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Early surprises

Forget Lakers and Kings; surprises dot top of rankings

Posted: Monday November 18, 2002 6:59 PM


The most fun part about the first three weeks of this NBA season? No, it’s not "Irk" Nowitzki putting the "D" back in his name, old Hubie taking over the Grizz or Tim Hardaway giving his mala-props on ESPN. It’s all the early surprises among the top teams.

The Mavs (No. 1), the Pacers (No. 2), the Pistons (No. 3), the Sonics (No. 4) and the Suns (No. 11) are all sitting higher after two weeks than many predicted. Granted, all have benefited from soft early schedules, but the bottom line is they have produced on the court. Meanwhile, more celebrated (and injured) teams like the Kings, Nets, Spurs and Lakers have not performed as well consistently.

Eventually the Pacers will have to win away from Conseco, where they play 10 of their first 15 games. And the Pistons won’t be able to get fat on the Nuggets, Knicks, Heat and Grizzlies, against whom they faced off a combined seven times in their first 13 games. And the Suns’ anemic offense will come around to bite them.

But they have earned their spots; the big boys will just have to wait. Until then, on to the rankings:

This week’s high riser: Seattle, up to No. 4 from No. 9
This week’s big drop: Orlando, down to No. 14 from No. 7

SI's Marty Burns
Rank  LW    Team 
1 1 Dallas Mavericks
Like Steve Nash’s hair, their win streak (10 and counting through Monday) just keeps getting longer. Meanwhile, Shawn Bradley’s chiropractor can rest easy: No Shaq on Tuesday when the Lakers visit Big D.
2 4 Indiana Pacers
Ron Artest (17.7 points on 55.5 percent field-goal shooting) is showing he’s not just a defensive stopper. Brad Miller (15.4 points, 8.9 boards) is showing he’s among the East’s top centers.
3 5 Detroit Pistons
No, they haven’t played the Jazz or Nuggets every game this season; it just seems like it. But their D has been stifling, and next up they’ve got the Knicks and Heat back to back.
4 9 Seattle SuperSonics
Four straight victories through Sunday -- including Friday’s home victory over the Kings -- has them atop the Pacific Division. But center Jerome James (stress fracture) will miss 4-6 weeks.
5 2 Sacramento Kings
Who says C-Webb can’t hit the big shot? Webber scored 24 points, including the game-winning jumper with 1.5 seconds left, as the Kings beat the Magic to stay unbeaten at Arco Arena.
6 3 New Jersey Nets
Kenyon Martin (broken nose) isn’t the only Net who needs a mask. After sub-par outings in losses to the Bulls and Mavs, 7-foot Dikembe Mutombo is wishing he could find a disguise.
7 8 San Antonio Spurs
Tim Duncan managed to score only six points, but they still won Saturday at Cleveland to snap a two-game skid. Now they hope the return of Steve Smith can goose their stagnant offense.
8 6 New Orleans Hornets
Like the NFL's Saints, they couldn’t find a way to beat Atlanta. Still, even after Saturday's loss to the Hawks, their 7-3 start equals the 1997-98 squad for best in franchise history.
9 10 Boston Celtics
They beat the Sixers last week, so we’ll give them the edge for now. But turnovers and a lack of rebounding plagued them again in consecutive weekend losses to the Mavs and Bucks.
10 11 Philadelphia 76ers
They’re slowly starting to put it together, and the return of Derrick Coleman on Tuesday should bolster the frontcourt. But will DC accept a bench role, or force Aaron McKie out of the starting lineup?
11 13 Phoenix Suns
Joe Johnson has gone to the bench, but this new-look group continues to surprise. Through Monday, they had won four straight -- including upsets over the Hawks, Blazers and Rockets.
12 15 Houston Rockets
Take that, Shaq! Yao Ming bags 20 points -- including a pair of clutch free throws -- and adds six boards in a win at the Lakers. Through Monday, Yao had hit 17 of his last 18 field-goal attempts.
13 14 Atlanta Hawks
With Jason Terry still trying to learn the point, they lead the NBA in turnovers at 20.7 per game. But Theo Ratliff has made them the league’s top shot-blocking squad (7.67).
14 7 Orlando Magic
Grant Hill sat out the loss to the Kings with ankle soreness as the Magic dropped their fourth game in five tries. They’ll need him back for road games this week at the Sonics, Blazers and Pacers.
15 12 Minnesota Timberwolves
With so many new faces surrounding KG, they’re still trying to find chemistry. The good news is forward Joe Smith, out since Oct. 4 with a strained groin, might return Tuesday.
16 16 Milwaukee Bucks
Michael Redd (15.3 points), Toni Kukoc (12.2 points) and Kevin Ollie (NBA-best 5.67-1 assist-turnover ratio) have made their bench one of the NBA’s most productive so far.
17 17 Washington Wizards
So far so good for Sixth Man Award candidate Michael Jordan (16.0 points on 48.7 percent shooting). But his minutes are starting to creep up as his teammates struggle to put the ball in the basket.
18 18 Portland Trail Blazers
Controversy swirls again in RIP City as slumping Damon Stoudamire got a DNP-CD in Friday's win over the Clippers, losing his starting job to Scottie Pippen.
19 19 L.A. Lakers
Look out above! Shaq expects to return for Friday's meeting with the Bulls, which means they’ll be moving out of this neighborhood shortly. But first, they’ve got the Mavs and Spurs on the road.
20 20 L.A. Clippers
They blew their chance to steal Tinseltown spotlight with a Nov. 1 loss to the Lakers. But with a victory Monday night at Golden State, they would actually have a better record (4-7) overall.
21 21 Utah Jazz
Through Monday, they had played an NBA-high eight games on the road, a factor in their lackluster 4-7 record. Still, they’ll need to cut down on turnovers if they're going to keep their playoff streak alive.
22 25 Toronto Raptors
Antonio Davis is back, but now Lindsey Hunter is hurting with a sore knee. Alvin Williams can pick up the slack at point guard, but will their bad luck with injuries ever stop?
23 22 Chicago Bulls
A six-game road trip, starting Tuesday night in Sacramento, will be a good test for the Baby Bulls. Last year they lost all seven on a similar Western trip to return home with a 1-12 record.
24 26 Golden State Warriors
At least they’re playing harder -- just ask the Magic. Gilbert Arenas sparked a 43-point rout of T-Mac’s crew, and added flair to the show with a bounce-pass lob to Jason Richardson.
25 24 Cleveland Cavaliers
The loss of Darius Miles (left knee tendinitis) is the latest blow for John Lucas’ sinking ship. Meanwhile, their upcoming schedule includes the Spurs, Rockets, Nets, Hornets, Kings and Bucks.
26 27 New York Knicks
Latrell Sprewell bags 16 points in his season debut, but he can’t prevent a loss to the Sixers. Another loss Monday night vs. the Pistons would give New York a 1-9 start, the worst in franchise history.
27 23 Miami Heat
Alonzo Mourning says he hasn’t completely ruled out a comeback this season. He’d better hurry if he wants to make the playoffs because Malik Allen and Rasual Butler aren’t getting it done.
28 28 Denver Nuggets
It’s not all his fault, but Juwan Howard (13.8 points on 37.6 percent shooting) is off to the worst start of his nine-year career. Part of the problem is that opposing defenses can key in on him.
29 29 Memphis Grizzlies
Hubie Brown vows to stay patient as he evaluates his young talent. But with the T'wolves (on the road), Sixers, Spurs (on the road) and Wizards on tap, victories will be hard to come by.

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