on the play. The problem was that he was also 0-for-6 on threes at that point. Of the nine Heat players who have played 100 minutes, House is the only one with a +/- less than plus-27. He's a minus-2.
Previous: 3

5 Orlando (4-1)
Pace: 95.8 (19), Off: 106.2 (8), Def: 92.1 (2)
The Magic have proven themselves very good at getting their games canceled and beating bad teams. With both Jameer Nelson (ankle) and Vince Carter (hip flexor) currently banged up, a couple of good teams -- Atlanta on Monday and Utah on Wednesday -- visit the Amway Center this week.
Previous: 6

6 San Antonio (4-1)
Pace: 99.8 (7), Off: 106.5 (7), Def: 103.9 (16)
The way that Richard Jefferson (20.4 ppg, 65 percent shooting) has been playing, it's clear that Gregg Popovich could make a lot of money as a summer basketball instructor. Manu Ginobili followed his clutch game-tying jumper in Saturday's OT win over the Rockets with the week's best tweet.
Previous: 11

7 Atlanta (6-1)
Pace: 94.8 (22), Off: 112.1 (2), Def: 104.4 (17)
After looking solid against some weaker competition, the Hawks' defense got scorched by the Suns on Sunday. They're still undefeated with their starting lineup intact, but Marvin Williams (knee) is not expected back until later this week at the earliest. The Magic (Monday) are the first winning team they've faced.
Previous: 7

8 Denver (4-2)
Pace: 96.7 (16), Off: 108.3 (4), Def: 99.9 (7)
Al Harrington hasn't exactly been efficient (44 percent shooting, only 11 free-throw attempts in six games), but he's given the Nuggets a second scorer as Chauncey Billups (33 percent from the field thus far) struggles to find his shot. Harrington had big buckets in each of his team's two wins this week.
Previous: 8

9 Dallas (3-2)
Pace: 95.2 (20), Off: 101.9 (18), Def: 97.4 (5)
Two games against the Nuggets have knocked the Mavs down a couple of spots defensively, but it's been Dallas' offense (41 total turnovers, specifically) that has failed them in their two losses thus far. They're also suffering too much of a dropoff when they go to the bench. J.J. Barea is a minus-52 in 88 minutes.
Previous: 5

10 Oklahoma City (3-3)
Pace: 96.0 (18), Off: 101.2 (19), Def: 106.3 (21)
How bad has the Thunder's ball movement been? Their 14.8 assists per game is the lowest average in NBA history and their assist rate of 43.8 percent is the lowest since the 1978-79 San Diego Clippers assisted on only 41.4 percent of their field goals. By that measure, it's the worst ball movement in 32 years.
Previous: 9

11 Portland (5-3)
Pace: 92.2 (29), Off: 105.9 (10), Def: 103.3 (14)
Six games in nine days took a toll on the Blazers' defense, which allowed 118.6 points per 100 possessions in their three losses this week. Their status as the third-worst defensive rebounding team in the league showed up in Thursday's overtime defeat to the Thunder.
Previous: 4

12 Golden State (4-2)
Pace: 99.8 (6), Off: 104.1 (13), Def: 102.2 (12)
The Warriors have continued to shoot poorly (41 percent) since their first two games, but they've picked up a couple of more wins with ... pause for effect ... defense. The 78 points the Jazz scored on Friday were the fewest the Warriors have allowed since Nov. 25, 2006, when they beat the Clippers, 109-77.
Previous: 17

13 Phoenix (3-3)
Pace: 97.8 (14), Off: 109.2 (3), Def: 107.8 (27)
The offensive and defensive rankings look just about right, but the Suns' pace rank is the bizarro stat of the week. They've survived a tough early schedule, but it's not getting easier any time soon. They face the Kings and Nuggets at home and visit the Grizzlies, Lakers, Heat and Magic in the next 11 days.
Previous: 15

14 Utah (3-3)
Pace: 98.3 (12), Off: 101.0 (22), Def: 100.9 (9)
When you score just 78 points against the Warriors, it's fair to say you're still working things out offensively. The Jazz are lacking depth (only six players averaging more than 14 minutes) and it doesn't get any tougher than the four-day stretch they face this week, with visits to Miami, Orlando and Atlanta.
Previous: 13

15 Memphis (3-4)
Pace: 101.2 (3), Off: 101.0 (21), Def: 102.9 (13)
After Friday's heartbreaking double-OT loss in Phoenix, the Grizzlies get another shot at the Suns on Monday, the start of a stretch where they play seven of nine at home. Maybe this time, they'll make the free throws they're supposed to make and miss the ones they're supposed to miss.
Previous: 12

16 New York (3-3)
Pace: 100.3 (4), Off: 103.9 (14), Def: 100.2 (8)
The Knicks' defensive improvement has come mostly from their bench, and mostly from Toney Douglas and Ronny Turiaf. In fact, the six reserves who have played this season all have +/- marks better than each of the five starters. Turiaf ranks 18th in the league at plus-56, higher than anyone on the 6-0 Hornets.
Previous: 19

17 Chicago (2-3)
Pace: 98.4 (11), Off: 104.1 (12), Def: 104.6 (18)
The Bulls shot 54 percent in their three games this week and are the third-most improved offensive team in the league without Carlos Boozer having played a minute. But they lost to the Knicks and Celtics because of turnovers (40 total) and porous defense (112.3 points allowed per 100 possessions).
Previous: 14

