Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Give us a team that is finally ready to break out? Which team has its best days behind it already?
Fran Blinebury: Assuming Steve Nash stays healthy, it’s got to be the Lakers. They surely can’t disappoint more. Though over in the Eastern Conference, when Derrick Rose comes back, the Bulls go from feisty and tough to truly threatening again. As far as the team that’s already peaked, I’m going with the Knicks. Won’t this be the 40th straight year they’ve let the NY media down by not defending that 1973 championship?
Jeff Caplan: Improvement: How can this be any team but the Lakers simply as a product of their 9-14 start? Steve Nash has a way of putting smiles on people’s faces. Best days behind: NYK. Hey, I still like the Knicks, but the law of averages is catching up. I mean, they weren’t going to make half their 3s all season. It’s an old team and I can’t see them winning at their early season pace. Are they a top 4 team in the East? Absolutely. Do they challenge the Heat for the No. 1 seed as they have for the first third of the season? Sorry, but no.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Most improvement: For a statistical turnaround, it’s New Orleans. Anthony Davis is back, Eric Gordon appears close to coming back, and that is not a roster that finishes with 15 wins as long as Gordon lasts in the lineup. But for real acceleration, it’s Minnesota. Ricky Rubio is back and likely headed for an increase in playing time, and Brandon Roy may return soon as well in another boost for a roster hit hard by injuries. Best days behind: Sorry to say Houston. Great story with a plus-.500 record amid tragedy and an early roster shakeup, but it’s hard to imagine the pace holding unless the Rockets do better on defense and with taking care of the ball.
John Schuhmann: The obvious answer to the first question is the Lakers. Not only did they just get Steve Nash back, but their point differential (+4.2 per 100 possessions) is that of a team much better than 14-14. Denver is another clear candidate because of the brutal, road-heavy schedule they’ve had thus far. And I think Brooklyn will eventually get things together. For the second question, I can’t help but look at the Knicks, because I really think that Amar’e Stoudemire can only hurt them. I still believe in them as the second best team in the East, but just not as unstoppable offensively as they’ve been.
Sekou Smith: If Steve Nash stays healthy, no team has the room to improve that the Lakers do. There is just too much firepower and so much ground to be made up (14-14 through Christmas is not what the natives had in mind for their beloved Lakers). They have true title-contender talent but have not played up that standard so far, though their five-game win streak is a decent start.
As for the the crew that we’ll see sailing in the wrong direction, and you hate to put this tag on anyone, but the Brooklyn Nets don’t have the look of a team on the rise. Between the rumblings about the offense from the face of the franchise to the fact that every time the Nets are presented with an opportunity to prove they belong on the big stage they fall off the stage (the latest disappointment being their work against the Celtics on Christmas), little has gone well. It just seemed like there was a lot to work with in Brooklyn; the offseason acquisitions, all of the hype surrounding the move to Brooklyn and the fact that, on paper, there aren’t three teams in the Eastern Conference with better raw materials to work with. But the forecast just doesn’t look good from here.