I know it’s way early in the NBA season, but here’s a few things I already know:
* Chicago, Orlando and Milwaukee will be the wild card teams in the East. They’ll be fun to watch, win more games than people expect and – barring injuries to key players – knock a couple of legendary franchises out of playoff contention (See: Philly, Boston)
D. Howard is the new A. Stoudimire – a healthy man-child
* Out West the wild cards will be Utah and NO/OKC. The return of Carlos Boozer to any of the form that caused to Jazz to sign him to a ridiculous contract, along with the maturation of key players and solid young draft picks, will give Jerry Sloane his best team since the end of Stockton-to-Malone. And Chris Paul is shaping up as the Jason Kidd of Generation Next. When him on the floor, the Hornets can win any game. The losers might be Seattle, Minnesota and perhaps Sacramento.
* The 2-0 Lakers are again the scary team out West. Not among the best teams but early results show the Lakers just might not be the worst team in the Staples center. We’ll all be watching to see if Lamar Odom and the younguns who played so well in the first two games will become spectators once Kobe returns. The key is for Kobe to become the kind of play-making catalyst that dominates games with the pas early and points late. We’ll see.
* Phoenix will struggle all year with its will-he-or-won’t-he conundrum regarding Amarie Staiudemire. It’s still early to assess his recovery but we may have seen the best of his young, gifted star.
* The Knicks will win 33 games this year. Many of them will be painful, excruciating and aggravating (Can you tell I have season tickets?). But the players seemed unburdened by the dramas of last season and they’re deep enough to hang in games. They will lose games to teams with great players, players who can dominate the floor. Will that be enough “progress” for Isiah to keep his job? Probably.