18 Houston (1-5)
Pace: 102.3 (2), Off: 107.0 (6), Def: 109.0 (28)
The Rockets finally got off the schneid on Sunday and have four more winnable games coming up. Thus far, they're a minus-25 with Yao Ming on the floor and a plus-21 with him on the bench. With Aaron Brooks (ankle) out four to six weeks, they're hoping Kyle Lowry (back) can get back on the floor Wednesday.
Previous: 18

19 Sacramento (3-3)
Pace: 98.4 (10), Off: 106.1 (9), Def: 109.5 (29)
Saturday's game against the Grizzlies was supposed to be a measuring stick for the Kings. Tyreke Evans and Francisco Garcia measured up pretty well, but their teammates did not. DeMarcus Cousins did not take well to coming off the bench for the first time, finishing with just four points and three rebounds in 23 minutes.
Previous: 22

20 Cleveland (3-3)
Pace: 96.4 (17), Off: 102.7 (17), Def: 106.7 (24)
The 39 points (on 13-for-20 shooting) that Daniel Gibson scored in the Cavs' two wins over the weekend are the most he's scored in any two-game span since November of 2008. LeBron is gone, but the Cavs are still at the top of the Central Division. And they have four very winnable games in the next nine days.
Previous: 24

21 Milwaukee (2-5)
Pace: 93.7 (26), Off: 93.2 (29), Def: 98.8 (6)
Andrew Bogut is shooting 51 percent from the field, but his teammates are shooting 38 percent. The Bucks are still strong on the defensive end, but no team has regressed more offensively. At least they don't have to play the Hornets -- who held them to 81 points on Saturday -- anymore.
Previous: 16

22 Philadelphia (2-5)
Pace: 98.1 (13), Off: 103.0 (16), Def: 101.1 (10)
If it weren't for a flurry of late turnovers against the Cavs and a miracle three from Cartier Martin, the Sixers might have won all four of their games this week. Either way, they looked like a decent offensive team, shooting 51 percent and scoring 108.4 points per 100 possessions in the four games.
Previous: 30

23 Indiana (2-3)
Pace: 98.6 (9), Off: 95.5 (28), Def: 103.5 (15)
Shooting 32 percent and losing to the Sixers by 26 points may be the worst performance any team has had this year. The Pacers' defense has been OK, but their offense has been absolutely anemic (86.9 points per 100 possessions) in the last three games. They get a shot at Houston's horrid defense on Friday.
Previous: 20

24 New Jersey (2-4)
Pace: 93.4 (27), Off: 96.6 (26), Def: 106.4 (23)
It's one thing for Brook Lopez to have a rough night (3-for-17) against Dwight Howard. But for him to also struggle against the Charlotte and Miami frontlines is disconcerting. In total, Lopez shot 28 percent and averaged just 4.7 rebounds in the Nets' three losses this week. And he faces Howard again on Saturday.
Previous: 21

25 Detroit (2-5)
Pace: 93.3 (28), Off: 100.8 (23), Def: 107.5 (26)
After his blow-up with John Kuester and one-game timeout, Rodney Stuckey came up big Sunday. Seven of his 21 points came in the final five minutes of a five-point win over Golden State. It was the second time he has had 20-plus points and nine-plus assists this season, after having one such game last year.
Previous: 29

26 Charlotte (1-5)
Pace: 90.8 (30), Off: 99.0 (24), Def: 105.1 (19)
Don't count the Bobcats out just yet. They started 3-9 in each of their first two seasons under Larry Brown, and they recovered to make the playoffs last year. Speaking of slow starts, they're scoring just 88.1 points per 100 possessions and have been outscored by 30 points in the first quarter over their six games.
Previous: 26

27 L.A. Clippers (1-6)
Pace: 94.9 (21), Off: 96.7 (25), Def: 105.6 (20)
After an ugly first three games, the Clippers have played much better. If he weren't owed $42 million over three seasons, they would probably prefer that Baron Davis stay out of the way. With Davis out (of shape), rookie Eric Bledsoe is averaging 13 points and 7 assists in four games as a starter.
Previous: 27

28 Washington (1-4)
Pace: 99.9 (5), Off: 95.5 (27), Def: 106.8 (25)
With Gilbert Arenas back, John Wall putting up historical lines and Kirk Hinrich filling in the holes, the Wizards will be OK on the perimeter. The interior is another story, though. They rank 30th in offensive rebounding percentage and 29th in points in the paint.
Previous: 28

29 Toronto (1-5)
Pace: 97.8 (15), Off: 101.2 (20), Def: 106.3 (22)
That defensive ranking sure went down in a hurry. If the Raptors are willing to accept moral victories, then their trip West wasn't a complete disaster. They hung close with the Lakers and Jose Calderon may have had a breakthrough. He shot 12-for-16 and had 12 total assists in the two losses over the weekend.
Previous: 23

30 Minnesota (1-6)
Pace: 103.9 (1), Off: 93.1 (30), Def: 110.7 (30)
Neither the standings nor the statistics backed him up at the time, but Michael Beasley called his Timberwolves "the worst team in the NBA" after three games. It turns out that Beas is a pretty good analyst. The only question is how in the world did the Bucks lose to these guys?
Previous: 25's Power Rankings are just one man's opinion and are released every Monday during the season. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail. You can also follow him on twitter.

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