Blogtable: Teams better than we thought

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe 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.

BLOGTABLE: Contenders’ concerns | What can Phil do? | Which team is better?

Dallas' Jose Calderon, Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion (Bart Young/NBAE)

Dallas’ Jose Calderon, Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion (Bart Young/NBAE)

> With 20 games left, which team stands out as better than you thought? How’d they get that way?

Steve Aschburner, Phoenix, I’m guessing, is the obvious answer here. But I’ll go another way, assuming the Suns get their due from others. I honestly didn’t expect Dallas to be as good as it has been. Monta Ellis? DeJuan Blair? Vince Carter? Devin Harris? The Mavericks’ roster looked like a garage sale to me, and I figured Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion for pretty big drop-offs. But Dallas’ shooting keeps it dangerous, the Mavs take care of the ball and Rick Carlisle has done swell work coaching them up. Their schedule toughens up – they’re under water against good teams – but you wanted a snapshot, not a projection.

Fran Blinebury, The obvious answer is the Suns.  Picked by the Vegas oddsmakers to win 21 games at the start of the season, rookie coach Jeff Hornacek has them at 36-27 and battling for a playoff spot in the very tough West with a diversified offense and an attitude that won’t quit.  But I’ll also admit that the Rockets have outperformed my expectations.  I thought they’d be a team to get home-court advantage in the first round, at best. But with a healthy Dwight Howard blending seamlessly with James Harden, and a supporting cast that loves playing together, they must be considered real contenders.

Toronto's DeMar DeRozan (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, The season-long answer is the Suns, but I’ll go with the more short-term feel-good story in Toronto. The Raptors have been outstanding since the Rudy Gay trade, and I’m not suggesting the trade is the cause of the upswing because I like Rudy. But it did unclog things on the floor and has allowed DeMar DeRozan to really emerge as a star-quality performer. They’ve bought into Dwane Casey‘s defense, they’re getting All-Star-worthy play from Kyle Lowry and Terrence Ross just might be a stud after all.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Easy: the Suns. Several new arrivals paid off — GM Ryan McDonough, coach Jeff Hornacek, Eric Bledsoe, Miles Plumlee, Gerald Green. Previous Suns improved — Markieff Morris, P.J. Tucker. Channing Frye returned. Goran Dragic played at an All-Star level. Phoenix defended at a high level for about the first half of the season. The surprising success has been the result of a collective effort.

John Schuhmann, The biggest surprise list starts with the Suns, but they’re such an obvious choice that I’ll note Dallas’ success. Given his past, I thought the Monta Ellis signing was destined to be a failure. But his more in-control pick-and-roll play has actually worked well with Dirk Nowitzki’s mid-range game. The Mavs’ defense hasn’t been very good (and that’s not a surprise), but their offense has been so efficient that they’re 11 games over .500, which is better than I thought they’d be.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThe Toronto Raptors, who still don’t get enough love for turning things around this year. They’ve been a completely different outfit since trading Rudy Gay, too often a victim of the they-really-are-better-since-he-left syndrome. But everyone, from All-Star swingman DeMar DeRozan and fireplug point guard Kyle Lowry and an underrated supporting cast to head coach Dwane Casey and especially general manager Masai Ujiri, deserve credit for believing in the collective strength and resilience of the group. It certainly helps to have a depressed Eastern Conference as your canvas. But the Raptors deserve credit for creating the season they have so far.

Lang Whitaker, All Ball blog: Dallas. After everyone else either made splashy moves or decidedly un-splashy moves (perhaps with an eye toward the 2014 Draft), the Mavs mostly stood pat, other than bringing in Monta Ellis and, as Mark Cuban explained, zagging when everyone else was wigging. And with Dirk Nowitzki and Rick Carlisle, guess what that brings? Yeah, another trip to the playoffs, at least it would appear. Everyone overlooked them, but here they are with weeks left in the season still part of the playoff picture. If the Western Conference is a shark tank, the Mavs are the shark.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: I pick the Bulls. I thought they were already planning for next season when they traded Luol Deng to Cleveland following Derrick Rose‘s season-ending injury, but they’re fourth in the East with a chance to finish third. Yes, the Eastern Conference is weaker than the West, but still. Tom Thibodeau did a heck of a job not allowing his players to give up, Joakim Noah emerged as one of the toughest players in the league, a big man who can score and grab rebounds while dishing out assists like no other big man can do. Hats off.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: If I say another team than the Blazers, then I’ll be lying. Portland has made a tremendous run so far. They’re at 42-22, they have the second-best offense in the league, they have been winning tough games with big shots… In other words they have everything. I didn’t see that coming. Also, I think that the Raptors and the Bobcats have upset (don’t forget the March Madness is about to start) the predictions, but the biggest surprise comes from Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Co.


  1. Kristofer Logan says:

    wow, how little of you said the portland trail blazers were the biggest surprise and better than you thought. so that means, that all of you predicted them to be the no. 5 seed in the western conference? from what i recall, all bloggers didn’t even predict them to make the playoffs. don’t get me wrong, the suns, raptors, and even the bulls (c’mon now, no one thought they’d be this good w/o d-rose) are all doing surprisingly well and better than expected but i don’t see how any team comes close to the newfound success of the blazers…oh and by the way, the blazers got hosed on the calls in both the dallas and houston losses 😦

  2. ReppinRaps says:

    Toronto, Phoenix and Portland

  3. some dude says:

    Raptors, then suns then bulls

  4. yoel says:

    I love the “new” raptors and obviously the suns are performing, but I’d pick btw the BOBCATS.

