THE JAZZ KEEP ON WINNING
Well, if the thought was that Andrei Kirilenko’s injury would stop the victory train in Salt Lake City, so much for that theory.
The Jazz is now 9-1 after sweeping the week with wins over the Los Angeles Clippers, Seattle SuperSonics and Phoenix Suns. I watched at least the decisive quarter of all three of these contests, and if you’re still denying this team’s start, you must stop.
This team is good.
I still believe they’re too young to be taken seriously as title contenders, but there’s no doubt they’re headed towards great things soon if they stay healthy.
One thing that immediately jumps out at you about the Jazz is hustle. This week alone, Utah pulled down 45 offensive rebounds in three games. 45!! I don’t care what kind of roster you have, if you’re pulling down 15 offensive rebounds a game, you’re going to win a lot of games.
Deron Williams continues to be the genuine surprise of the young season. He has been absolutely outstanding. Williams spent time in the off-season learning from John Stockton, and suddenly, he’s playing like him. In addition, Williams is comfortable with his teammates, especially old Illini friends Dee Brown and Roger Powell, and that comfort has translated onto the court. He’s also emerging as the team’s go-to scorer down the stretch, hitting clutch buckets against Seattle and Phoenix to put games away.
One other reason for Williams’ and the Jazz success this year has been the addition of Derek Fisher to the roster. Fish knows how to lead in the locker room, and he knows a thing or two about winning from his time in Los Angeles. His veteran leadership will only make this team stronger the more they keep winning.
I could go on and on about how well Utah is playing, with Matt Harpring contributing huge off the bench and Paul Millsap doing all of the little things, but I don’t want this to be a weekly feature. If they keep winning in the fashion they have been, I may not have a choice.
PHOENIX CAN’T CLOSE TEAMS OUT
I still believe the Suns will figure this out, but they’re inability to finish teams off is becoming distressing.
Phoenix completely collapsed on the road in Utah on Saturday night. They blew a 16-point lead and did so in an incredibly sloppy manner. On two separate occasions Saturday night, Phoenix fouled Mehmut Okur while in the act of shooting 3s. Then, Leandro Barbosa missed not one, but two uncontested lay-ups. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Barbosa missed a lay-up that hurt the Suns in their loss to Utah in the first week of the season.
Blowing leads isn’t a new phenomenon for the Suns. They’ve always seemed to have trouble closing teams out, and I think a large part of it is their constant up-tempo style. The Suns almost never slow down and play a half court game. When behind, Phoenix can erase seemingly any lead due to their offensive bursts, but I’m beginning to wonder if the same tempo hurts them when they’re ahead.
All I know for sure is that Phoenix has lost the fourth quarter six out of nine times already this season, and only two can be attributed to garbage time. That’s not good news for a team with championship aspirations.
TIME TO PANIC IN MIAMI?
Anytime a team is blown out on their home floor by the New York Knicks, the question can be raised.
However, the Miami Heat may be in big trouble now that Shaquille O’Neal is out for an extended period of time.
The Heat is off to a not shocking 4-5 start, but what is surprising is how poorly they’ve played on their home floor. The Heat lost all three games in Miami this week, including two blowouts (to Houston and New York) and a surprising defeat to a depleted Denver Nuggets squad.
One of the main reasons Miami has struggled at AmericanAirlines Arena is the shooting woe of Antoine Walker. Employee #8 has hit a mere 6 of 34 shots from behind the arc at home, a heinous 18%.
Without Shaq, someone will need to help Dwayne Wade out offensively, so either Walker will have to start hitting his shots from deep or he’ll need to eliminate it from his game and become the dribble penetrating scorer he has proven he can be.
Regardless, times are tough on South Beach for now, and they don’t look like they’ll get any better anytime soon.
THE WESTERN CONFERENCE IS PRETTY GOOD
I bet the Hornets wish they had stayed in the East.
With Utah, Golden State and New Orleans off to great starts, what was surely going to be a crowded playoff picture appears as though it could include 12 of the 15 teams in the conference. At this point, only Memphis looks like a lock for the lottery.
If you have any doubt about how good this conference is in the first two weeks, Portland is 5-6 and no one is talking about them even though they’ve beaten the Lakers, Hornets and Nets convincingly, and they’ve done it without Brandon Roy.
Yes, it’s still early, and some teams will fall back to the pack, but teams in the West may have more competition than normal to get to the postseason. For example, Phoenix is currently looking up at 13 teams. Yikes!
-Dwight Howard put up yet another 20/20 night this week. That’s already two this season, and Orlando has won four in a row. They are certainly a team to keep both eyes on.
-Cleveland’s loss to Washington means I wasn’t totally right in my prediction that they’d go on a major tear, but the Cavaliers still look like the class of the East so far. LeBron is putting up King James-like numbers, and Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden are providing the help that Cleveland needs to be contenders.
-The Clippers got waxed in Utah on Tuesday night, but they’ve taken care of business when they’ve played at the Staples Center. The Clippers are 6-0 at home and 0-2 on the road so far. The Clip Show has four of their next five on the road, although one is Tuesday night against the Lakers in their home building. We’ll see if they can adjust to the different lighting.
-If the Bulls decide they need another big-time scorer, and Seattle can’t work out a contract extension with Rashard Lewis, wouldn’t he make sense in Chicago? Hmmm.