Not all of the surprises in the NBA can be found in our cozy Northwest confines. Yeah, we're giddy around here about the Sonics, but folks are dancing celebratory jigs all around...
Not all of the surprises in the NBA can be found in our cozy Northwest confines.
Yeah, we’re giddy around here about the Sonics, but folks are dancing celebratory jigs all around the country.
In Orlando, Washington, D.C., Cleveland, Phoenix and Los Angeles, you’ll find basketball revolutions that have revitalized those cities, which is similar to the double shot of espresso that the local team has given Seattle.
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And nobody, and I mean nobody, saw any of this coming.
Who would have believed that at the quarter pole of the season four non-playoff teams from last season would lead their divisions?
A few might have predicted the resurrection in Phoenix, especially after the Suns signed Steve Nash to a six-year, $60 million deal in the offseason, but not to this extent.
They were expected to push for the playoffs, but they weren’t supposed to be this good this soon.
It’s all because of Nash, who has vaulted past Jason Kidd as the best point guard in the league. He has made everyone around him better and his best trick has been turning Amare Stoudemire, a talented forward who can’t shoot, pass or dribble, into a scoring machine.
But look to Orlando for a true rags-to-riches story.
A year ago, the Magic was in shambles. It was without oft-injured Grant Hill once again. It had a franchise-record 19-game losing streak after winning its first game and fired coach Doc Rivers.
It went on to finish with a league-worst 21-61 record under coach Johnny Davis and had the top draft pick the year after LeBron James entered the league.
And then things really got bad.
Its franchise player, Tracy McGrady, demanded a trade and forced the team to deal him to Houston. In return, the Magic received Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley, who were hesitant about joining the moribund team.
Now look at them. The Magic is on top of the Eastern Conference with a 13-6 record.
Hill has stayed relatively healthy and is playing like an All-Star. No. 1 overall pick Dwight Howard isn’t LeBron, but he’s one of 12 players in the league averaging a double-double (10.7 points, 10.3 rebounds).
As for Francis and Mobley, they are first and third, respectively, among the team’s scoring leaders.
Washington was nearly as pathetic as Orlando last season and finished with the second-worst record in the league at 25-57.
The Wizards made a major move last summer and traded away Jerry Stackhouse for Antawn Jamison, who has returned to the All-Star form he exhibited in Golden State.
Paired with Gilbert Arenas, last week’s Eastern Conference player of the week, and Larry Hughes, they are the only trio in the NBA averaging at least 19 points per game individually.
The Wizards’ success may be a mirage, considering 10 of their 11 wins have been against East teams and they have yet to embark on a lengthy West Coast trip.
Still, it has been seven years since Washington made the playoffs and the Wizards appear to be a lock to return to the postseason.
Strangely enough, the last time Washington made the playoffs (in 1997) was also the last time the Los Angeles Clippers qualified.
Both teams were swept in the first round, but that’s beside the point. What’s meaningful here is the return to prominence of two of the NBA’s perennial doormats and, don’t laugh, but the Clippers will vie for a playoff spot.
“I don’t care who you are, nobody stays bad forever,” said Rivers, now coach of the Celtics. “I wish I could have stuck around there (in Orlando) to see that happen. This happens in the NBA.
“We don’t have the parity of the NFL, but every few years, you see shifts taking place. Some of the good teams fall and come back to the pack, which gives an opening for everyone else.”
Much like the Sonics, Cleveland has a handful of players who will be free agents next summer, which might have prompted selfish play.
The Cavs, however, have thrived after an offseason debacle in which they allowed Carlos Boozer to leave town. They scrambled to fill the void with Drew Gooden.
Despite the obstacles, Cleveland has flourished and its success isn’t tied solely to LeBron, who is playing like an MVP candidate.
Jeff McInnis, a free agent after the season, may be motivated by his lame-duck status, but whatever the case, he has increased his career averages in points, assists, rebounding, field-goal percentage and three-point percentage. Center Zydrunas Ilgauskas has also increased his productivity.
The folks in Cleveland were doing back flips last week when the Cavs briefly had the best record in the East. It was the first time since March 21, 1989, that they were the top team in the conference that deep into a season.
But we’re too wrapped up in the Sonics’ success to notice.
If we take a minute and look around, then we’ll discover this truth: We are not alone.
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org