NBA Early Season Surprises

By Jim Feist

Preseason prognosticators and
handicapping analysis focuses in on what they expect to happen, based on the
draft and offseason moves, but there are always surprises at the start of each
season. Here’s a look at some of the early NBA surprises, good, bad and ugly.
Nets: Welcome to Brooklyn! And they aren’t playing like Dem Bumbs from years
past, with the Nets off to a fine start. Brook Lopez, Andray Blatche and Kris
Humphries attack the paint while Joe Johnson and sparkplug guard Deron Williams
run the break, though what’s most surprising is their defense, second in the NBA
in points allowed. Two weeks ago they went into rival Boston and shut down the
Celtics, holding them to 83 points and winning despite playing their third game
in four nights. That was part of a sizzling 9-1-2 ATS run. Note that the Nets
are 19-5-2 under the total on the road.

Hawks: The young, athletic Hawks
battled injuries last season, but appear healthy and formidable early on this
season. On sheer depth and talent alone you can see why this team is playing so
well: Josh Smith, Zaza Pachulia and Al Horford in the frontcourt, Jeff Teague,
Kyle Korver and Louis Williams in the backcourt. This team is loaded with
offensive options (second in the NBA in assists), but what is most impressive is
the defense, sixth in points allowed. Are they ready to give the Miami Heat a
run for their money in the Southeast?

Thunder: No James Harden? No
problem! Oklahoma City surprised everyone by making it to the Finals last
season, then trading one of their talented young pieces just before the season
started. But they are not slowing down, off to a fast start in the West behind
Kevin Durant (26.5 ppg) and Russell Westbrook (21 ppg). Offense is not a problem
for this young group, No. 1 in scoring with a winning record both home and away.

They can play a slow, defensive style, too, with rebounders Serge Ibaka
and Kendrick Perkins. The Thunder is 16-3-2 ATS in their last 21 against the
Western Conference and 17-5 ATS in their last 22 after scoring 100 points or
more in their previous game. They picked up Kevin Harden from Houston in the
Harden trade and in the first meeting Durant had 37 points and the Thunder beat
Houston 120-98. It spoiled Harden’s return to Oklahoma City. The Thunder
outscored the Rockets by 21 points with Martin on the floor, while the Rockets
were outscored by 17 with Harden on the floor. Harden scored 17 points but was
limited to 3-for-16 shooting. He had six shots blocked by the Thunder.

Knicks: Two things stand out about the surprising Knicks: Carmelo
Anthony is playing some defense, and they are not turning the ball over. That is
why they are winning and allowing just 94 ppg, 8th best in the NBA. And that’s
not hurting their offense, which is Top 5 in scoring behind Anthony (26 ppg), JR
Smith and Ray Felton. The Knicks are 27-5 ATS at home and 20-7 ATS against a
team with a losing record.

This group has an imposing, veteran
frontcourt that could pay big defensive dividends in the spring with Rasheed
Wallace and Tyson Chandler. And don’t think they run it up against bad teams:
The under is 15-7 in the Knicks last 22 home games vs. a team with a losing road

Grizzlies: Where did these kids come from? Being Top 10 in the
NBA in scoring is impressive for this young team, but even more impressive is
their commitment to defense: No. 1 in the NBA in points allowed with just 90 per
game. Rudy Gay is healthy, Zach Randolph is a beast in the low post when his
mind is focused on playing, Marc Gasol is a handful, while Tony Allen and Mike
Conley anchor a deep and flexible backcourt. The Grizzlies are 34-16-1 ATS in
their last 51 games playing on no days rest.

The Grizzlies had a recent
stretch holding three straight opponents to 82 or fewer points: Cleveland scored
78 points, Toronto scored 82 and Detroit scored 78. Why is the important for
bettors? The under is 22-8 in the Grizzlies last 30 games following a win and
12-5 under the total in road games.

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