Never mind that the playoffs won’t begin for nearly six months. It’s never too soon to leap to conclusions about what we know — or think we know — one week into the 2012-13 regular season.
Knicks: Just when it became fashionable to trade in those blue and orange jerseys for the black and white of Brooklyn, the Knicks roll out their best start in team history, not only going 3-0, but also winning every game by at least 16 points. Nobody’s breaking out the countdown charts until Carmelo Anthony and his buddies run down the historic 72-10 record of the Bulls. But as long as the Knicks keep sharing the ball and the likes of Ronnie Brewer, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni give big man Tyson Chandler help with their defense on the perimeter, they’re for real. At least until Amar’e Stoudemire comes back to mess with the chemistry. Suddenly the Eastern Conference is about more than sniping between the Heat and Celtics. We all know the real bad blood is N.Y. vs. Miami with Jeff Van Gundy hanging onto Alonzo Mourning’s ankle.
Lakers: The NBA’s combination of longest-running soap opera/situation comedy of the past two decades has always been the ride on the day-to-day roller coaster of the Lakers. It’s part of the DNA of Angelenos to panic anytime their team loses two in a row and this season an 0-3 start hit the hysterical jackpot. Yes, Mike Brown will be under more microscopes than a newly discovered germ at the CDC and, yes, it will matter that soon-to-be-39-year-old Steve Nash is ambulatory for the postseason and it would help if their bench wasn’t paper thin. Still every team in the West outside of the Thunder and Spurs would trade its roster for a confused Dwight Howard and an aging Kobe Bryant. They’re not dead yet, but their breathing is labored.
James Harden: Look, LeBron James already has a shelf full of MVP trophies and is concentrating on chasing down Michael Jordan for his six championships. So wouldn’t it be simpler to just acknowledge right now that The Beard is unstoppable. It was never a secret that Harden was talented and explosive. But popping in 37 and 45 in his first two games with the Rockets and leading the league in scoring at 35.3 has been like scrapping the velvet off a painting of dogs playing poker and to find a Rembrandt hiding underneath.
Thunder: Hadn’t everyone maybe been asking the wrong question about whether Harden could thrive in an environment where he wasn’t getting help and cover from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook? Without Harden making up for a myriad of mistakes and handling the ball in crunch time in OKC, it’s the Thunder’s bad chemistry that might threaten to blow up the lab. The absence of Harden seems to be bringing out the worst of Westbrook’s habits again. They’re barking at each other on the floor, snapping in huddles and hardly looking like the happy bunch of kids that was supposed to be climbing the gym set ladders to multiple championships less than five months ago.
Damian Lillard/Anthony Davis: The hype machine rolled in from the Las Vegas Summer League and said the rookie point guard from Weber State would blow right past No. 1 pick Anthony Davis for Rookie of the Year. There has been little to dislike about Lillard, who knows where he wants to be on the floor and gets there. He sets up his teammates. He fearlessly makes shots. He is everything that the rebuilding — again — Trail Blazers need. But when you watch Davis rebound, defend and knock down shots from that Tim Duncan mid-range area, you have to acknowledge that it’s only a concussion that’s stopped him so far. By the end of the season, Lillard will be nipping at his heels, but Davis will still be the choice cut here.
Spurs: The best one-liner of the young season to date came from Tony Parker when he was asked by veteran reporter Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News if he was surprised that the Spurs had never before opened a season 4-0 in their 40-year history. Parker: “Were you here for all 40 years?” When the laughing stopped, it was time to remember that as long as coach Gregg Popovich astutely manages the minutes of his Big Three again, the ageless Spurs will win 50 games for an amazing 16 years in a row and be a favorite to get back to the Western Conference finals. The 36-year-old Duncan looks positively spritely — ask Durant — averaging 19.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots in 31.5 minutes per game.
Clippers: With the Lakers struggling, the door is wide open for the little brothers of Staples Center. But they’re going to have to get serious about coming to play at the start of games and actually look like they give a hoot. Blake Griffin has appeared uncomfortable, confused much of the time. While Jamal Crawford delivers, veteran pickups Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes add nothing. Dropped their last two at home to non-contenders Golden State and Cleveland. This evidently is why they will always be the little brothers.
Kyrie Irving: While there’s been so much attention on this year’s race, the 2012 Rookie of the Year has lost none of the sparkle off his game. Irving’s numbers — 23.8 points, 6.0 assists per game — have been transcendent. If Dion Waiters can continue to produce at his early rate, it might not be long before the Cavs twosome forces their way into conversations about the top backcourts in the league.
Heat: Save the best for last. That post-hurricane blackout in N.Y. notwithstanding, this is all still a race where everybody else is chasing the defending champs. Now that LeBron James has made his breakthrough for his first championship, it’s almost like we’re watching a different player, someone who had been held underwater for so long and finally came up for air. Now the Heat appear intent on going back-to-back, knowing it is the real measure of greatness in today’s league. The additions of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis create matchup problems and decisions for opposing defenses that are simply cruel. If there is one thing we know for sure after just one week it’s that its still all about Miami.