Against all odds, the first two months of the current season have offered two unexpected conference leaders, it also revealed a title favourite’s continuing struggle and showed how the reigning champions keep to defy the age factor.
Supersport.com takes a closer look at how the season begins to shape up, and explain why some aspects could not have gone unnoticed.
A new signing taking too long to adjust to his new team; injuries affecting key players, and resurgent outsiders like the Milwaukee Bucks have influenced both conferences standings heading to 2015.
Although, the Warriors were left distraught, following a season-ending 126-121 defeat in May at Los Angeles Clippers in Game-7 of the first-round of the Western Conference playoffs, they continue to build on their championship credentials.
Conference leader, Golden State (24-5), recorded a 16-game winning streak – the longest in the franchise history – before falling 105-98 at Memphis Grizzlies (22-8).
In the past three months, a few changes have transformed the way opponents look at and prepare for the Warriors.
They kept most of the roster from last season, but former coach Mark Jackson was let go, while five-time NBA champion Steve Kerr has taken the helm.
The Warriors’ exceptional ball movement, which resulted in league-best 25.7 assists per game, combined with their efficient shooting from the field, have become difficult to stop, as they show no signs of slowing down.
Just like the Warriors, the Toronto Raptors seems to be making the most of previous mistakes.
Last May, they did not resist to Brooklyn Nets’ offensive in the first-round of the playoffs, having fallen in Game-7.
However, the Canadians franchises (24-7) reinvented itself, kept the team’s core and continue to strive, leading the Eastern Conference with an impressive average of 108.5 points per game, second highest in the NBA behind Dallas (109.5).
Still in the East, the Atlanta Hawks entered the season determined to move on from a Game-7 disappointing defeat against the Indiana Pacers in the first-round of the playoffs last season.
The Hawks (23-8) trails East leaders Toronto Raptors by a victory, but its offensive remains as efficient as the league leader Warriors for most assists (25.7) per game.
CAVALIERS, JAMES, LOVE and BLATT
From the moment that LeBron James, who turned 30 on Tuesday, announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers – after spending four seasons with the Miami Heat -, and Kevin Love followed him to join All-Star guard Kyrie Irvin, the Cavaliers became, at least in theory, the Eastern Conference favourite.
However, two months later and with one-third into the season, the Cavaliers’ reality remains far from its favourite accolades.
Cleveland (18-13) opened the season with a disappointing home defeat against New York.
At some point, Kevin Love revealed that he was just trying to find himself in the team’s offense.
Head coach David Blatt, who took over without any sort of NBA experience but displayed an impressive international career resume, continues under fire, but four-time MVP James says he is happy with who they have at helm. “He’s our coach,” James recently said.
Nevertheless, a 103-80 home defeat against the Detroit Pistons (7-23) on Sunday, prompted James to sum up the team’s calibre.
“Right now, we’re just not very good in every aspect of the game that we need to be to compete every night,” James said.
PACERS AND OKC
Eastern Conference finalist, the Indiana Pacers (11-21) continues to pay the price for Paul George’ absence.
George has been ruled out for the season after suffering a gruesome leg injury, while practicing with team USA ahead of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. As a result of George’s absence, the Pacers moved from an East favourite to an outsider in a matter of four months.
In the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder (15-17) have been highly affected by injuries affecting reigning MVP Kevin Durant, who has missed 23 games through a foot injury.
The defending champions San Antonio Spurs (19-14), despite its roster’s advanced age, remain among the playoff places, and can’t be ruled out from the postseason contention.
And, the Milwaukee Bucks (16-16), who lost Rookie of the Year favourite Jabari Parker, ruled out for the rest of the season with a foot injury, continue to strive, despite displaying one the youngest rosters, including a second-year coach Jason Kidd.