So the Los Angeles Lakers are 5-7 and in fourth place in the NBA’s Pacific Division. The Philadelphia 76ers are 5-7 and lead the Atlantic Division.
Yep, it’s been that kind of a start. For years, there’s been a competitive divide between the Eastern and Western conferences, but it seems to be reaching laughable proportions in the early going in 2013-14.
Through Monday night’s games a whopping four teams in the Eastern Conference—Indiana, Miami, Chicago and Atlanta—are better than .500. Ten teams out West have won more than they’ve lost.
Here’s another way to look at it. The Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers are all on pace to win 30 games this season. As of right now, those three times are tied for the eighth position in the East.
Seriously, watching the Eastern Conference can often elicit this response:
So with that, we roll into the Best of the Week. See if you can guess the theme for this week’s rankings.
Best of the Week—Players
He Got Game: LeBron James, Miami Heat
Oh, this guy. Well, all he did last week was average 34 points a game on 70.2 percent shooting while the Heat went 3-0. His peripheral numbers were down—4.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists—but that’s in part because of the nature of Miami’s games. James averaged 33 minutes a game last week because two of their games (Tuesday against Milwaukee and Saturday against Charlotte) were blowouts. James had 33 points in 29 minutes against the Bucks, 39 in 36 against the Mavs and 30 in 31 against the Bobcats, while going 40-for-57 from the floor and 5-for-8 from deep.
Blue Chips: Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic
The Magic split two games last week and Afflalo scored 61 points, had 10 rebounds and 10 assists, while shooting 17-for-27 (63 percent) and 8-for-13 from 3-point range (61.5 percent). He also got to the foul line … a lot. He was 19-for-20 from the stripe as the Magic beat Milwaukee and lost to Dallas. His 36 points against the Bucks on Wednesday was a career-high and he followed that up with 25 points in the loss to the Mavericks on Saturday.
Above The Rim: Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers
The Pacers took their first loss, but Hibbert still had a very good week. He scored 38 points in two games to go with 20 rebounds and 11 blocks while shooting 13-for-20 (65 percent). And in an era where teams foul certain centers intentionally because they couldn’t hit the side of a barn from the free-throw line, Hibbert also made his foul shots—hitting 12-of-15 (80 percent) during the week. Indiana blew out the Bucks on Friday (hmmm … I’m sensing a theme here) and then took one on the chin Saturday in Chicago. Hibbert had a ridiculous line against Milwaukee—24 points, 10 rebounds, eight blocks, 8-for-10 from the floor, 8-for-8 from the line—and then had 14 points, 10 boards and three blocks in the loss to the Bulls.
Best of the Week—Rookies
White Men Can’t Jump: Nate Wolters, Milwaukee Bucks
If this selection leads you to believe it was an unspectacular week for this year’s rookie class, give yourself a gold star. The Bucks lost all four of their games last week as Wolters averaged 8.3 points, 3.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game in 31.8 minutes a night, while shooting 37.8 percent (14-for-37). Remember what people were saying in June about this not being a spectacular draft class? They just might have been onto something.
Finding Forrester: Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
Oladipo scored 20 points and had eight assists for the Magic during a 1-1 week for Orlando. He was 2-for-3 from long range, even as he was just 7-for-22 overall. Oladipo scored 10 points against both the Bucks and Mavericks and had six dimes against Dallas as well. We won’t mention the nine turnovers in the loss.
Passing Glory: Vitor Faverani, Boston Celtics
The Celtics went 0-3 for the week, but Faverani was pretty solid, with 8.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game in just 21 minutes. Faverani scored nine points to go with 14 rebounds, four blocks and three steals in Boston’s loss at Minnesota on Saturday in 26 minutes of run.
Love & Basketball (Team of the Week): Portland Trail Blazers
Portland went 4-0 last week and is on a seven-game winning streak after a victory in Brooklyn Monday night. Last week, they played to a 106.6 offensive rating and a 98.5 defensive rating—a nice net of 8.1 points per 100 possessions. Their week included a one-point win at home against Phoenix and three straight road wins at Boston, Toronto and Brooklyn. LaMarcus Aldridge was strong last week with 22.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game and Damian Lillard checked in with 18 points and 7.3 dimes. Wesley Matthews has continued to surprise, though, averaging 16.3 percent and shooting 54.2 percent from deep over the four games last week. The fifth-year pro is averaging 16 a night through 11 games and is hitting 52.6 percent from 3-point range. His career highs are 15.9 points per game and 40.7 percent from long range, both set with the Blazers in 2010-11.
Rebound (Game of the Week): Golden State Warriors 116, Oklahoma City Thunder 115
Thursday night’s nationally televised nightcap was a solid choice, as the Thunder and Warriors battled to a standstill at a rocking Oracle Arena in Oakland. The Warriors came away with just their second win in their last nine games against Oklahoma City when Andre Iguodala’s buzzer-beating turnaround J trumped Russell Westbrook’s line-drive 3-ball with 2.3 seconds left. Golden State came out on fire, draining 12 of its first 14 3-balls and hitting 14-of-23 on the night. The game-winning play came out of some vision—the inbounds pass was supposed to go to Iguodala on the perimeter. But when Thabo Sefolosha overplayed the high side, Iguodala broke toward the baseline and Klay Thompson found him for the win.
Did you see that? Didja? Huh, didja? (Plays of the Week)
My three favorite plays from the last week:
Joe Johnson Beats The Suns
Off the Floor, Off the Backboard … Nothing But Dunk