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NBA COLUMN: A fresh look has NBA fans excited

Every team in the NBA has at least one week of their regular season completed. Several teams, the Minnesota Timberwolves included, are trying to find the most effective rotations for new players after an offseason filled with injuries. Other teams, like the San Antonio Spurs, are looking to be solid playoff contenders with many players returning to their rosters. With all of the trades, injuries and rotations happening around the league this season, fans of the sport will be experiencing  an exciting new take on the NBA and, depending on success or failures, that excitement can carry well into the winter and spring.

Here’s a quick look at each team and their start to the 2012-2013 season. Starting with Minnesota and the rest of the teams in the league following in alphabetical order. All statistics are as of Nov. 11.

Minnesota (4-2): The offense was expected to sputter without Ricky Rubio or Kevin Love, but the defense and depth of the Timberwolves have made up for it. Last season, they gave up 100 points per game. That number is down to 89 this season. Their bench has been a surprise as well, scoring 40.5 points per game. Both their defense and bench scoring are ranked in the top 10 after four games.

Atlanta (2-2): Atlanta has only played four games, but an early-season win over Oklahoma City without Josh Smith (18.8 points per game last season) was impressive. Louis Williams has eased the loss of Joe Johnson by giving Atlanta 13 points per game off the bench.

Boston (3-3): Their first two wins came down to the wire against the Washington Wizards without John Wall. The good news is Rajon Rondo has taken up more of the scoring load while shooting 37.5 percent from three. If he can remain a consistent scoring threat through November, Boston should be able to grind their way to a record over .500.

Brooklyn (2-2): Here’s what Brooklyn has: an extremely wealthy owner with a thick Russian accent, a state of the art arena, a coach who is notable for tightening up in important games, and a roster that looks good on paper but blows a 22-point lead to an injury-riddled Timberwolves squad. With the exception of the Russian accent, don’t the Brooklyn Nets sound like the NBA’s version of the Dallas Cowboys?

Charlotte (2-3): Winning two out of five games shouldn’t be newsworthy, but the Bobcats are only five wins away from matching last season’s win total. That shouldn’t be worth celebrating, but it’s all Michael Jordan has to work with at the moment.

Chicago (4-2): If Chicago can win over 45 games without Derrick Rose, Tom Thibodeau will be in the running for Coach of the Year. He should win the award outright if Chicago makes the playoffs. All while Joakim Noah leads them in scoring through four games, that was the case before Deng’s 27-point outburst in a loss to Oklahoma City.

Cleveland (2-4): There will be highs and lows in the young backcourt of Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving like their combined 9-for-22 shooting in a 29-point loss to Chicago. But the highs, like combining 52 points (and 11 made threes) in a win against the Clippers, give Cavaliers fans a lot to be excited about. Cleveland will have to rely on their backcourt tandem even more while Anderson Varejao and Tyler Zeller miss multiple weeks due to injuries.

Dallas (4-3): No Dirk? No problem. Dallas shocked the Lakers on opening night and look to be feisty until Dirk Nowitzi returns. O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison, two newly acquired players, have stepped up their game. Mayo’s averaged 28 points in his last three games while Darren Collison has averaged 16.2 points and 7.4 assists for the season.

Denver (4-3): Denver was a solid pick to win the Western Conference given the addition of Andre Iguodala and the improvement of JaVale McGee. However, Iguodala hasn’t taken on the scoring load like many expected while McGee, who re-signed for $44 million over four years, has lost his starting spot to Kosta Koufos. Luckily, there’s plenty of time for Denver to turn things around.

Detroit (0-7): Last season, Detroit started out 4-20, but finished 21-21. Could that happen again? It’s possible, given that 19-year-old center Andre Drummond is a future compliment to forward Greg Monroe, but he needs time to develop. While that happens, Detroit will be struggling with a variety of inconsistent wings and point guards. No player besides Greg Monroe averages over 10 points and they’ve allowed over 100 points per game as a team. Not a great mix.

Golden State (3-4): Despite Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut recovering from injuries, the injury bug continues to bite elsewhere with Brandon Rush tearing an ACL. The schedule doesn’t get  easier for the Warriors, their next 12 games are against playoff teams from last season, with the exception of Minnesota and Brooklyn. Both teams are much-improved this year.

Houston (3-3): There’s no way to describe how fast James Harden came out of the gates in Houston’s three wins, but he’s cooled off since then. If Houston stays around .500 for a couple months and Harden plays at an All-Star level, another blockbuster trade could be in the making to snag a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Indiana (3-4): Without Danny Granger, Indiana barely defeated Toronto and Sacramento while one of their losses came to the lowly Charlotte Bobcats. Even worse is the news that Granger is reportedly out for another three months after receiving an injection in his left knee to treat patellar tendinosis.

LA Clippers (4-2): The Clippers’ wins over Memphis, the Lakers, San Antonio, and Portland look terrific, but their losses to Cleveland and Golden State at home? Not so much. The Clippers have a capable bench, going from one of the worst last season to the best thanks to reserve guard Jamal Crawford averaging 21.8 points per game.

