Periodically on Hornets off days throughout the regular season, I’ll be providing brief updates on the rest of the league, in this “NBA 20-second timeout” update. Here’s a look at a few recent developments:
The Nets just wrapped up the most surprisingly successful cross-country road trip by any team in the first month of the season. New Jersey went 3-1 with victories at Phoenix, Utah and Sacramento. After unloading two-thirds of its “Big Three,” this team was projected by just about everyone to finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, making the Nets the most pleasant surprise of November at 9-7. Point guard Devin Harris continues to make last season’s trade with Dallas look like highway robbery, pouring in an eye-popping 47 points in the win over the Suns.
Can we please stop talking about 2010 and start talking about 2008-09? If LeBron James continues to get support like this from his teammates, why would he want to leave in the first place? The Cavaliers have won 13 of their last 14. Their only defeats are at Boston, at Detroit and here against the Hornets. With Detroit seemingly headed in the opposite direction, LeBron and the Cavs are the class of the Central Division and aren’t far behind Boston at this early stage.
The Mavericks have quietly recovered from their ominous 2-7 start, winning six of their last seven for an 8-8 record. Dallas also opens one of the longest homestands of the season for any NBA team, with seven straight in Big D. The Hornets did not take full advantage of the Mavs’ awful open to 2008-09 and are just 1 ½ games ahead of one of their biggest Southwest rivals.
Chris Bosh (26.8 ppg, 10.2 rpg) has been absolutely unstoppable, yet the Raptors are off to a lackluster start following their so-so 2007-08. I’m surprised because Bryan Colangelo has done a commendable job with Toronto’s roster, but Bosh needs a lot more help from his teammates. Several key Raptors were banged up in November and/or less productive than their career norms, including Jermaine O’Neal and Jose Calderon.
The Pistons tried to convince everyone that the trade for Allen Iverson wasn’t just a salary-cap move, but Detroit looks further away from competing with the East's elite this season, not closer. It wasn’t unreasonable to expect a bit of a drop-off record-wise as the Pistons integrate Allen Iverson into the mix, but they’re a middling 6-6 since he made his Detroit debut on Nov. 7. Detroit’s 26-point home loss to Minnesota on Nov. 23 ranks as perhaps the most puzzling outcome in the first month of the NBA campaign.
Take a rising team loaded with young and athletic talent, add low-post stud Elton Brand, then watch the victories pile up, right? It seemed logical, but right now it’s not happening. The 76ers are 7-10 and have dropped four straight, including two games they wouldn’t have lost last season (at Charlotte, home vs. Chicago). After watching Andre Iguodala appear to be on the verge of stardom a year ago, it’s hard to fathom how he could be Philly’s fourth-leading scorer (13.0 ppg, on 39.8 percent shooting).
UNDER THE RADAR
Lesser-known players who are performing well with little fanfare:
Delonte West, Cleveland
At one point last season, the then-SuperSonics were playing musical point guards, rotating through West, Luke Ridnour and Earl Watson. West was the first of the trio to be jettisoned, as part of a three-team deal that also included Chicago. Of the three players the Cavaliers acquired in that trade – West, Ben Wallace and Wally Szczerbiak – the St. Joseph’s was often regarded as the least important new Cav. But he’s been a quietly significant and efficient contributor to Cleveland’s blazing start. West is shooting 51.4 percent from the field and 43.7 percent from three-point range. He’s the Cavs’ fourth-leading scorer (11.4 ppg).
Trevor Ariza, L.A. Lakers
Andrew Bynum’s return from injury understandably generated far more attention, but the Lakers were ecstatic to have Ariza back at 100 percent as well this season. The UCLA product is still not very familiar to casual fans, but do you realize he’s averaging more points per game than Lamar Odom off L.A.’s bench? Or that he’s the Lakers fourth-leading rebounder (5.5 rpg in only 23.9 minutes a night)? He’s also always been a tremendous defender – and is averaging a team-best 1.73 steals.