While most sports fans have been completely focused on football lately, the NBA just wrapped up its second week of play. Most teams have already played six to eight games and some early season trends have started to develop. Media outlets have made sure to cover LeBron James and the Cavaliers’ early season struggles, so here are three other teams that will be interesting to follow as this season progresses.
Miami Heat: With LeBron’s departure to Cleveland this summer, everyone expected this team to take a step back this season. After their first seven games it appears that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Heat are 5-2 and playing as well as ever. Under head coach Erik Spoelstra, they still move the ball extremely well on offense (third in assists per game) and play tough defense (eleventh in the league in points allowed per game). Chris Bosh has looked like a monster so far; he is averaging over 23 points and ten rebounds a game, reminding people how good he can be when he is the focal point of an offense like he was in Toronto. Furthermore, many people overlooked the offseason addition of Luol Deng to fill LeBron’s spot in the lineup. Deng is a great defender and a more than capable scorer who had 30 points in a win over Dallas this weekend and is averaging over 15 points per game. Dwyane Wade is still a great scorer and many of the other players have been on this team for multiple NBA Finals trips. Even without LeBron, Miami is not a team to be taken lightly this year.
Sacramento Kings: The Kings have been bottom feeders in the Western Conference for years now, and no one predicted that to change this year. However, they have jumped out to a surprising 5-2 start. DeMarcus Cousins continues to put up gaudy numbers with 23 points per game and over 11 rebounds per game. The whole team has been crushing people on the glass, leading the league with over 47 rebounds per game. Rudy Gay is having a nice year, scoring over 22 points per game. Darren Collison has filled in more than ably for the departed Isaiah Thomas and the whole bench looks better this year. They are also playing better defense, something with which this team has struggled mightily in the past. It will be fun to see if this hot start is a fluke or if this team has actually turned a corner and can contend for a playoff spot in the West.
Oklahoma City Thunder: The term “injury bug” has never been more applicable to a team than the 2014-15 Oklahoma City Thunder. In October, last year’s MVP Kevin Durant broke his right foot. He hasn’t played a game yet this season and will likely be out another 6-8 weeks. The attention shifted to superstar point guard Russell Westbrook, looking to see if he could carry this team without Durant. That test didn’t last very long, as Westbrook broke his right hand in the second game of the season and is expected to miss another month. As if that wasn’t bad enough, role players Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones III have all missed some time this season with minor injuries.
The team has struggled early on, limping out to a 2-5 record. Mark Cuban made some waves in the media last week suggesting that it might be worth it for the Thunder to tank this season and reload next year. Tanking is a legitimate strategy in the NBA, but in this scenario, I don’t agree. Durant and Westbrook are two stars in their primes, and I don’t think it’s worth wasting a year of those primes on tanking when both should return before Christmas. Some of the other guys are coming back from injury now and they will have a better chance to compete. The injuries to Westbrook and Durant give the role players more responsibility on both sides of the ball and that experience could go a long way should OKC find themselves in the playoffs. They have had depth problems in past postseasons, so I would play hard with these guys for a month and a half and hope that they are all that much better once Durant and Westbrook return.