The National Basketball Association is back for a full season and in its first week, we've seen the previously-well-thought-of Los Angeles Lakers tumble out of the gates in an 0-3 start - though they currently sit at 1-3 - and their presumed opponents, and reigning NBA champions, Miami Heat continue their number one position in at least one poll.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, seemingly overlooked when the Lakers traded for Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, made shockwaves of their own, even before the NBA season began: by trading away James Harden a mere three days before Opening Day, the Thunder seemed to give up their prime position in a loaded Western Conference. Many analysts were confused why OKC would let such a great piece go, and the blistering pace of Harden's scoring in his new home with the Houston Rockets has increased that doubt. All that being said, the doubters can doubt, but the fact remains: Oklahoma City has looked impressive in merely one game of three, losing to San Antonio on a terrible misread on an end of game situation, and getting outplayed consistently by the Atlanta Hawks.
The flipside to OKC's youth in the Western Conference is San Antonio. The Spurs have one of three perfect records in the NBA currently, and have demonstrated their usual remarkable tenacity in the face of critics writing them off as too old to win it all. Tony Parker had a last-second shot go in for the win against Oklahoma City and the Spurs are second in the league in assists per game. Their fundamentals are going to be tested in a Western Conference that is loaded with power, but it looks like the Spurs are loading up again for another run, marking them as one of the most durable powers in the last decade plus.
Two years ago, the Dallas Mavericks won it all, but their season ended in ignominy last year, being swept by the Thunder in the first round. This year hasn't been predicted to be much better for them and they're beginning the season sans star Dirk Nowitzki, who's sidelined for the first 6 weeks of the season due to knee surgery. However, the Mavs surprised the NBA world when they took the Lakers down in their first game, and then lost to the on-the-cusp Utah Jazz. Since then, they've slapped around the Charlotte Bobcats and the Portland Trailblazers, two teams that are not currently thought of as playoff-teams. The Mavericks, then, might have a better season than some were guessing.
The other regional teams to root for are a tale of two cities: When the Phoenix Suns traded Steve Nash to the Lakers, it was a clear sign that this would be a rebuilding year for them. Three games into the short season, they've only won a single game, and the confidence in the team doesn't seem to be mounting. That being said, they do get to take on those same Bobcats the Mavs slaughtered, so maybe it'll be a confidence booster for this young team.
The other side of the coin is in Denver, where the Nuggets are one of the most talked-about teams in the league. Cries that they're the deepest team, they're a true threat to the powers in the West and even cursory talk of a Finals run are probably premature, but on paper, they do look like a lot of fun. They'll undoubtedly have one of the deepest teams in the league and they're sure to make plenty of highlight reels with the high-flying Andre Iguodala joining fan favorite Kenneth Faried and center JaVale McGee. All that praise aside, they've started the season in the same bade shape as the Suns, whom everyone predicted were going to be hard on their luck while they were singing the praises of Denver. The Nuggets sit at 1-3.
On the other side of the country, far from the not-so critical gaze of Albuquerque fandom, reside the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference, the team that Dwight Howard held hostage. The Magic were pegged as shoe-ins as one of the worst teams, but they only lost their first game last night. The Boston Celtics, a perennial challenger for the throne the last couple years, always seem to be forgotten about or dismissed as old - in this sense they have literally become the Spurs of the East - and this year promises to be no different. The Chicago Bulls are more than making do without superstar Derrick Rose, but the surprises of the Eastern Conference have to be the two other undefeated teams in the league, the New York Knicks and the conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks.
New York has seen a lot of the gloss taken off its team lately, with the arrival of Jay-Z's carnival at the Barclay's Center with the new-look Brooklyn Nets in tow. Despite resigning Deron Williams, though, the Nets have been perfectly mediocre in their two games so far, losing one and winning the other. They're last in the league in rebounds per game - they really wanted Dwight Howard - and they're 8th and 13th in points and assists per game, respectively.
The Nets may be a question mark, but the Knicks seem to be the answer. They've won both at home and on the road, against quality teams like the Miami Heat, as well as up and comers like the Philadelphia 76ers, both in Philly and at MSG. They're first in the league in points per game and, best of all, they have a travel-heavy schedule to begin the year, which means they'll have plenty of home games down the stretch.
Surprisingly, the backcourt duo of Brandon Jennings and Monte Ellis has proved perfect for the Bucks so far, guiding them to a record of 2-0. While some claimed the two would do too much hogging of the ball, they're leading the league in assits so far, and have played both the Celtics, representing the old guard, and the Cleveland Cavaliers, representing the up and comers. They won the two games by an average of 9 points, with the Cavs pushing them closer to an L. The Bucks look to make waves this year, crashing someone's dream in the Eastern Conference.
The NBA being back means the grind of an 82 game schedule, thanks to there not being a lockout this year. This can result in games being played in January, February, and, especially, March that people claim don't matter. But for all the teams that are hot now, there will be another team looking to make their push at that time. And for the teams that started out weak now, a few of them will have found their ways by then, and will be starting their march toward a strong postseason. Right now, despite all the back and forth, it looks like the title is Miami's to lose for the second year in a row.