LOS ANGELES —
Anyone who predicted that the Los Angeles Lakers would be teetering around .500, that the Charlotte Bobcats would be decent, that Chauncey Billups would play in as many games as Steve Nash over the season’s first 33 days well, that’s just crazy talk.
That it actually happened doesn’t make it any less insane.
There were plenty of startling story lines over the first month of the NBA season, many involving the Lakers.
Coach Mike Brown lasted all of five games, as did the Princeton offense.
Assistant Eddie Jordan, handpicked by Brown to help install a scheme that can make average players successful and apparently can reduce superstars to mediocrity, is still on the Lakers’ bench after being granted a reprieve by new Coach Mike D’Antoni. You think Jordan’s first few days at the Lakers’ practice facility after Brown was fired might have been a bit awkward?
The Lakers’ misery started in earnest before the calendar even flipped to November. Portland rookie sensation Damian Lillard inadvertently kneed Nash in the leg in the season’s second game, leading to a small break in Nash’s fibula and a fractured Lakers offense.
Meanwhile, erstwhile Lakers point guard Ramon Sessions was spared from the madness by flipping coasts to join what had been one of the worst teams in NBA history. All Sessions proceeded to do was help Charlotte win seven of its first 12 games, matching the Bobcats’ victory total from last season, while becoming the franchise’s most fearless player since Muggsy Bogues.
Where would Cleveland be without Anderson Varejao? Well, they’re in last place in the Central Division with him, so you have to wonder. The 6-foot-10 forward-center leads the league in rebounding with 15.1 per game after logging double-doubles in 11 of his first 15 games. This, from a previously nondescript player (other than his famously shaggy hair) with career averages of 7.6 points and 7.4 rebounds.
O.J. Mayo, who had talked longingly about becoming an NBA Hall of Famer while at USC only to come off the bench by his third season in Memphis, can dream again after his breakthrough start in Dallas. The shooting guard has posted career-high averages in points (19.8), field-goal percentage (.476) and three-point percentage (.512).
Too bad the Mavericks appear bound to miss the playoffs only two seasons after winning the title.
As flops go, there’s none bigger — literally — than Indiana’s Roy Hibbert, the 7-foot-2 center who is not exactly living up to the four-year, $58-million contract he signed before this season.
Hibbert is averaging single figures in points and rebounds one season after becoming an All-Star for the first time.
For those who say Hibbert has struggled in part because his team isn’t at full strength, well, who is?
It seems as if almost every team has at one point missed a mainstay because of a new injury or one that lingered longer than expected. Kevin Love didn’t help the Minnesota Timberwolves — already deprived of sidelined star Ricky Rubio — by performing knuckle(head) pushups that broke a few bones in his hand and forced him to miss the season’s first nine games. At least they won five of them.
Philadelphia’s Andrew Bynum topped that foolishness, exacerbating a knee injury that has kept him out all season while bowling.
Other key injured players included Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki (knee), New York’s Amare Stoudemire (knee), Indiana’s Danny Granger (knee), Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving (finger), New Orleans’ Eric Gordon (knee) and Golden State’s Andrew Bogut (ankle).
On the plus side, Billups returned to the Clippers late last month, ahead of some estimates after he suffered a torn left Achilles’ tendon in February.
The Clippers also have received another pleasant surprise in Jamal Crawford, the early front-runner for sixth man of the year one year removed from a subpar season in Portland. Crawford was the leading scorer on a team that features Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, splurging for at least 20 points seven times over the season’s first 11 games.
Anyone who claims they saw that coming can consider themselves an oddball of JaVale McGee proportions.