    They keep going better and better and finally their roster is beginning to make sense.
    They’ve won big games and they’re upsetting many contenders.

    Despite Lebron’s 62, also they have shown great defence during the year.

    If they choose well in this fortunate ’14 draft they will finally have the chance to prove themselves as a true team.

    Funny enough, from next year they won’t be anymore the bobcats…

  5. BigDadGuy says:

    if this topic was up before the All Star break, it would be Portland. Since then Blazers have gone into a tailspin and now they’re falling in the standings. I also like what the Suns have done. Jeff Hornecek has done wonders with that team and is the odds on fave to win COTY.

  6. AnnoYouLater says:

    Portland of course…they are having a bad stretch right now cuz of the injury of LA and now just beginning to pick up his groove but from not getting to the play play off last season to fighting for the best record and beating TOP teams right now and that was without totally changing their team last season is really surprising…

  7. Muzgun says:

    RaPTORS for sure!

  8. JM says:

    I would say the Suns are better than most people thought. Even I was surprised to see them compete for a playoff spot. If they make the playoffs, it would be one of the best stories in the NBA.

  9. Number 13 says:

    Hornacek deserves Coach of the Year. With Bledsoe coming back, I think the Suns can finish strong and secure a playoff spot.

  10. dustydreamnz says:

    The Suns, they are an inspirational team of ‘no names’ with a rookie coach and rookie GM who were picked by most to finish 15th in the West. Currently they are 9th and have been as high as 6th.
    They’ve got a big chance of making the playoffs against all odds.

  11. Zach says:

    The lakers are so good…nah im just kidding. The suns have been pretty incredible this year even though there team on paper looked like a 20 game season but good job to them. Thunder for life!

    • Lakers for sure should be on the list says:

      for teams doing better than most expected. Imean, they actually won a game this season!!!

  12. hawkleader3 says:

    The Spurs. Its like every year, all the NBA broadcasters are gullible and fall for the they-are-getting-too-old excuse, and every year, Tim Duncan has to show them that they will be contenders until the day he retires. Lets not forget about the amazing bench of not-so amazing players they put together last year. Heck, I bet Pop could put his grandson’s middle school basketball team to come off the bench and they would still make plays. I like the spurs because of the way they leave commentators speechless when the question is asked “how did the spurs get to the top of the western conference with their cast of players”. They have been the underdog for 6 years running now.

  13. TDOT says:

    RAPTORS for sure!!! they’re a young playoff team with an ALL-STAR in DEROZAN at 24 years old while starting two SOPHMORES in TERRENCE ROSS and JONAS VALANCIUNAS!! Give them a 1-2 years and they’ll be REAL CONTENDERS

  14. Golden State Forever says:

    The Raptors for sure. Just started watching some Raptors game. Wanted to see what all the hype was about. I was really impressed how they beat Golden State.

  15. roxy1590 says:

    Thunder,pacers and spurs

  16. ups and downs says:

    Portland and Phoenix have played way above expectations in the West. Toronto, Chicago, and Atlanta are in surprising playoffs spots considering what they have endured this season. The Wolves, Nuggets, and the Lakers have had extremely disappointing seasons out West. Detroit, New York, Cleveland, and Milwaukee have all seriously under performed considering what their owners expected coming into this season. I guess this is why they play the games 🙂

  17. joel says:


  18. codyyy says:

    thunder, every year we are supposed to get worse, but every year we get a better winning percentage than the last year, james harden trade was good too, he needed to go to some place he could thrive and we don’t need him tbh

  19. EWalk says:

    Portland, Phoenix or Toronto…never would of guessed that the TrailBlazers would be 20 games over .500. Jeff Hornacek is doing a tremendous job out there in Phoenix; especially with your best player (Bledsoe) being out as long as he has. I had a feeling Toronto would get a tad bit better after the Rudy Gay trade b/c the guy just isn’t a winner…sorry Rudy..but they far exceeded my expectations. Can’t wait for the postseason to arrive.

  20. Surprise Surprise!! says:

    The Bulls!

  21. bengeelehr says:

    I thought the Spurs would be good, but they’re even better that that!

  22. I believe no one and I mean NO ONE could have predicted this year’s Suns! development! Even their most positive fans would had their doubts, if someone told that that after trading M.Gortat, Suns would have a 36-27 record and play superb, fighting equally for a place in this year’s playoffs. Even after the injury of their star player (E.Blesdoe) continued to impress us, being a team worth watching. Dragic would be in All-Star selections and Gerald Greed MUST be the most improved player of the year. Congrats to Hornacek and his spectacular team!!!

  23. Sam M says:

    Raptor for sure.

  24. Tun says:

    The raptors are ballin for real. I think if u give JV and T ross 1 or 2 more seasons, Raptors could be serious contenders!!!

  25. Someone says:

    gotta go with Phoenix or Toronto… they were supposed to tank