HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — A month into most any relationship you should have some ideas about who and what you are dealing with, per our good friend Dr. Phil.
There shouldn’t be any surprises after that first month, no skeletons tumbling out of the closet and basically what you see by then is what you get.
So why are we still struggling to figure out certain teams around the league?
And no, we’re not talking about the usual suspects around here (we’re giving the Heat, Lakers, Celtics and Clippers the day off). There are other teams that astound us (in good ways and bad) that are tough to make sense of on the eve of Thanksgiving.
So welcome to Hang Time’s Mystery Team Theater, where we try to make sense of teams that continue to puzzle us:
Last 10 Games: 7-3
The Skinny: They needed their highest scoring fourth quarter of the season, and yet another sterling performance from Dirk Nowitzki, to slide past the Pistons. We watched them take apart the suddenly hapless Hawks Saturday night. But there’s something about this team that makes us think they’re going to be a major (dark horse) factor in the Western Conference playoff mix. All the work done in the offseason to beef up the bench seems to have worked. That Brendan Hawyood-Tyson Chandler combo at center also presents a very interesting challenge for a team like the Lakers or Spurs, if these teams were to meet up in the postseason. Back to the here and now, though. Rick Carlisle‘s teams are always good on the defensive end and he has a knack for pushing underrated teams to surpass expectations. For reasons we cannot figure out, few people consider this team a contender in the Western Conference. We’d like to go on record now about this team: they are going to spoil someone’s postseason plans (in much the same way their have been spoiled in recent years by Golden State and New Orleans).
NEXT UP: Dallas at Oklahoma City, tonight at 8 p.m. ET
Last 10 Games: 4-6
The Skinny: If we can’t count on a Larry Brown-coached team to defend at a high level (regardless of personnel) and to play the game the “right way,” then nothing is sacred in the game these days. The Bobcats don’t seem particularly interested in doing any of these days. One night, they’re a lockdown defensive team and then the next, they’re trying to outrun someone. It just doesn’t make sense for this team to do anything but grind the way it did last season — especially considering its personnel. With leaders like Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace, you wouldn’t expect this team to be going through the sort of identity crisis that is sure to land them back in the lottery just one season after their playoff breakthrough. But unless something changes dramatically by the February trade deadline, we have no reason to believe that these Bobcats will do anything other than sway from side to side as the season goes on. They simply do not have a defensive anchor inside for Brown to build around.
NEXT UP: New York at Charlotte, tonight at 7 p.m. ET
Last 10 Games: 6-4
The Skinny: With or without Steve Nash, the Suns’ most glaring problems — defense and rebounding — persist. When you had Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire as your 1-2 offensive punch with all those shooters around them, you could just outrun people. But that dynamic no longer exists and the Suns have yet to come up with an alternative that provides similar results. We are still firm believers in the 10-man rotation philosophy that worked so well for coach Alvin Gentry last season. It’s the 10 men that don’t seem to be working out so well. Hedo Turkoglu‘s scoring numbers (10.6) are at a seven-year low and the bench mob of Goran Dragic, Hakim Warrick, Jared Dudley and Josh Childress (with Channing Frye in the mix when Robin Lopez is healthy) is not outplaying opposing benches the way we expected. It’s clear we have to reconsider our own lofty expectations for this Suns team (we had them as a surefire playoff team with a chance to sneak in and steal a top-five slot).
NEXT UP: Chicago at Phoenix, tonight at 9 p.m. ET
Last 10 Games: 7-3
The Skinny: There is nothing more entertaining than a supremely talented team struggling to find its motivation. And make no mistake about it, these Magic are one of the three most talented teams in the league — and are a group rarely spoken about around these parts. They went flat in the Eastern Conference finals last season against Boston and it’s like we’re all scared to take them seriously since then. It certainly doesn’t help the cause when Dwight Howard and his boys fail in measuring-stick games — the Heat routed them by 26 points in Round 1 of the Sunshine State Classic in Miami on Halloween weekend, the Jazz stunned them with a monster comeback win Nov. 10 and the Spurs handled them Monday night. Tonight’s rematch against the Heat in Orlando provides the perfect opportunity for Stan Van Gundy’s team to show us that they are free of the psychodrama that has plagued them since the Eastern Conference finals.
NEXT UP: Miami at Orlando, 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN