The media and fans (particularly in New York) are always quick, way too quick, to jump to conclusions and predict downfalls based on small sample sizes. For the media, it’s ‘cuz they’re looking for stories. When Amar’e Stoudemire was asked earlier in the week if he thought that the reason Andrew Bogut elbowed him extra hard was due to him being slightly involved in Bogut’s injury the previous year. Stat’s reasonable response of “It’s possible” turned into a story of him claiming Bogut was purposefully out for payback. Likewise, with the Knicks at 2-5 and the Heat at 5-4, suddenly people are roaring that neither team is anywhere near as good as people had expected. Don’t buy it. Yet. It’s too early to know these things. And just like how we don’t have enough information to know what’s real and what’s memorex yet, you also need to take the Golden State Warrior’s marvelous .667 winning record and the Indiana Pacers being at .500 with a skeptical eye. Heck, I wouldn’t fault you for having two skeptical eyes either. Let’s look at each team to better understand what’s going on:
As always, lemme start with the caveat that I don’t like LeBron and I hope the Heat do suck all season. But I just don’t see that happening.
First, their four losses include two to the Boston Celtics, who when they’re dialed in are easily the best defensive team in the league. Another loss was a game against Utah where they were up by like 18 points, and the Jazz needed a miraculous career high 46 point game from Paul Millsap. We’re talking a guy who had gone 2-for-20 from the three-point line during his entire four year career, and then he hits 3-for-3 that night. If Miami’s scouting report was any good, it should’ve said: leave the dude wide open when he’s out there. Even that wasn’t enough, as he also happened to be in the right place at the right time to catch an airball and put it in the hoop at the last second as time expired to force overtime. In other words, we can chalk that game up to bad luck.
On the other hand, this is a team that demolished the Orlando Magic. The Magic had been playing great ball and had barely any new additions to their roster, so it’s not like they’re a team that needs time to get to know how to play together. To me, that one loss says more about Orlando’s championship chances than all four of the Heat’s four losses put together. There is no doubt that LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh need more time to gel and that they will get better. Yes, they might not improve enough to win rings this season, but we can bet good money that later on in the season there will be periods where they look much stronger than they have so far.
They most likely will still have trouble defending the paint (which is why I’m amazed that they haven’t done whatever it takes to sign Eric Dampier since the moment Charlotte let him go). However they currently rank 14th in points per game (versus their defense has actually kept their opponents to the 5th lowest point total). If that offense can improve, and even if the Big Two Plus Small One don’t develop better chemistry, just the return of Mike Miller will add a few more points to the scoreboard. Plus, based on the way they’ve played, Basketball-Reference.com says the Heat should actually have a 7-2 record. But things just haven’t fallen their way.
The Heat aren’t going to win 72 games as some ridiculous people predicted (sadly one of those is beloved former Knick coach Jeff Van Gundy who has to lose some luster for such a silly claim). But if you think their current win-loss record implies that they can no longer be considered one of the four most likely title contenders, then you probably think that whoever’s leading the marathon after twenty feet will probably win the race.
We talked about this yesterday. Yes, no one will confuse us for defensive juggernauts, but this year we already are in the top half (barely) and should be able to maintain that level. No, that doesn’t mean we’re championship material, but it’s a huge, huge, huge step up from last year. So anyone who says we’re just as bad this season on the defensive end, clearly they ain’t watching the team. But I don’t see us getting much better on that side either. Except, as I mentioned yesterday, if we cut down on our turnovers, that will prevent the other team from getting quite as many easy baskets.
But we clearly have worlds of space to improve on offense. C’mon, with Mike D’Antoni as our coach, it would be shocking if we didn’t get better on that side of the court. Anthony Randolph may never get a clue, Kelenna Azubuike might not get healthy enough to play a single minute all year long, but the chemistry between Stat, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari and Toney Douglas will most guaranteedly get smoother.
Don’t get me wrong, I predicted the team would be around .500, and more likely to be slightly under that rather than over. But considering that could get them into the playoffs and where we were the previous years, that’s a nice ol’ leap forward. And remember, even if we don’t land big guys like Melo or CP3 in the summer, we’ll still be losing Eddy Curry’s $11.3 million salary which would, worst-case scenario, at least allow us to add more supporting characters. Someone, like our old pal Jamal Crawford, could be brought in for say $8 mill/year. It won’t make us contenders, but it might make us able to contend for a top four spot in the East.
Their record would tie them for third best in the east, but don’t expect that to remain all season. You think the Knicks are bad at defense? Golden State has the 22nd worst defensive rating and they allow opponents to score the 25th most points. According to Basketball-Reference.com, their record should be 4-5 not 6-3. You might counter that they’ve made up for their defensive liabilities by being an offensive juggernaut, but the truth is that their offensive rating is just the 11th best in the league. Three of their wins, one each against the Clippers, Raptors and Houston, were against the three worst teams in the league. Those guys are a combined 3-21. They’ve only beat one team that sits above .500, the Utah Jazz, although the Jazz were just at .500 when Golden State beat them, plus the Jazz started the season looking awful before their last two stunning comeback wins against the Heat and Magic. So yes, unless the Warriors can rig it so that 6 out of every 9 games they play is against teams with losing records (as their first 9 games have been), I can’t seem them maintaining anywhere near this pace.
They sit at .500, but it’s worth noting that two of their three victories have been over two teams (Charlotte and Philadelphia) that are tied for the 5th worst record in the league. Also worth noting is that a few days after beating that Sixers team, they lost to them in the rematch. Their only worthwhile win was the much talked-about one against the Denver Nuggets where they only missed one shot during the entire third quarter and thus scored 54 points in that period alone. I think we can all agree that there’s no way that happens again. Heck, chances are no team in the league duplicates such a feat during the next decade or four.
Half the Pacers’ games have been against teams with records of .250 or worse. That also isn’t gonna keep on happening. That said, it is still so early, that it’s hard to tell if the Pacers will be much worse than their current .500 record. Even before they went insane in that infamous third quarter, the Pacers had already slightly won each of the first two quarters in that game. They, like the Knicks, Heat and Warriors, made some major personnel changes this summer. It will take a little while for their new point guard Darren Collison to truly gel with the rest of his teammates. Maybe they’ll be able to regularly beat the sub-.500 teams. That might put them on a collision course with the Knicks for that final playoff spot in the east. But with such a small sample size, it should be clear that it’s impossible to predict how any of these teams will look by the end of the season.