The University of Maine student newspaper since 1875
Sunday, April 19, 11:08 p.m.

Surprise teams thus far in the NBA season

Many who watch the NBA believe the Miami Heat will most likely be repeat champions. But if Miami can’t repeat, they’ll likely meet their match against the Los Angeles Lakers or Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals.

Although a repeat championship is the more likely scenario, a handful of teams have surprised so far this season, making a pretty good case to be considered championship contenders — although it’s still very early.

The Memphis Grizzlies are 8-1 to start the season and their pound-the-paint type of play has helped them get to where they are. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are among the best frontcourts in the NBA.

Rudy Gay has also been a surprise. A lot of people have talked about him being traded before the deadline but that won’t be the case if he keeps up this level of play.

Gay and Randolph have scored at least 15 points apiece in all of their nine games this season. The Grizzlies beat the Thunder, the Heat and handed the Knicks their first loss in these first nine games of the season. With Michael Conley at the point, along with Tony Allen and the bench playing the way it has, the Grizzlies could make a run.

The Clippers, the other LA team, are off to a 7-2 start and may have one of the better benches in the league. They arguably have the best point guard in Chris Paul. The Clippers have won five straight games, defeating the Heat and Spurs during the streak.

Blake Griffin has played solid, as always, and has improved from last season. The addition of Jamal Crawford has been a huge success thus far. When Chauncey Billups gets back in the lineup, it could add even more to an already deep team.

The biggest surprise with the Clippers is Deandre Jordan. Known as a dunker and shot blocker, Jordan has developed a nice step-in shot and a solid post game. He’s more versatile, and the work he put in this offseason has definitely shown. If the Lakers don’t fix their problems, the other LA team could be the one going to the finals.

Staying in the West, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Golden State Warriors are both at 5-4. Although I don’t see either of these two teams in the finals or winning a conference championship, they both have made large strides since last season.

The Timberwolves could fall off and go back to the bottom, but the Warriors are a much improved team that could grab a 7th or 8th seed in the west if they keep up how they’re playing.

In the East, the clear surprise has been the New York Knicks. The most impressive thing with the team is that everyone is playing his part, and no one’s trying to do too much. J.R. Smith is great off the bench, and Carmelo has been playing  just as well. The team is third in points per game and fourth in points allowed. The Knicks haven’t played defense like this in a long time.

It’s nice to see the Knicks playing well again, but there are definitely a few questions with this team. Tyson Chandler is their only post presence — a weakness exposed in their loss to Memphis.

Another question is how will the team play when Amare Stoudemire comes back. There’s talk of Stoudemire coming off the bench, but then there’s talk of how he won’t stand for that.

It seems like there’s a star injured in New York every year, and the drama unfolds whenever he comes back. Hopefully this isn’t one of those years for the Knicks.

The Brooklyn Nets are off to a 5-2 start and things are looking good for the new team on the block. I don’t know if I see them as a championship contender right yet with the Heat, Celtics, Knicks and Bulls but they are playing convincingly.

The Nets have won four games in a row, beating the C’s during the streak. Deron Williams is playing well, as always. However, Brooks Lopez and Kris Humphries have transformed into a solid front court. Add Gerald Wallace and Joe Johnson, and this team could make a run if everyone plays his part.

The last big surprise in the East is the Milwaukee Bucks. This is another team I don’t see making a championship run, but it’s nice to see them develop over the years. Trading for Monta Ellis last year was a smart move — he and Brandon Jennings are a great backcourt.

They’re fifth in points per game at 101 and third in assists per game at 24.8. Ellis is at 20 points per game with over five assists, and Jennings is at 17 with eight assists per game. They’ve won three straight games and have beaten the Celtics, 76ers and Pacers so far this season — all Eastern Conference teams that they’ll have to beat down the road.

The NBA season is full of many surprises, and anything can happen between now and the playoffs. However, there should be other teams talked about in championship conversations other than the Heat, the Lakers and the Thunder.