Certain teams started out the season like they were supposed to: The Lakers are undefeated, while the Heat and Celtics are 4-1. Meanwhile some other teams have surprised us. There were big question marks about the Hawks, Hornets and Blazers heading into the season and all three have gotten off to a much better start than expected.
The Hawks steadily improved through each year of Coach Mike Woodson’s six-year tenure, culminating with three straight playoff appearances and an impressive 53-win season in 2009-10. In light of ownership’s decision to let Woodson go and the absence of any spectacular improvements to the roster, Atlanta’s future seemed tenuous. But since former assistant coach Larry Drew took over the reigns, his talented bunch (led by nine-year veteran Joe Johnson who’s averaging 19.6 PPG) have come out of the gates flying to five straight wins to lead the Eastern Conference.
Afflicted by injuries, superstar point guard Chris Paul was only able to play in 45 games last year, and his Hornets had to settle for a disappointing 37-win season. With Chris Paul’s rehabilitation ongoing this summer, all the speculation surrounding rumors that he would demand a trade, and the firing of Coach Byron Scott, New Orleans was bracing for another touch-and-go season.
But CP3 stayed, and in his first NBA campaign Head Coach Monty Williams has gotten off to an excellent start. Boasting a perfect 4-0 record, the Hornets trail the champion Lakers by just one win. And their future looks bright as Paul appears back to form, averaging over 35 PPG and 9 assists for fifth in the league.
Touted as the next big thing just a few years back, the Trail Blazers were plagued with injuries last season. 13 players combined to miss 311 games including Joel Przybilla, Greg Oden and Brandon Roy. Considering Portland is still without big men Oden and Przybilla, they have gotten off to a surprisingly solid start. Last night the Blazers came up just one point short of a win over Durant and the Thunder in overtime to put their record at 4-2.
The Blazers capitalized on a fortuitous opening season schedule, catching the Knicks, Suns and Clippers who are all struggling with subpar starts. Portland is getting a balanced attack from Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Andre Miller who work well together. And guys like Nicolas Batum are stepping up while they await the return of their bigs. Nate McMillan is an excellent coach. Having assisted Coach K and Team USA, he didn’t have much down time in the off-season but came back ready to go. Przybilla is targeting November 26 for his return to the lineup so if the Blaze can stay healthy, they should continue to contend.