Team on the Rise
Chicago — The Bulls began their annual circus trip with a victory in Houston Tuesday for their fourth straight win. Only San Antonio — winners of seven in a row — is a hotter team in the Association right now. The streak will stop for one of them tonight when they face each other.
Since falling to the Knicks at home on Nov. 4 and a road OT loss to Boston, Chicago scored three straight home wins before the circus trip — a seven-game, 12-day event that kicks the Bulls and the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks out of the United Center while the circus is in town.
The Bulls also began last season's circus trip with a victory before losing the remaining five games on the long excursion by an average of 15.8 points a contest, while never scoring over 98. Since Michael Jordan's final season with Chicago (1997-98), the Bulls are 11-61 on the circus trip.
"All the stuff about going on the road and the circus, all this stuff, I'm not concerned about that. I'm just worried about the next game," first-year coach Tom Thibodeau said on the team's Web site.
Defense has been the key for Chicago (6-3), which is 6-0 when it holds opponents under 100. The Bulls have allowed just 92.5 a game during the winning streak.
Chicago is doing all this on the shoulders of Derrick Rose (24.7 ppg, 9.2 apg), Joakim Noah (16.0 ppg, 12.8 rpg) and Luol Deng (19.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg) while Carlos Boozer recovers from a hand injury and the team tries to settle in at the 2-guard spot.
Team on the Decline New York — The Knicks defeated Chicago and Washington in back-to-back nights starting Nov. 4 but have failed to win since.
It doesn't seem to be for a lack of trying on the offensive end — a trait coach Mike D'Antoni is well known for. The Knicks are averaging 101.6 points a game — 0.9 above the league average — during the six-game slide.
But defense is not a trait D'Antoni's teams are known for and it is glaring during the losing streak as New York is surrendering 111.8 a game — 11.1 above the league average.
It'd be easy to say this started when the Knicks allowed Kevin Love to put up 31 points and grab 31 boards against them on Nov. 12, but that was in the middle of this losing streak.
It won't get any easier with three more on the road before returning for a back-to-back and home-and-home against Charlotte next Tuesday.
I thought the Knicks would put together a great week after coming off four- and five-point losses to Boston and Portland before the Chicago and Washington wins. I still see wins coming for this squad, but will they already be too rattled for it to matter when they do find the win column with consistency?
Numbers to Know
50 — LeBron might have left Cleveland, but there's always the bench. The Cavaliers' bench scored 54 points Tuesday against Philly, the third time the team's bench has scored 50. That number equals last year's entire total for the bench, according to Elias.
8 — When Chicago overcame an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter against Houston on Tuesday it was the first time the Bulls had come back from a margin of at least eight on the road since April 3, 2008. The Bulls had lost 48 straight games in that situation prior to the Houston win, according to Elias.
25 — Washington collected 28 assists in a win over Toronto on Tuesday, marking the fifth straight game the team has had at least 25 assists. That is the team's longest such streak since April 1997, according to Elias.
6 — New Jersey's Anthony Morrow needs just six more 3-pointers to qualify for the NBA's all-time highest 3-point field goal percentage. He is currently shooting .454 (244-of-538). Steve Kerr holds the mark at .454 on 726-of-1,599).
Beyond the Arc
West returns: Delonte West, suspended by the Association for the first 10 games of the season after pleading guilty to weapons charges, makes his debut tonight against the Washington Wizards.
West, who played for Doc Rivers in Boston from 2004-2007, gives the 8-2 Celtics yet another productive player to help lead the reserves. The guard, who will spell Ray Allen and has been a starter in three of his eight seasons, is a career .446 shooter, scoring 10 a game with 3.7 assists, 3.1 boards and 1.1 steals.
Home is where the wins are?: The 76ers are certainly hoping a return home will produce some wins — or at least some points.
The team went on the road for five straight games and defeated the Knicks on Nov. 7, but have lost the last four in a row.
Standout Andre Iguodala, who had not missed a game in 252 contests prior to the Knicks game, has not played since the last home game — Nov. 5 vs. Cleveland (116-123). Tendinitis in his right Achilles will continue to sideline him.
The 76ers have been limited to 90, 93 and 93 in their last three games. At home this season Philly is 1-4, but at least averaging 101.3 a game. The team is back for two starting tonight before a four-game road stretch.
Miami Heat: There's nothing really to say here. I wouldn't be doing my job if I put together an Eastern Conference notes package and didn't mention the Heat.
Until they do something worthy of them being mentioned outside of just being The Big Three and the Miami Heat, it's just nitpicking at a team we all know will be one of the final four in the East when it's all said and done.
That's the jump the New Orleans Hornets have made in the Athlon Sports NBA Power Rankings over the first three weeks of the season.
New Orleans takes over the top spot this week from the now-No. 4 Los Angeles Lakers, who not only killed my prediction they probably would not lose until a Christmas Day tilt with Miami but went out and lost their last two entering tonight's game at Milwaukee. The Lakers lost to Denver and Phoenix to drop the four spots.
The Hornets got wins over the Clippers and Trail Blazers by 19 and 20 to move to 8-0 going into a home and home with Dallas. The Mavericks ended New Orleans' undefeated run with a 98-95 home win Monday, and the Hornets get a chance to avenge their only defeat Wednesday.
Boston moves up from 3 to 2, while the Spurs go from 6 to 3.
Boston once again dismantled Miami and won a road overtime game against Memphis. It is the third OT win this year for the Celtics, who suit up for a four-game, six-day stretch that begins Wednesday with Washington and has Oklahoma City at home along with Toronto and Atlanta on the road in a back to back.
San Antonio has not necessarily had the toughest slate to get to the No. 3 spot with wins over Charlotte, the Clippers, Sixers and Oklahoma City over the last week. But four wins in seven days is impressive. This next week will be a bit more of a challenge with home games against Chicago, Cleveland and Orlando to go along with a Friday road game at Utah.
Dallas moved from 8 to 5 with wins over Boston, Memphis, Philly and New Orleans over the last week. The Mavs travel to the Big Easy tonight to complete the home and home. It doesn't get any easier with games against Chicago and at Atlanta.
It was said here last week that Utah would either skyrocket up the rankings or remain around the middle of the pack. Needless to say, the Jazz shot up the list.
With five straight double-digit comeback victories, Utah went from 14 to 6. After four games in five days, the Jazz get five in eight days. It started with a 115-108 loss against visiting Oklahoma City Monday night — the first loss for Utah in five games — and continues with games against the Nets, Spurs, Trail Blazers and Kings over the next six days.
No. 7 Miami has also been idle since Saturday when it held off Toronto 109-100. The Heat should be able to get back on track if they can run with Phoenix on Wednesday before games against Charlotte, Memphis and Indiana.
Orlando ended a miserable week by finally defending its home court. The Magic fell from 5 to 8 after losing home games to Utah and Toronto and then escaping New Jersey with a one-point win. The Magic returned home Monday to defeat Memphis 89-73, and get Phoenix, Indiana and San Antonio over the next week.
The Suns moved from 12 to 9 with wins over Sacramento, the Lakers and Denver. Phoenix now has to travel to Miami, Orlando, Charlotte and Houston between Wednesday and Monday.
Denver bounced back from a 144-113 drubbing to Indiana — a team that had posted just 30 points in the two quarters before the blowout — to hand the Lakers their first loss. However, the Nuggets followed the Lakers win with their 12th straight loss in Phoenix on Monday to drop from 9 to 10. It should be a good week for Denver, though. It has games against the Knicks, Trail Blazers, Nets and Warriors over the next week.
Chicago begins its annual circus trip — a trip that the Bulls are 10-61 on since 1999-00, which included an 0-32 run at one point — tonight in San Antonio. Wins over Golden State and Washington moved the Bulls from 16 to 11 as they begin the seven-game, 12-day road trip.
The Hawks had the biggest fall of upper echelon teams, going from 6 to 13 after seeing a 6-0 start turn into 6-4 before getting back in the win column with a 111-105 home victory against Minnesota. The Hawks have a light week with games at Indiana tonight and home contests against Dallas and Boston on Saturday and Monday.
Again, the Western Conference dominates the top half of this week's power rankings. They have nine of the top 15 spots and six within the top 10.
Team on the Rise
New Orleans — The sky is blue. Grass is green. And the Hornets are the team on the rise.
Of course it is the obvious choice for this week, but I did have them ranked as the No. 11 team a week ago, and New Orleans has shot all the way up to No. 2 — and could make an argument as the top team in the league.
The Hornets are 7-0 after Tuesday's win against the Clippers — the only team on the schedule so far that was not a playoff team last year. And they disposed of a non-playoff caliber team like they should have with a 101-82 drubbing. According to Elias, New Orleans is one of four teams in league history to win its first seven games after finishing under .500 the previous season.
Meanwhile, the top-ranked Lakers, also undefeated at 8-0 going into tonight's game at Denver, have seen only two playoff teams from a year ago — Phoenix and Portland.
New Orleans is idle until a Saturday home game against Portland, which kicks off another four-game run against playoff teams from a year ago before a hitting the road for five of six to close out the month.
First-year coach Monty Williams is getting it done with defense. His squad is scoring only 98 a game — 20th in the league — but giving up just 90.1 — tied for tops in the league. If the Hornets defeat Portland it will tie Williams with Larry Brown for the best start to a season by a first-year coach.
Team on the Decline
Denver — Houston sat in this spot a week ago, and could be here again. However, it's hard to decline when you are already at the bottom. "Team on the Decline" is reserved for a team that could actually be a factor when the season is in the closing stages — so the likelihood of the Clippers, Timberwolves or Kings being on this list this year is minimal.
Therefore, Denver gets the nod this week. The Nuggets started their three-game road trip with a win at Dallas before falling to Chicago and getting pasted 144-113 by Indiana. Tonight they play host to a Lakers team that was less than impressive against lowly Minnesota, but should be geared up for a rematch of the 2009 Western Conference finals.
Denver blew a six-point lead with seven minutes to go in Chicago and was never in the game against an Indiana team that went from scoring 30 in the second half of its previous game to quarters of 27, 32, 54 and 31 in its blowout of the Nuggets.
A win tonight against the Lakers is needed, but without the presence of Kenyon Martin, Chris Andersen and Nene just coming back from a groin injury, chances of the Nuggets' perimeter players defeating the Lakers' perimeter players are slim.
Denver has games at Phoenix and home against the Knicks before a trip to Portland next Thursday, so the coming week will be big to respond from what will probably be a three-game skid this week.
Numbers to Know
3 — According to Elias, the Utah Jazz are the first team in the shot clock era (1954-55) to win three straight games after trailing by at least 10 points at the half. Utah came back after being down 18 against the Clippers, 22 against the Heat and 18 against the Magic to get the trio of wins.
18 — San Antonio defeated the Clippers Wednesday night, marking the 18th straight win for the Spurs against the L.A. franchise. It's the longest current win streak any team has over another in the NBA. San Antonio's longest streak against one team was a 21-game run against Memphis form 1997-2002.
31 — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook scored 31 apiece against Philadelphia Wednesday night, giving Oklahoma City the first pair of 30-point scorers on the same team this season.
74 — Through six NBA telecasts leading up to Wednesday night's doubleheader, ESPN's ratings were up 74 percent compared to a year earlier.
Beyond the Arc
Some good news: Not much good has been coming from the Timberwolves in the early part of this NBA season. They are losing. Kevin Love isn't getting the minutes you would expect. They've lost by 25 three times in nine games so far — a feat only two other teams in the past 20 years have attained. But Michael Beasley at least gave Minnesota fans some spark when he scored 18 in the first quarter and 27 in the first half — both one point shy of team records — en route to a career high 42 points in a 98-89 victory at Sacramento Wednesday.
Nash staying put? Earlier this season, Phoenix PG Steve Nash questioned how good this version of the Suns would be. Well, they have very little post presence, but are good on the perimeter — sounds like a majority of the league. But the perimeter play has them at 3-4 and a buzz is being generated about Nash, the best player for Phoenix, being moved. It seems like a noble thing to do. Average team. Aging guard. A ring for Nash. We see it all the time — talks of moving championship ringless superstars as they get up there in years.
But as Arizona Republic writer Paul Coro reported, if the 36-year-old goes, so too does someone else.
"Steve's not going to be traded, that I can tell you," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "If he's getting traded, I'm going along with him, OK? Have you looked at the way he's playing? He's playing at a real high level. Why would we trade him? I don't understand that. That's nothing that's been discussed here."
Gentry added the Nash is the face of the franchise, and the face stays.
Taking a bite in the Big Apple:David Lee made his return to New York Wednesday night as the Golden State Warriors defeated the Knicks 122-117. Lee, who was the Warriors' key free-agent signing in the offseason, scored a season-high 28 in his return — the first former New York player since Walt Frazier in 1977 to score at least that many in his first game against the Knicks.
Lee's former team honored him — strangely enough in the middle of the game — with a video montage saying thank you. He also left with some marks on his elbow after going for a rebound against Wilson Chandler and knocking one of Chandler's teeth out in the process.
"Well, I got the rebound and he (Wilson Chandler) was diving in to get the offensive rebound and his tooth dug in and sliced it open pretty good," Lee said after the game. "I can actually see the bone coming out a little bit. So it probably requires a few stitches and I got to deal with the Knicks medical staff. I just wanted to hang out with them a little bit more I haven’t seen them in a while so I’ll get that chance tonight.”