LA Lakers (2-4): Their first win cames from the Pistons when they were (0-5), but Steve Nash looks to be back soon. That’s not necessarily the reason they’ve struggled, though. In their four losses they’ve given up 103 points. Bench play has also plagued the Lakers, scoring only 17.4 points per game. That’s safely the second worst in the league. The third worst bench comes from the Cleveland Cavaliers at 26.2.

Memphis (4-1): Memphis will never win the Pau Gasol for Kwame Brown and Marc Gasol trade that gave the Lakers two straight titles, but Marc Gasol has been terrific to start this season. He’ll place himself on an All-NBA team if he can stay around his current average of 16.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 5 assists per game. On the other hand, that production could be enough for Memphis to trade Rudy Gay for a better fit for Gasol.

Miami (5-1): Miami’s been undefeated and dominant at home, but suffered a blowout at New York in their only road game. Will their problems on the road continue?  They have six straight road games in nine days.

Milwaukee (3-2): Milwaukee shot out of the gate with a season-opening victory at Boston. If Brandon Jennings can continue dishing out assists (8.6 per game so far), Milwaukee will be around or over .500 throughout the season and have a chance at a low playoff seed.

New Orleans (3-2): The Hornets’ chances of being a surprise playoff team went out the window with Eric Gordon’s ongoing knee problems. Even worse,  he’s owed $58 million over the next four seasons. Anthony Davis’ success as a rookie will be a nice distraction, but it won’t hide the mysterious injuries behind Gordon and fans losing patience with him.

New York (4-0): New York’s four wins have been by at least 10 points, including a 20-point blowout over Miami. Possible reasons why they’re playing so well: pulling together after Hurricane Sandy, a real possibility of losing their fan base to Brooklyn, averaging an absurd 14 for 31 from beyond the arc, and Carmelo Anthony playing power forward. Right now, it looks like Amare Stoudemire should take his sweet time returning from a knee injury.

Oklahoma City (4-2): It’ll be a feeling out process as the Thunder look to replace James Harden with Kevin Martin. Martin’s been great at the moment, scoring 18 points per game off the bench. Even more impressive is that he’s getting those numbers off of just 9.4 field goal attempts per game.

Orlando (2-3): Orlando is scratching and clawing to stay relevant without Dwight Howard. A key reason for that has been E’Twaun Moore, a reserve for Boston last season who is now contributing across the board at 14.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 4 assists per game for the Magic. That’s good enough to be an early candidate for Most Improved Player of the Year.

Philadelphia (4-2): The rolling of the dice for center Andrew Bynum hasn’t gone as planned, but Jrue Holiday has been a breakout performer with 18.2 points and 9.5 assists per game. Sooner or later though, if the 76ers want to make the playoffs, they’ll need their franchise center to man the middle instead of Lavoy Allen and Kwame Brown.

Phoenix (3-4): A few former Timberwolves are playing for the Suns these days. All have been inconsistent out of the gates, with Michael Beasley receiving the most minutes. So far, he’s averaged 12.9 points per game on a  field goal percentage of 35 percent . Meanwhile, Wesley Johnson’s only played in three games this season and Sebastian Telfair is the first point guard off the bench for now, despite shooting just 35 percent from the field.

Portland (2-4): The Blazers have a playoff-caliber starting five led by LaMarcus Aldridge. Combined, the starters score 82.2 points per game which is the best in the league. The bench has been on the other edge of the spectrum, however, dead last at 14.6 per game. Cleveland’s bench scoring, third worst, nearly doubles Portland’s.

Sacramento (2-4): There is a lot of potential on the Kings’ roster, specifically Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins. But there is no one to give them the ball and it’s not like Evans and Cousins are willing passers either. Right now, Sacramento ranks dead last in assists and they haven’t been ranked higher than 20th since their most recent playoff appearance in 2006.

San Antonio (6-1): Age didn’t seem to matter for San Antonio until the Los Angeles Clippers took them to the woodshed Wednesday night. Still, it looks like the Spurs are planning for another playoff run with young role players Danny Green (11.7 points per game) and Kawhi Leonard (10.3 points, 2.2 steals) providing solid play this early in the season.

Toronto (1-5): Toronto’s lone win comes against the Timberwolves. It doesn’t get any easier with Andrea Bargnani’s inconsistent offense early on and Kyle Lowry (22 points, seven rebounds, five assists versus Minnesota) missing time with an ankle injury.

Utah (3-4): Utah has been typical  to start the season: undefeated at home, no wins on the road. They have to be pleased though with Mo Williams coming in and giving them 16.8 points per game at the one position where Utah was supposed to be weak at: point guard.

Washington (0-5): Washington’s double-digit scorers are Kevin Seraphin, Jordan Crawford, and A.J Price. That’s not a good sign for a team missing John Wall with no timetable to return. Still, they’ve given Boston two good games. If they lose to Charlotte, though, it’s safe to say this won’t be Washington’s finest NBA season.

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