Did you know that there is a basketball team in New Jersey? And Minnesota? They’re called the Nets and the Timberwolves. Both of these teams have started off the 2001 NBA season as hot as a jalepe¤o pepper. Newly acquired point guard Jason Kidd has teammate Keith Van Horn playing at the level the Nets expected when they traded for him in the 1997 draft. The Nets have started the season 6-1 and have spread basketball fever throughout New Jersey, if that’s possible.
The Timberwolves, who have seem destined to exit in the first round of the playoffs every year, have also started the year on a tear. At 6-1, the Timberwolves are off to their best start in franchise history. Most importantly, though, it is all-star Kevin Garnett’s supporting cast that is finally starting to pitch in. Wally Szczerbiak is averaging close to 19 points a game, while both Terrell Brandon and Joe Smith are chipping in 13 points per game apiece.
The Timberwolves are sitting on top of the best division in the league right now as three Texas teams look up at them. San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston are all playing phenomonal basketball to open the 2001-2002 season. San Antonio, who looked like the team to beat last year before being embarrassed by Shaq and Co., have started 6-2 and look poised for another championship run.
Dallas, who beat the aging Utah Jazz in a fifth and deciding game in last year’s playoffs, have also started the season 6-2. Both Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash will most likely win end of the season awards this year for best haircuts, but most importantly, the Mavericks appear ready to challenge the Lakers. Nowitzki and Michael Finley are averaging 23 and 21 points respectively, while both Juwan Howard and Nash have been contributing about 15 points per game. The Mavericks also acquired veteran point guard Tim Hardaway, who has already made his presence felt by averaging nine points and over four assits a game off the bench.
Lastly, the young and energetic Houston Rockets have opened a few eyes early in the season. Steve Francis is putting up Kidd-esque numbers with over 20 points a game to go along with 7.5 rebounds and six assists a game. Kenny Thomas is making an early bid for Most Improved Player as he is starting to find his role as a power forward. Coach Rudy Tomjanovich called Thomas “the most underrated player in the NBA.” Despite the youth of the Rockets team, they expect a lot from themselves as an exciting season awaits.
As for the Eastern Conference, it appears the latest player to suffer from Wizard syndrome is the immortal Michael Jordan. Wizard syndrome is a term I have created to describe the pattern that any good player to wear a Wizards jersey becomes ineffective, and quickly. When we watched Chris Webber go to Sacramento he immediately turned around a sinking Kings franchise. Today, we watch as Juwan Howard chips in 15 points a game for the 6-2 Mavericks. However, both of these players were driven out of D.C. because neither was able to play well in a Wizards uniform.
Michael Jordan, the latest to suffer from this disease, started his November 11th game against the Sonics 0-14. He finished 5-26 with just 16 points. His Wizards have fallen to 2-6 after winning two of their first three games. Jordan has not lost five straight games since 1990.
Not too far from Washington D.C., in Philadelphia, the reigning MVP Allen Iverson has finally returned from elbow surgery. The Sixers had lost their first five games in AI’s absence, but since his return they are 3-0. Iverson, who has been short on his jumper and has looked horrifically out of shape at times, is shooting just 25-84 since his return. However, coach Larry Brown said, “He doesn’t have to shoot well. Him being on the floor opens up shots for everybody.”
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