After one month, Atlantic Division leads the league only in mediocrity

ON THE NBA

Pro Basketball

November 30, 2003|By MILTON KENT

Through the first month of the NBA season, a few trends are starting to develop. Let's take a look at the league, division by division:

Atlantic

Call this the gang that can't shoot straight, as no team has seen fit to stick its head much above .500.

The New Jersey Nets, the two-time defending Eastern Conference champions, have been the biggest surprise, stumbling about, what with three of their top six (Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin and Lucious Harris) hobbled with injuries, and the retirement of Alonzo Mourning.

The Philadelphia 76ers have been the class so far, behind new coach Randy Ayers, with the Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards and New York Knicks playing better than expected.

The less said about the Miami Heat and Orlando the better, except that the Magic might not be done shuffling the deck.

Central

Some may consider this blasphemy, but this division might boast the best race, as it has three teams playing .600 or better ball.

Indiana is out to roughly the same blazing start this year under new coach Rick Carlisle that it was last year under Isiah Thomas, but a saner, more composed forward Ron Artest has the Pacers thinking they can sustain this run a bit longer.

After a few rough moments, the Detroit Pistons look like they will be back in the mix.

The shocker here, though, has been the play of the New Orleans Hornets, particularly with Jamal Mashburn out for the entire season with a knee injury. Baron Davis dropped 25 pounds in the offseason and is playing at a Most Valuable Player level.

The weakness in the Atlantic might allow the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors, both significantly improved, to sneak into the playoffs.

Midwest

With four of their next five games against the Los Angeles Clippers, Orlando, Miami and the Chicago Bulls, the San Antonio Spurs should fatten up on some of the league's weaklings to move up in the standings.

The world champions, however, will have to navigate through a couple of teams to get back to the top of the division.

The Dallas Mavericks still look shaky atop the division. And if Dirk Nowitzki, who suffered a leg injury last week, is hobbled for long, Dallas will be in trouble.

The other team to watch in the Midwest might be the Houston Rockets, who are playing improved defense and better half-court offense.

The Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz, thought to be among the dregs, might actually battle for a seventh or eighth seed in the Western playoffs, with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies not far off.

Pacific

The Los Angeles Lakers won't win 72 games, to tie a league record for most regular-season victories, and they may not win as many as 65, the best win total in their recent run of three straight titles.

But it's difficult to imagine any team beating them four times in a seven-game playoff series, as Karl Malone and Gary Payton have slid into Los Angeles' rotation even more smoothly than could have been imagined.

The Sacramento Kings, meanwhile, are holding on nicely until Chris Webber returns from a knee injury, as Peja Stojakovic has increased his scoring in Webber's absence.

The Seattle SuperSonics' play so far has been a mild surprise, and they could make more noise when Ray Allen comes back from injury.

Phoenix hasn't shown the kind of improvement last season's play suggested, and the Portland Trail Blazers remain a talented mess.

Quiz

Not surprisingly, Wilt Chamberlain leads the list of 17 NBA players who averaged at least 20 points and 10 rebounds a game for a career, with a minimum of 400 games played, clocking in at 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds. Who finished second to Chamberlain in each category?

Star power

It looks like Baltimore's own Carmelo Anthony may follow the likes of Allen, Allan Houston and Rick Fox onto the silver screen, as he has been offered the lead in a big-screen flick.

According to the Denver Post, Anthony, the Nuggets rookie forward who played some of his high school ball at Towson Catholic, is on the verge of getting the title role in, Playground, a Warner Bros. movie that could be filmed in the offseason.

Anthony, who led Syracuse to the NCAA championship in his only collegiate season before leaving for the NBA draft, would play a brilliant high school senior nicknamed "Playground" who must choose between going straight to the pros or going to college. Singer Jaheim would play a childhood friend of Anthony's and fellow NBA rookies Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade might also be cast in the movie.

No word yet on whether Shaquille O'Neal, fresh off his marvelous performance in Kazaam, will be offered a role.

Quiz answer

Of the 17 players in the 20/10 club, Elgin Baylor averaged 27.4 points a game and Walt Bellamy averaged 13.7 rebounds. It's worth noting that Baylor was only two-tenths of a rebound behind Bellamy's average.

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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