The NBA returned about two weeks ago, and it has been everything but a normal season so far. In this shortened season, where the NBA will play 72 instead of 82 regular season games, we have already seen shocking upsets and confusing blowout victories. Although only two weeks into the season, there are already some concerns from teams hoping to contend, while some teams who were under the radar, may be looking at grabbing a playoff spot. Let us take a look at some of the teams that have surprised so far in the season, and the ones that are off to a disappointing start just two weeks in.
Cleveland starting off the season 4-2 has to be one of the biggest surprises of the first two weeks of the season. The Cavaliers started the season winning their first three games, which included a 24-point victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. The big reason for this early success is the play of Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, and Andre Drummond. Collin Sexton is leading the team averaging 26 ppg through the first six games, while shooting 55% from three. At just 22 years old, Collin Sexton continues to improve each year, and will be the star of this Cavaliers team for many years to come.
Cleveland was the second worst team last year, winning only 19 games, and now currently sit as the four seed in the East. However, It is very unlikely that Cleveland will continue to play this well and actually make the playoffs. With many good teams off to slow starts in the East, as the Bucks, Nets, Heat, Raptors, and Celtics are all currently behind them in the standings, I do not see them holding on to a playoff spot for much longer.
The Suns were one of the best teams in the bubble last season, winning all eight of their games, although that still was not enough to make the playoffs in the stacked Western Conference. This year however, they look like a team who can easily be a top six team in the West and make some noise come playoff time. The Suns currently sit second in the West at 5-2, and a big reason for this strong start is the addition of Chris Paul.
Chris Paul was arguably the best acquisition by any team in the league this offseason, as he continues to make every team he plays for better. Although DeAndre Ayton is a good player for this young Suns team, Phoenix needed another star to play alongside Devin Booker to be competitive in the Western Conference. Adding Paul’s experience and leadership alongside Booker’s talent will make this team scary come playoff time. With many teams starting off slow, it is tough to tell where this team will end up at the end of the season, but if they continue to play at this level, the Suns could end up as high as the four seed at the end of the season.
The Hawks and Cavaliers both have had similar starts to the season, but Atlanta looks like the team that can sustain this success and make the playoffs. The Hawks were terrible last year as Trae Young put up incredible numbers and was named an All-Star starter. It was pretty obvious that Young had no help and that this team would be near the bottom of the standings again if they did not get him some other pieces.
In the offseason, the Hawks went out and got the key free agents that would elevate this team to a playoff caliber unit. The Hawks singed Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo, and Kris Dunn all in this past offseason. De’Andre Hunter’s and Kevin Huerter’s strong starts to the season are another reason why this team is playing well. If these younger guys on the Hawks can continue to play at a high level, this team will make the playoffs and be a team that nobody wants to face in the first round.
The Mavericks are off to a rough start to the season, starting 2-4 and sitting in last place in the West. Although it is early in the season, there are some reasons to be concerned by this bad start. Luka Doncic, who missed the teams last game due to injury, has struggled in his first five games. He is averaging 24.4 ppg, and is only shooting 43% from the field, including a disastrous 16% from the three-point line. Luka Doncic has shown in the past that he can carry this team on his back, and will have to for the next little bit until they can get Porzingis back.
The Mavericks cannot afford to struggle much longer, as a bad stretch in the Western Conference can cost them a playoff spot. With a tough schedule ahead, facing the Rockets, Nuggets, Pelicans, and Bucks all in the next two weeks, they are going to need Doncic back healthy and playing at a high level if they want to avoid losing further ground in the West.
The Raptors have had the worst start to the season of any team that made the playoffs last year. The Raptors have had big leads in every one of their games yet have only one win to show for it. Toronto had hoped that a big jump from Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby this year would help Toronto stay near the top of the Eastern Conference once again. However, both of them have struggled this year, especially late in games. Siakam was recently benched in their only win against the Knicks because of what head coach Nick Nurse called “a disciplinary thing for an internal matter” and came back the next game only to foul out after another disappointing performance.
Kyle Lowry has been the best player for the Raptors this season, trying to carry the team through this bad stretch. The good news is that the Raptors had big leads in all of their games so far and have been leading late in a few of these games. The bad news is that they keep letting these leads evaporate and have not been good on offence or defense at the end of games. If the Raptors can get clutch shooting from Anunoby, Siakam, or VanVleet late in games, the Raptors will be back to their winning ways, but if the young talent does not show up, it could be a long season for the Raptors.
Brooklyn Nets looked like the best team in the Eastern Conference after the first two games of the season. The Nets blew out the Warriors before blowing out the Celtics in Boston. People around the NBA were quick to crown the Nets as the Eastern Conference champions just two games in, but now that talk has quickly disappeared. The Nets have lost four of their last five games and sit at 3-4 on the season. With Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant both playing last night against the Wizards, it was a shock to see both of them miss possible game winning shots at the end of that game.
The injury that Spencer Dinwiddie suffered a few games in is a concern for the Nets, as he did have an important role coming into the season. Dinwiddie being out for the season does put some added pressure on guys like Joe Harris and Caris LeVert to perform at a higher level if Kyrie or Durant are sitting out for a game here and there.
Even after losing four of their last five games, Brooklyn will still be one of the top teams in the East and should not be panicking after this rough stretch of games. However, we should be holding out on declaring them the Eastern Conference champions for now.