November 13, 2017
By Tony Mejia
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With the NBA swimming up against the NFL and a wild college football season, not to mention NCAA ball starting up, it can be easy to lose sight of what's gone on in the first month of a season that began earlier than it had in decades.
Kyrie Irving, despite a facial fracture that will force him to wear a protective mask this week, has led the Boston Celtics to a 12-2 start, getting more help than anyone could've dreamed up from Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to overcome losing Gordon Hayward.
Cleveland has crashed due to injuries and awful defense, Oklahoma City lacks chemistry, Utah lost defensive catalyst Rudy Gobert for at least a month and the bottom-four teams, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago and Sacramento, are a combined 9-41.
In this NBA version of the "Six-pack," we'll look at more top trends that have sprouted up over an interesting first few weeks.
The Celtics have proven that Danny Ainge's work as general manager remains elite and really take every possession of every game seriously. They're hungry and truly invest on the defensive end, which has Brad Stevens as the early leader for Coach of the Year. They're 11-2-1 against the number and have seen the under come in 10 of 14 times and will play only one back-to-back between now and Dec. 10. Between now and a Dec. 8 visit to San Antonio, I'd suspect they'll only be an underdog on Nov. 16 when the Warriors come to town. Al Horford has returned from his concussion scare and is really attacking defenders. If Golden State doesn't end the Celtics' winning streak at 13 -- they'll beat the Nets Tuesday -- the run could reach deep into the teens if everyone stays healthy.
Rockets on the road
While I still believe the Warriors are going to finish with the NBA's top record, one reason Houston may make a run at it has unfolded early. On the road, the Rockets have had only one night when they couldn't find their game. There will be a few growing pains with Chris Paul getting back in the mix, but there's still too many weapons on this team not to continue riding a hot streak that has seen them cover in five of six. They're 7-1 on the road (5-3 ATS) and will return to Memphis, site of that 103-89 Oct. 28 loss this Saturday. If they can defeat the Suns and Grizzlies on the road this week as likely favorites, they'll enter December having won 90 percent of their roadies. James Harden isn't even playing all that well in opposing arenas, averaging 26.8 points and 10.9 assists while shooting just 42.5 percent. He's shooting 49 percent and averaging 34.8 points at Toyota Center thus far. If the Rockets are winning games without Paul and with Harden not being terribly efficient on the road, they might be able to make a run at winning 65-plus games.
New digs in Detroit
The Pistons are back downtown after a few decades in Auburn Hills and have really taken to the new Little Caesar's Arena. They just completed a perfect five-game homestand that featured wins over Milwaukee, Indiana and Miami. Detroit hits the road for rematches with the Bucks and Pacers before a Sunday night game at the Timberwolves, so this will be a critical week to study whether they're for real. Andre Drummond has made adramatic difference by increasing his free-throw percentrage to 63.2 after years in the high 30s. He's averaging a career-best 15.7 rebounds per game and is no longer being pulled from games down the stretch, which is a major reason why they're 9-3-1 against the number this season. The Pistons only play in Detroit twice in an upcoming 11-game stretch between now and Dec. 6, hosting the Cavs next Monday and Phoenix on Nov. 29.
After winning their first four games of the season, covering while delivering the under in some stifling defensive outings, Golden State appears to have gotten in the heads of the rival Clips again. The Warriors dropped a 141-113 hammering on L.A. at Staples on Oct. 30, part of a 1-7 run SU and ATS. The defense has broken down without point guard Patrick Beverley, who is dealing with a knee injury and have missed Danilo Gallinari, out with a glute injury. L.A. faced Philadelphia on Monday before getting a few more days to rest up and get healthy prior to a five-game road trip that could dictate whether this group will be fighting an uphill battle as they attempt to make the playoffs following CP-3's departure.
Knicks bloom in the Garden
Since losing their home opener against the Pistons, the Knicks have excelled at home, winning six of seven entering Monday night's matchup against the Cavs. Kristaps Porzingis is averaging 30 points per game as he gets his 12th game of the season underway and has predictably been even better at home, shooting 55 percent from the field, 45 percent from 3-point range and scoring at 32.4 points-per-game clip at Madison Square Garden. After LeBron James came into town and lit up the New York's draft strategy and ex-team president, big home dates against the Jazz, Clippers and Raptors over the next 10 days could help the Knicks become an event again in the city if they find a way to not disappoint everybody.
Warriors taking best punches
Since that puzzling Oct. 29 home loss to the Pistons after which head coach Steve Kerr essentially challenged his team to care about their job, Golden State is 6-0 and has imposed its will by an average margin of victory of 21.5 points. The Dubs smashed Philadelphia over the weekend 135-114 on the heels of ending Minnesota's five-game winning streak 125-101. Following Monday's homestand closer against the surprising Orlando Magic, the Warriors will hit the road and face the Celtics, 76ers, Nets and Thunder. Now that they're interested again, it's worth noting that they're 5-1 on the road this season, playing their role as conquering villain quite well with covers in four straight opposing gyms. Stephen Curry entered the week questionable to play due to a thigh contusion and is shooting what would be a career-worst 38.8 clip from 3-point range.
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