Knicks and Grizzlies off to surprising starts

Sean Highkin Roar Rookie

By Sean Highkin, Sean Highkin is a Roar Rookie

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    Carmello Anthony and the New York Knicks go on the road for a tough game against the Toronto Raptors.

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    The 2012/13 NBA regular season is three weeks old, and the two teams at the top of the heap are unexpected to say the least.

    The team in first place in the Eastern Conference is not the defending champion Miami Heat but the 7-1 New York Knicks. And in the Western Conference, the most impressive team so far has not been the retooled Lakers or defending conference-champion Thunder but the 8-2 Memphis Grizzlies.

    Each of these two teams has notched wins against impressive opponents. Both won convincingly over the Heat, while the Knicks have beaten the Spurs and the Grizzlies have beaten the Thunder.

    Their early-season performances have fans and analysts talking about upsets in both conferences, although it remains to be seen how sustainable either team’s success is.

    Long one of the most futile teams in the west, the Grizzlies have made some serious noise over the past two seasons, upsetting the top-seeded Spurs in the first round of the 2011 playoffs and losing a tough seven-game series to the Clippers last year.

    In both cases, they had key players hurt. Rudy Gay missed several months of the 2011 season with a shoulder injury, and didn’t play in the postseason.

    Zach Randolph suffered a knee injury last year and missed a large portion of the season. Although he did come back for in time for the playoffs, he was clearly playing hurt and wasn’t as impactful as he might have been if healthy.

    This year Randolph and Gay are both healthy. They let guard O.J. Mayo go in free agency, and while Mayo is blossoming in Dallas, his replacement, Jerryd Bayless, is arguably a better fit for Lionel Hollins’ roster as a backup point guard.

    When you factor in the lockdown perimeter defense of Tony Allen, the steady point-guard play of Mike Conley, and one of the most versatile two-way centers in the NBA in Marc Gasol, it’s easy to see why this team is looking so dangerous early on.

    The Knicks’ off-season saw a much bigger roster shakeup, which makes their early excellence somewhat unexpected. After opting not to match Houston’s offer sheet for the immensely popular Jeremy Lin, they replaced the point guard with the aging Jason Kidd and inconsistent Raymond Felton.

    They acquired equally past-their-prime big men Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas, and even convinced Rasheed Wallace to come out of retirement. Felton is having something of a resurgence, answering critics with a stellar performance as starting point guard. Kidd, who looked washed-up the past two seasons with the Mavericks, is playing much better than expected.

    There was also the never-ending question of whether stars Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire could co-exist. That question is yet to be answered, as Stoudemire has sat out the entirety of the season and isn’t expected back for several weeks.

    But Anthony, a notoriously one-dimensional scorer, is playing more efficient offense and more aggressive defense than he has in his career. It’s a Melo we have never seen before, and it’s tough to argue with the results thus far.

    Two other surprises for the Knicks have come in the form of Ronnie Brewer and J.R. Smith. Brewer is filling in for the injured Iman Shumpert as New York’s starting shooting guard, and has proven to be a reliable scorer and defender in increased minutes.

    Smith, inconsistent and ball-dominant throughout his career, has embraced his sixth-man role, shooting 48 percent from the field and 60 percent from three-point range while also averaging the most assists per game of his career.

    Questions still remain for the Knicks, however. There is no concrete evidence that Stoudemire and Anthony are compatible, which may lead coach Mike Woodson to consider bringing Amar’e off the bench.

    Given his salary and status within the franchise, this could prove to be a tough sell, even though his effectiveness has been limited in recent years due to a series of knee problems.

    But for now the Grizzlies and Knicks appear to be the teams to beat. They’ve been consistent, addressed doubts about their rosters, beaten quality opponents, and proven themselves as legitimate contenders. Let’s see how they hold up.

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    The Crowd Says (12)

    • Roar Rookie

      November 21st 2012 @ 9:05am
      Skinnada said | November 21st 2012 @ 9:05am | ! Report

      Miami have just come off a six game west coast road trip. Playing 4 games in 5 nights and a few without Wade and one with a sick LeBron. With many games over the next two weeks at home, the Heat will be at the top of the East sooner rather than later. However, Knicks have been playing some great basketball as have Memphis. It is good to see these teams start so well. Melo has been superb!

    • November 21st 2012 @ 10:29am
      melo-drama said | November 21st 2012 @ 10:29am | ! Report

      I don’t think there’s anything too surprising for these two teams they are both playing brilliant team basketball, statistically the Knicks are looking very dominant on defence and this has really been key for their success. Points efficiency they are the best in the league by just over 10 points per game which is an eye popper to say the least they are holding teams to league low field goal percentage and on offence they are moving the ball extremely well. The knicks look like the real deal as everyone is on the same page defensively and they are playing like a real team. STAT coming back will be difficult but if he is going to buy into what they’re doing at MSG then im sure he can fit in and help the team.
      Memphis are looking good and although I feel like their depth isn’t sensational f they can remain healthy they will definitely have one of the most dominant front courts in the NBA, Z-Bo is brutal in the pain only guy in the NBA that can rebound without jumping and Marc Gasol like his brother is a multiple dimension 7 footer which are an extreme rarity and it’s all just working. That starting 5 for Memphis are playing the best ball in the NBA currently and if I was a coach I’d be hard pressed to find many flaws that can be expossed.

