1. New Orleans’ Perfect Start: Not only have the Hornets started off the year 7-0, they have the most quality wins while doing so. They beat Miami for their fifth win, so the Heat already knew what sort of pick-and-roll defense NO was playing by that point.
Previously they beat Denver and San Antonio in a back-to-back, which gave the Spurs their only loss up to this point. The key change from last year’s playoffs-less 37-45 team is the defense brought in by new coach Monty Williams. He has them smothering pick-and-rolls thanks to weakside defense picking up the roller, and it’s propelled their team defense from a bottom-10 finish last season to top-3 right now. It also doesn’t hurt that CP3—who tried to force his way out over the summer—continues to be the most efficient PG in the league, averaging 9.9 assists to only 1.7 turnovers, shooting 51% overall and 42% from deep. Obvious MVP candidate?
2. Reggie Evans’ Torrid Rebounding Numbers: Chris Bosh left Toronto and everything was supposed to fall apart. Not that there was much to fall apart, but still. The team has looked bad and is still trying to figure a lot of things out, particularly defensively, but the one thing that’s been taken care of just fine is rebounding from the PF position. In steps 30-year-old journeyman (fourth team from 2005 to now), and he’s darn near leading the league in rebounds. He’s averaging 11.8 boards in a crazy low 27 minutes per contest, leading the league in Rebounding Percentage (yes, even higher than Kevin Love) with a 25.7%. He snagged 49 through his first three games, a total that Bosh has yet to reach in his 8-year career. The Raptor-turned-Heat is currently averaging 5.9 in 33 minutes per.
3. DeMarcus Cousins’ Slow Start: The Kentucky PF/C entered the league with the best combination of physical attributes (6-feet-11, 290 pounds, quick feet) and polished skills (nice inside moves, great rebounding) of anyone in the draft, at least in terms of “he’s ready to contribute right now.” What he’s done has been poor, so poor he’s already been dropped out of the Kings’ starting lineup. He’s scoring 11 points a game on a terrible 42% shooting, is grabbing a simply OK 6 rpg in 21 minutes, and he continues to get himself into foul trouble very fast (has 5 or more fouls in all but 2 games). Even after seeing him struggle in the second half of the summer league, most fans still assume he’d hit the league on fire and at least look like a ROY contender for a few months before his head got in the way.
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4. Paul Millsap’s 46-Point Game: The husky Jazz forward has never averaged more than 13.5 ppg in a season, and although he’s upped that over 20 now that he’s starting consistently, no one thought we’d be any length of time into the season and know that Millsap has one of the two highest scoring games in the league for the year. Against Miami on Tuesday, Deron Williams went to the well over and over, allowing the big man to attempt 28 shots in the OT win down in South Beach, hitting 19 of them, including all three triples (!), and tossing in 5 of 7 free throws for good measure. If there was any question about problems with Miami’s interior D before, this was a beacon of hope for other teams with powerful big men that Bosh can’t guard.
5. Miami Is 5-3: They lost on opening night to the Celtics, but they were down big early, came back in the third, and nearly pulled it off before succumbing 88-80. We figured it wasn’t a big deal considering they were all playing together for the first time after D-Wade missed the preseason. They spanked Orlando three nights later in their third game of the year, and then November happened. After dispatching the hopeless Timberwolves, they lost to the resurgent Hornets, which both legitimized NO’s rise and gave us more questions about the Heat’s “fall.” And Tuesday only made things worse, losing to the 5-3 Jazz at home behind Millsap’s big night. It went to OT, but even there their cutesy ways of no one stepping up so that everyone can make the extra pass did them in, resulting in a desperation shot at the buzzer from…back-up Eddie House?