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Pulse of the NBA
By Andy Roth, Contributing Editor
New York, NY (Sports Network) - Off and running.
With a little more than a week of the NBA regular season in the books, here are some quick observations around the league:
Even if Derrick Rose returns to his old form, I still think the Bulls will sorely miss Nate Robinson's ability to create his own shot and break down the defense. It was an awful decision not to re-sign Robinson, who was a major reason why the Bulls managed to upset the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last season. And the decision looks even worse because the Denver Nuggets got Robinson at an incredibly reason price, with a two-year, $4.1 million contract.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
The Lakers are operating at an obvious handicap right now with the absence of Kobe Bryant, but they also are dealing with a coach who's been clueless in delegating minutes. Most teams' best players usually play about 35 minutes per game, but Mike D'Antoni is only giving Pau Gasol 27 per game. And then there's the case of Jordan Hill, who is a tenacious defender and a guy who loves to crash the boards, especially the offensive glass, yet he's playing just 14.4 minutes per game. To put HIll's rebounding prowess in perspective. he's averaging three offensive rebounds per game in his limited minutes, while Dwight Howard is averaging 3.8 in 33.6 minutes and Kevin Love is pulling down 2.8 per game in 36.5 minutes.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Chris Paul is playing like an MVP (26.5 points per game, 13.3 assists per game, 52 percent field goal shooting), but Blake Griffin doesn't seem to have improved his mid-range or low-post game, and if that's the case, the Clippers won't be serious contenders in the West. And despite a 3-1 start under new coach Doc Rivers, the Clips have been horrible defensively, giving up a league- worst 112.5 points per game.
A former Clipper is a big reason why the Suns are off to a surprising 3-1 start. Eric Bledsoe, who was dealt from the Los Angeles Clippers to Phoenix in the offseason, is making the most of his new opportunity and his first crack as a full-time starter. The fourth-year guard is averaging 22.8 points, 7.8 assists and 5.8 rebounds per game and is shooting 50 percent from the floor. I thought the Clippers made a huge mistake in dealing such a talented young player, but L.A.'s loss is Phoenix's gain.
An ankle injury limited Deron Williams to 10 minutes of playing time in the exhibition season, and his time has been limited in the early going, averaging just 25 minutes per game. The three-time All Star doesn't appear in peak form yet and has had a couple of ugly games. But, make no mistake about it, the Nets must have Williams play at the level he did with the Utah Jazz if they hope to make some serious noise in the playoffs.
Lance Stephenson was a nice surprise for the Pacers last season in their run to the Eastern Conference Finals, and his early start could make it difficult for coach Frank Vogel to sacrifice his minutes when Danny Granger is expected to return from his calf injury in two weeks. Stephenson, now in his fourth year in Indiana, has really upped his game right now and has played a major role in the Pacers' 4-0 start. He's averaging 16.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.8 assist, and is also one of the reasons why Indiana is the league leader in opponents' points allowed at just 85.5 per game and opponents' field goal percentage at 37.9 percent.
Enough about Stephenson, because I can't write about the Pacers without mentioning Paul George, who has arguably been the best player in the league. He's second in the league in scoring at 27 points per game, while shooting 53 percent from the field and 45 percent on 3-pointers. He's done a great job on the boards, pulling down 8.8 rebounds per game, and has played like an all- league defender. Prior to the season, the prevailing thought was that the Pacers and Bulls were pretty much on the same level and it would be a dog fight for the Central Division title, but I have a feeling Indiana will be the clear- cut better team.
The Grizzlies recently signed small forward Quincy Pondexter to a four-year, $14 million contract extension. Now, I'm waiting for new head coach Dave Joerger to make the obvious decision and give Pondexter the majority of the minutes at the three over the washed-up Tayshaun Prince. Pondexter was one of the few bright spots in last season's four-game playoff sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in the West Finals, averaging 15.3 points per game, while shooting 54 percent from the field and 48 percent on 3-pointers.
With their shocking three-game winning streak to start the season, it looks like the Sixers will make the odds makers look bad and easily top the over/under total of 16.5 wins. The other good news is that Michael Carter- Williams, who looked awful in summer league and exhibition play, has come out of the starting gate a completely different player and looks like he'll be a serious challenger for NBA Rookie of the Year honors. He's playing with so much more confidence, and his size and length are going to be major assets.
I wouldn't read anything into the Heat's early season struggles, which includes a loss to a far inferior Sixers' team. Dwyane Wade has a simple explanation for their lackluster play.
"If you're in a relationship with a woman for a long time, you start getting comfortable," Wade said. "You stop doing the little things that you should do, that you did in the beginning. It's just like a relationship. We got a little comfortable. Now we have to get back on that edge a little bit."
Even during the Heat's 27-game winning streak last season, they came out flat and had to rally from large deficits on a number of occasions, so seeing some of their early season efforts is no surprise. And keep in mind, this is also a team that come playoff time plays up to the level of urgency of a game, and doesn't always come with an "A" effort.
The Magic are playing with a lot of enthusiasm and energy and may not be the pushovers they were last season. Two of Orlando's youngest players, Victor Oladipo and Andrew Nicholson, have played a key role in the improved play.
Oladipo, who was the second overall pick in the draft, brings it on both ends of the floor and plays with a lot of confidence, as evidenced by his 14-point second-half performance Sunday as the Magic pulled away for a blowout win over the Nets. Oladipo has to do a much better job of taking care of the ball (4.5 turnovers per game), but I think that will come as he gains more experience. I also expect the rookie of the year race to come down to Oladipo and Michael Carter Williams.
As for Nicholson, the second-year forward put in a lot of time in the gym in the summer working on his jump shot, especially extending his range, and the early results have been great. He's averaging 14.3 points per game in just 23.8 minutes and is shooting 53.4 percent from the field and 36.4 percent on 3- pointers after failing to take a 3-point shot his entire rookie season.
11/06 12:34:37 ET