      • Columnist

        November 21st 2012 @ 5:57pm
        Ryan O'Connell said | November 21st 2012 @ 5:57pm | ! Report

        I think you’re the only person on the planet that thinks New York having an 8-1 record isn’t surprising.

        • November 22nd 2012 @ 11:26am
          melo-drama said | November 22nd 2012 @ 11:26am | ! Report

          Oh hi Ryan how are you, not really surprised at how well they are playing but I guess you could say that wins against the Heat and the Spurs came as some what of a surprise. I guess given alot of people wrote the knicks off before the season started as well compared to how they are actually playing is also a surprise.
          It’s only early and they have laid the foundation for a stellar season we will have to see how it plays out from here. I think the Knicks can go deep into the playoffs and be extremely competitive but there is still a long way to go.

          • Columnist

            November 22nd 2012 @ 3:02pm
            Ryan O'Connell said | November 22nd 2012 @ 3:02pm | ! Report

            I’m better than when my team was 1-4. I wonder if the NBA will let the Lakers play the rest of their season at home?

            Knicks had a bit of a hiccup today. Dallas are another team that have been surprising, in my opinion.

            • November 22nd 2012 @ 3:20pm
              melo-drama said | November 22nd 2012 @ 3:20pm | ! Report

              Damn it Ryan I was waiting to get home to watch it…… Yeah Dallas are dirkless and Mayo’s got a chip on his shoulder, Dallas actually had a great offseason considering theydidnt get their main man D-Will and lost Kidd they worked the waivers well…. Very well rounded team only surprising thing for me was how high the scoreline was, in anycase knicks shot alight from the stats and 3 point so it doesnt look too bad. Also 14 turn overs Woody and his assistants dont have to do laps lol

              • Columnist

                November 22nd 2012 @ 3:24pm
                Ryan O'Connell said | November 22nd 2012 @ 3:24pm | ! Report

                Ah, I’m sorry mate. I absolutely hate it when that happens to me. Apologies.

                I’ll make sure I don’t mention scorelines during the day again.

              • November 22nd 2012 @ 8:50pm
                melo-drama said | November 22nd 2012 @ 8:50pm | ! Report

                Ahhh it’s all good Ryan i was bound to find out, it was a good match for the Knicks to lose. Like what happened against the Grizz some nights the opposition teams shots drop and get the calls that count which is what happened again tonight. All that matters is the knicks bounce back get a win against the Rockets and head home it’s how you turn a loss around that matters. I dont know if it’s because it’s Melo but he’s getting very few calls in the paint, surely the ref’s can’t see a straight Kaman left Jab to melo’s face while he’s got the ball…… and NOT call it, it’s been a little frustrating lately with the ref’s calls on Melo in the paint esp on road games then at the other end of the floor they call TC for blocking standing 7’1 vertically ehhhhh I dont know whats going on…..
                I see your lakers lost today to my Cousieless SACTOWN how unfortunate…. I’m going to watch it now…

              • November 23rd 2012 @ 11:07am
                mushi said | November 23rd 2012 @ 11:07am | ! Report

                There was an article recently that no one is really getting calls this year. It’s killing denver

    • November 21st 2012 @ 2:23pm
      thesportsguy said | November 21st 2012 @ 2:23pm | ! Report

      2 years ago memphis were the darling of the playoffs, and were expected last season and this to be good, as in a top 4-5 seed.
      The knicks showed glimpses of what they could become last year under mike woodson and the linsanity period.

      Not at all suprised that these two teams are going well and early on challenging as legit contenders.

      I think the biggest surprises are teams that i thought would be terrible, like the bobcats, who have some pretty skilled rookies leading that team and are 5-4 and currently a top 8 team in the east.

      The other for me is the timberwolves. these guys have had their 2 best players go out (love and rubio) have a handful of injuries to JJ barea, pekovic, roy and budinger, and are competing super well. how the hell are they 5-4 and a #5 seed in the west?

      Both teams are going to surprise people this year and maybe even pinch playoff berths, which i think is the bigger surprise then memphis and knicks improving on their 4th and 7th places last year.

    • November 21st 2012 @ 7:40pm
      Swampy said | November 21st 2012 @ 7:40pm | ! Report

      I can’t see the Knicks staying on this pace – the self destruct button will depressed at some point. It’s the Knicks – maybe Dolan will trade Chandler or something dumb.

      Memphis on the other hand has a smart team. Everyone feared them going into last year’s playoffs but they just couldn’t get it going. For me they look like one of those eurobasket teams that just grind you to death.

      Certainly Miami wouldn’t want to play them – they have given the heat some smackdowns in the last 2 seasons.

      Has anyone noticed the Lakers have played 8 games at home thus far – once the home and away evens up their record could look worse.

      Comment left via The Roar’s iPhone app. Download it now [http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/the-roar/id327174726?mt=8].

    • November 21st 2012 @ 7:56pm
      ThelmaWrites said | November 21st 2012 @ 7:56pm | ! Report

      Watched Nuggets edge out Grizzlies 97-92. Gasol was filthy at the loss. The teams’ body language says they really want to win every game.

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