Team on the Rise
Cleveland — Where were the Cavaliers going to go but up after LeBron left? After all, reason said they were obviously going to be at the bottom of the conference upon the King's exit.
No doubt LeBron James' departure is going to take a while to recover from, and an inconsistent Cavs squad will head out there in the early going. That was evident when the team shocked Boston in its opener then got blown out 101-81 by a terrible Toronto team two nights later.
Cleveland dropped two more — a three-pointer to Sacramento and a 12-pointer to Atlanta before reeling off road wins against Philadelphia, Washington and New Jersey. The Cavs get the Nets again tonight for the start of a three-game homestand that also includes Indiana and Philly.
What was a 1-3 start could turn into a 7-3 record before Cleveland travels to New Orleans and San Antonio for a back to back beginning Nov. 19.
The return of Mo Williams (16 ppg), pictured left, from a groin injury has certainly sparked the Cavs, as has Daniel Gibson (14.9 ppg) to give the team a solid backcourt. Cleveland should also get help from Antawn Jamison, who missed all of last week with a sore knee but came in to score 15 off the bench in a win over New Jersey Tuesday.
Team on the Decline
Miami — I know, I know. No need to push the panic button just yet, but the Heat have proven nothing so far.
Offensively, it is the LeBron and Dwyane Wade show while everyone else watches. Outside of the league-leading 24 3-pointers James Jones has knocked down, there's not been much else from the Heat. And even Jones' role is: See spot on floor. Go to spot on floor. Wait for ball. Shoot ball.
Miami blew a 22-point lead against Utah Tuesday in an overtime loss at home. The Heat did so with Jazz post presence Al Jefferson basically being nonexistent and PG Deron Williams fouling out late in the fourth. In the overtime session only Wade performed for Miami — scoring all 10 points.
Defensively, Miami was scorched for 56 points in the paint — almost 20 above its average allowed. The Heat have one signature win so far — a 96-70 dismantling of Orlando in game three of the season — but have lost to the other three playoff teams they have played so far (88-80 to Boston, 96-93 to New Orleans and 116-114 to Utah).
Eddie House was quoted as saying maybe the Heat got "bored" when they were up by so much.
There is no rest for those on the decline as Miami takes on Boston Thursday night. Perhaps the Heat won't be as bored going up against Rajon Rondo and the other Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
Numbers to Know
54 — The Indiana Pacers entered Tuesday night's game against visiting Denver coming off a second half in which they scored just 30 in a loss to Milwaukee. Talk about a turnaround. Indiana exploded for 54 points in the third quarter of its 144-113 win against the Nuggets — the most in a single quarter since Phoenix scored 57 in the second quarter of a Nov. 10, 1990 contest, according to Elias.
9 — Miami's LeBron James recorded his first triple double as a member of the Heat when he put up 20 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists in a loss to Utah. It was James' 29th career triple double, but just the ninth in the 22-year history of the Heat and first since Shaq got one in April 2006.
11 — The Knicks were blown out by 27 against the Bucks Tuesday night, marking the 11th time New York has lost by 25 or more in the 171 games under coach Mike D'Antoni. It happened to D'Antoni just six times in 389 games when he coached Phoenix, according to Elias.
Beyond the Arc
Plenty of time to get better: The Indiana Pacers were slated to be in the "Team on the Decline" spot before Tuesday night's 144-point eruption. The Pacers' shooting percentages were poor, as was their tempo — scoring 82.5 a game and shooting just 35 percent their last two games. Perhaps Indiana is finally doing something with its time off. The team is in the middle of a five-game stretch that lasts a ridiculous 13 days. Before the 144-point game, the Pacers last played on Friday, and they don't play again this week until a Friday tilt at home against Houston.
Someone has to win: Charlotte is at Toronto tonight in a game in which the two teams have combined to lose their last eight — Toronto five in a row and Charlotte three. The Bobcats have the worst scoring offense at 89.9 points a game, while the Raptors are eighth-worst in the league in allowing 104.1 a game.
Rematch: The Bucks were ousted in last year's playoffs by the Atlanta Hawks and come back to Atlanta with a little momentum tonight. Milwaukee blew out the Knicks Tuesday, fell by six to undefeated New Orleans, defeated Indiana by four and lost to Boston in OT. Meanwhile, Atlanta, which started off 6-0 before losing its last two, has defeated only one playoff team — a LeBron-less Cavaliers squad — this season.