NBA: Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder & Chicago Bulls impress
Iarla Duignan takes a look at the sides to have impressed in a quarterly review of the shortened NBA season
The NBA season has passed the quarterly mark and there has been enough time to judge how each team has been performing in the shortened season.
1. Chicago Bulls (17-4)
No team has had to deal with injuries more so than the Bulls, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson have all been nursing problems. Now they have lost Luol Deng indefinitely with a wrist injury. They have dealt admirably so far, going 4-1 without their MVP star Rose before he returned against New York Knicks. All those wins came against teams with losing records. Tougher tests are to come; starting with this season’s first meeting with Miami Heat on Sunday.
2. Miami Heat (14-5)
A 9-1 record without Dwyane Wade has led to rumblings that the Heat are better without the star. Although that is ridiculous, it is true that LeBron James is better without his close friend. He has been other-worldly since Wade went over his ankle and with Chris Bosh at his best, the Heat haven’t skipped a beat. Their biggest enemies appear to be their own mentality as they struggle to stay focused against the lesser teams, exemplified by their ugly loss against to the Milwaukee Bucks last Sunday.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (16-3)
Despite having the best record in the league, the Thunder have slipped under the radar. Their young squad has dealt best with the schedule so far, going 10-1 in their last 11 games. Their only loss came against the worst team in the league, the Wizards, which cannot be overlooked. Russell Westbrook signed for another five years last week in a deal worth $80m so there is a lot to be optimistic about at the moment in Oklahoma.
4. Denver Nuggets (14-5)
The Nuggets are on a roll. They have won eight of their last nine games and five in a row away from home. Their run has included wins against the Heat and 76ers. They are stacked with talent and have become a much better squad since trading superstar Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks. No one will want to face them in the post-season.
5. LA Clippers (10-6)
The arrival of Chris Paul has changed the perception of LA’s perennial losers. They are expected to win now and he has led them to first in the Pacific division. An injury to Paul slowed them slightly but with him back, they will be looking to kick on. Wednesday’s feisty battle with neighbours Lakers showed how seriously they are been taken now and it looked like the start of a big rivalry.
6. Orlando Magic (12-7)
Two ugly losses to Boston Celtics this week has taken the shine off their start to the season. As long as they have Dwight Howard in the middle they cannot be overlooked in the play-offs. But with speculation always circulating, no one is sure he’ll be there for long.
7. Indiana Pacers (12-6)
Wednesday night’s win over the Bulls in Chicago showed the Pacers are for real. It was their second big win in a week, having beaten the Lakers as well. A gruelling upcoming schedule, including games against Miami, Orlando, Memphis and Denver will tell us more about the squad.
8. LA Lakers (11-9)
Pau Gasol asked for more shots – and he got them. It resulted in a huge win over the Clippers after three straight losses. They played like champions again. If they can continue to stay focused and with the same game plan, they will shoot up this list.
9. Philadelphia 76ers (14-6)
Three losses in their last seven games have slowed down the young squad leading the Atlantic division. Even with the losses, they have one of the surprises of the season. They play great defence and share the scoring load. Like the Pacers, a lot will be learned about them in the upcoming, which is brutal.
10. San Antonio Spurs (12-8)
The Spurs’ aging squad has been as expected in the lockout season some good, some bad. They have lost Manu Ginobili long-term but they have kept winning. Their away record is a worry at 2-7 and they cannot be taken seriously as contenders until they rectify their woes on the road.