The first week of the NBA Season is fraught with excitement, even for fans of teams with the least to celebrate. If you’re a supporter of the Philadelphia 76ers, you’re using your team’s games to watch the rest of the NBA’s talent, on board with the fact that the franchise is attempting to follow in the footsteps of the Oklahoma City Thunder and actively lose games this season, so the winless record shouldn’t be a cause for concern (unless you actually like watching good basketball, in which case, condolences). If you’re a Lakers fan, well, you’re already bummed out. The Lakers are really awful this season.
But there are some teams that are not awful, despite the fact that Cleveland, new/old home of LeBron James, is struggling, which means that the sky is falling in the early season overreaction that dominates the discussions every year around this time (remember when the 76ers blazed out to three early wins and everyone had to second guess whether or not they were actually tanking?). But this is normal and necessary, because otherwise how will Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love justify their playoff-less struggles by being carried to the postseason? More seriously, it’s because everyone, from fans to pundits to mascots, love to take the present and project it into the future. Here’s seven of the league’s teams that are looking the best, and the worst, in that regard so far.
7. Sacramento Kings
Somehow, someway, the Kings have only lost one game so far. And before the snark kicks in, yes, they’ve played more than one game. Blazing out to a 4-1 record on the back of an uptick in pace (up to 97 compared to the 94.4 posted last year) and a significantly better defensive effort, the SacTown Royalty are crashing the boards, cutting down on turnovers, and generally proving that they didn’t actually need to hold on to Isaiah Thomas at all. But with four wins posted over their Western Conference contemporaries, Kings fans can actually begin to start thinking about what might happen if the team can break the longest active playoff drought in the league.
6. Miami Heat
Who needs LeBron James, anyway? After losing the best player in the world to free agency, the remaining cast and crew from the Heat simply soldiered on, and came out to start the 2014 NBA season with three straight wins. While they’ve dropped two since then, the fact remains that the Heat are sitting on three times the number of wins that Cleveland are, despite the fact that the LeBron bandwagon soldiered on to Ohio. Yes, we’re still afraid of what might happen to Wade’s knees after a full season of go-to wing scoring, and there’s no accounting for how effective Josh McRoberts and Luol Deng will actually be, but these guys are way more fun to watch now that they’re just the smoldering rubble of an evil empire.
5. Memphis Grizzlies
It seems like every year the Grizzlies struggle with deciding whether or not they’ve peaked. They get bounced in the first round of the playoffs every other year, but when they don’t, they wreak complete and utter havoc on the rest of the Western Conference, as no one wants to deal with their stifling defense and low post centric offense. And now they’ve come out the gates swinging, winning all five of their regular season games so far. Maybe it’s because they signed Vince Carter?
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
Switching gears, the Thunder are living out every horrible thing that could’ve happened to them in the wake of the infamous James Harden trade/luxury tax dodge. Kevin Durant’s out for a month, Russell Westbrook’s got a broken hand, and enough players are going down that they almost ran out of available players against the Raptors — a situation, in case you’ve forgotten, that results in players staying in the game and automatic free throws being dispensed after every foul beyond six. OKC has only managed to win one game this season, while the Rockets are undefeated. Clay Bennett is the worst.
3. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are the worst team in the Pacific Divison — a grouping that features the Phoenix Suns, the Sacramento Kings, and the Golden State Warriors. Oh how times have changed for Kobe Bryant and company: the only team to be winless in the entire Western Conference, the Lakers have a record that Milwaukee wouldn’t be envious of. Now that’s a sentence no one predicted, even if the only real reason for this Los Angeles team to show up to games this year is to help Bryant move up the all-time scorers’ list. If you count yourself a fan of more or less any other NBA team, you’re loving this.
2. Indiana Pacers
To some degree, this hasn’t been a surprise at all: The Pacers lost Paul George to injury, Lance Stephenson to free agency, and Roy Hibbert to whatever talent gremlin stole his defensive acumen during the playoffs last year. No one was expecting them to remain one of the best teams in the East, and sitting at 1-4, they’re certainly not that. What has been impressive, though, is that the Pacers have managed to maintain a top-10 defense in the NBA even as their best players all left David West high and dry.
1. Golden State Warriors
One of the three unbeaten teams in the Western Conference so far, the Golden State Warriors get the nod over the Houston Rockets because the Rockets’ wins have largely come against bad Eastern Conference teams, which is to say they’re “gimmie” victories. The Warriors, though, looked to have peaked during their playoff run last year — but Steve Kerr’s hiring has appeared to pay off, as the Dubs have taken on all comers and come out successful. We knew they’d be good, but no one really expected them to stake a claim toward greatness.