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Commentary: Spurs, Pistons look like elite of NBA

Early returns suggest Dallas Mavericks will be tougher in playoffs under coach Johnson

December 5, 2005

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— One month into the NBA season, what do we think and what do we know?

We think ...

... that the Spurs and Pistons have already separated themselves from the pack in their respective conferences.

San Antonio has a record that's much better than the Spurs usually post in November. It's gotten to the point where coach Gregg Popovich isn't sure whether he should yell at his guys or just let them be.

"Pop wants us to be perfect," Tony Parker said last week, but the Spurs are still working through some issues; they were 11th in field-goal percentage allowed through Friday, far from their normal one or two ranking. And Brent Barry, last season's big free-agent acquisition, appears to be the odd man out in the playing rotation at the moment. And yet, the Spurs are running rings around the West's supposed challengers.

Detroit doesn't have a great bench, but its starting five is so good that it doesn't matter. And with the Pacers and Heat both struggling, the Pistons are primed to get the top record in the East - and any seventh game in the East playoffs on their home floor.

... that the Mavericks are going to be much tougher in the playoffs under Avery Johnson, who's not just paying lip service to playing defense like Don Nelson did the last several years. Dallas has already beaten all four of last season's conference finalists: San Antonio, Phoenix, Miami and Detroit.

... that Mike Fratello is doing a terrific coaching job in Memphis, with veteran guys who know how to play and are willing to defend. Fratello said he had to make changes to last season's playoff team: Jettisoning Jason Williams and Bonzi Wells in trades that netted Eddie Jones and Bobby Jackson, along with picking up guard Damon Stoudamire from Portland, has changed the Grizzlies' locker room for the better.

... that the Commish will be looking closely to see how Portland, Chicago and Denver handle their issues with Ruben Patterson, Tim Thomas and Voshon Lenard, respectively. Each has essentially been deactivated by his respective teams and demanded a trade. Stern said last year that he wanted to see teams get tougher with players who dictated their release by basically refusing to play until they're sent to a team of their choice, as Alonzo Mourning did last year.

We know ...

... that New Orleans/Oklahoma City rookie point Chris Paul has made a huge difference with the surprisingly competitive Hornets.

... that Kobe Bryant is shooting the ball too much.

Bryant has put up 30 shots or more seven times this season, including six times in the Lakers' last seven games.

... that the Clippers, officially, are the best team in Los Angeles. Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley have solidified the Clippers in the backcourt, freeing Elton Brand to dominate the paint and glass.

... that all of the ink and typing and cable TV ranting about the implications of the league's dress code was a colossal waste of time. Miracle of miracles, everyone seems to have found time to pick up a jacket, sweater, collared shirt and slacks. Now, let's tackle Iraq.

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