Now, obviously it's early. Injuries can happen and "New Places in New Places" can settle in with their new home. But we're a little over a quarter of the way through the season and it's included a few pleasant surprises, mostly non-Laker related. So let's put this in review...
Here's what I (along with most basketball fans) thought this season would fold out: 5 teams, Lakers, Cavaliers (sorta), Celtics, Magic, and Spurs. all would have a great chance of winning it all. The Lakers were the defending champions, had picked up Ron Artest, and looked like they had a great chance of repeating. The Cavaliers boasted the reigning MVP and Coach of the Year as well as a former champ and MVP in the Big WItness. The champs of two years ago were starving to get back in the mix after making a nice run with an injured Kevin Garnett so they decided to pick up Rasheed Wallace as well as a few other nice roll players. The defending Eastern conference champs were coming off a (not so) surprising run to the Finals where they gave the Lakers (and their fans : ) ) quite a few scares. They lost Hedo Turkoglu but replaced him with (a personal non-Laker favorite of mine) Vince Carter. The Spurs had arguably the busiest off-season with a solid draft, and some great free agents including Richard Jefferson. LeBron was the favorite to win the MVP fairly easily while the Lakers met either the Magic or C's in the finals.
Some of those predictions are still accurate. But when you look at the standings you'll find some surprises in both conferences. At the top, in addition to 4 of the 5 big guns, you'll find Denver, Dallas, Phoenix in the West, and Atlanta in the East. 3 of those teams aren't incredibly surprising but I was shocked to see Steve Nash and Phoenix above the bottom 4 of the playoffs and playing well against (and beating) teams like Boston and Orlando. I guess that Run-and-Gun really makes a difference. It'll be interesting to see how some of these teams perform in the playoffs.
Near the bottom of the West playoffs you'll find a familiar foe in the San Antonio Spurs. If you haven't been following them, injuries to Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, and Michael Finley have slowed them down and with all the offseason moves, they may be struggling to figure out their game. Another rival of ours in the Portland Trail Blazers has been plagued by injuries, including Greg Oden, Rudy Fernandez, Travis Outlaw, Nicolas Batum, and even their coach, Nate McMillan and therefore is barely hanging on to the eighth playoff spot.
Some other Western Conference teams to keep an eye on include Kevin Durant and the young Thunder who sit right outside the playoffs, our old friend Trevor Ariza and the (very) surprising Rockets, who sit at the 5th step of the western conference ladder, and the Utah Jazz who just refuse to win on the road.
Ever since the MVP wound up in LeBron's hands last year, I was expecting to see the same image this year with a few "challengers" but no real threat. The Cavaliers' often criticized system of offense has given LeBron, Oscar-esque stats. And despite the thoughts that the Cavs can't hang with the Lakers, C's , and Magic, they don't seem to fall to the the mediocre teams. and the equation: Stats + Great Record = MVP would seem to make LeBron the easy favorite. But the Lakers own the best record in the league and Kobe has earned the second highest scoring average and has become nba.com's MVP race's early frontrunner for three straight weeks. In addition, some past or future MVP's such as Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, and Carmelo Anthony have surprised quite a few and thrown their names into the MVP hat.
There have been some other stories this year, such as the rookie success of Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans, the record-breaking suckiness of the New Jersey Nets, and the ever- entertaining saga that is Allen Iverson. One last thing: here are the all-star votes so far. We've discussed T-mac but do you have any other thoughts on either team's starters or non-starters?
A good laugh to start your Chrstmas week and to remember when Shaq was dawning purple and gold: