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Monday, November 5, 2012
Early surprises in the NBA

By espnW

What is the most surprising development in the first week of NBA play?

New Rockets leader emerges

By Melissa Isaacson

Anyone even casually acquainted with the NBA knows what last season's Sixth Man of the Year is capable of doing on a basketball court.

Just the same, despite the trademark beard, James Harden was sometimes easy to miss in the shadow of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and his blazing start for the Rockets is the big story of the first week of the NBA season.

Harden, traded to Houston after the Oklahoma City Thunder were unable to sign him to a contract extension, is suddenly a part of one of the most exciting backcourts in the league along with Jeremy Lin. And Harden sure appeared to have a chip on his shoulder while averaging 41 points and seven assists against Detroit and Atlanta in the first two games of the season.

No one was expecting much from the young Rockets, which lost five of their top six scorers from last season, but they may have found a new leader.

Harden transforming Houston into a contender

By Kate Fagan

There have been a number of storylines in this young NBA season, including the Los Angeles Lakers struggling to get a win while learning to run the Princeton offense and guard Ray Allen, at age 37, lighting it up for the Miami Heat. But the most surprising development at the start of this NBA season is James Harden. By that, I mean everything about the Harden situation, including the late-night coup pulled off by Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Rockets, to land Harden just a few hours before the start of the season.

NBA fans watched as Harden blossomed with the Thunder last season, but there were still questions about whether Harden was a superstar, a No. 1 option, a foundation player. He has not yet answered those questions sufficiently -- because we're only three games into the season -- but his play has been eye-popping and suggests he will be all of those uncertainties.

Through three games, the Rockets are 2-1 and Harden is averaging 35.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists a game. With that late-night trade, Morey transformed the Rockets from a mediocre, rebuilding team into a playoff contender -- and made the Western Conference even more exciting to watch.

Age is just a number for Knicks

By Adena Andrews

While everyone is tripping over the 1-3 start of the West Coast Super Friends, aka the Lakers, my focus is on the New York Knicks and how they swept the floor with the defending-champion Heat in their home opener. The Knicks cruised 104-84 to deliver a win to a city in need of good news after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.

The surprise in this win was the average age of the Knicks: 32.2, the oldest in the league. This group of senior citizens, including Jason Kidd, Kurt Thomas and Rasheed Wallace, handled the young Heat like they were in midcareer form. To put the age of the Knicks in perspective, the last time Thomas was in a Knicks uniform I was a sophomore in college and the iPhone was akin to a flying car. The world was just a different place.

While a young Carmelo Anthony did the bulk of the scoring with 30 points, it's important to note that he did it without Amar'e Stoudemire, who is out with a knee injury. If the two superstars learn to play together, Stoudemire's return could mean great things for the Knicks.

The Knicks are 2-0 for the first time in 13 years after defeating the 76ers. In typical New York fashion, I will predict a championship run after a two-game win streak.

Stormy weather in Oklahoma

By Graham Hays

The obvious answer, and maybe the correct one, is the slow start by the Lakers. At least they finally have more wins than the Los Angeles Kings after beating the Pistons on Sunday night.

But I'll go with the 1-2 start by the Thunder, a team that didn't suffer its third loss last season until it had 12 wins. I get that trading James Harden a few days before the start of the regular season might leave nerves a little frazzled in Oklahoma's capital, but a 104-95 loss at home against the Hawks on Sunday doesn't seem indicative of a return to normalcy. I'll be infinitely more surprised if it continues, but the Thunder's rough week caught my eye more than anything else.

L.A. fans in panic mode

By Michelle Smith

The Lakers' slow start -- they finally got a win against a winless Detroit team Sunday night to go to 1-3 -- might not be considered entirely surprising when you look at their 0-8 preseason, but the fact that they hadn't been 0-3 in 34 years and that panic was already setting in in Los Angeles makes it the most interesting development in the first week.

The Lakers now wait to see how long they will be without Steve Nash -- with some indications he could be out for a month with a left leg fracture -- and they probably take great comfort in the fact that the last time they started 0-3, back in the disco-hazed days of 1978, they went on to win 15 of their next 16 games.

Lakers are hurting (but they'll be fine)

By Melissa Jacobs

Two weeks ago, when we pondered who would win this season's NBA title, Adena Andrews and Kate Fagan picked the Lakers to take it all.

So it is rather shocking that the Lakers lost their first three and just snatched their first victory Sunday night.

This is a team littered with Hall of Famers, but that has not been enough to overcome their biggest issue: injuries. Kobe Bryant is playing on a bad foot, which he told reporters felt like it was "about to fall off" during Friday's loss to the Clippers. Dwight Howard is coming off back surgery. Steve Nash is out for at least another week with a left leg fracture. The Lakers' lack of bench depth has been exposed in this young season.

Sure, we can be hasty and claim the Lakers are an over-the-hill team that will creak its way through the season. Or focus on the reality, which is that when Nash gets back, he and the Lakers will be a force well into the postseason. One week does not change that.

Harden, Lin a blast to watch

By Amanda Rykoff

Surprising developments in the NBA? I don't know what we can possibly discuss. Everybody knew the Lakers and Nuggets would start 0-3, the Thunder would be 1-2, and the Knicks would embarrass the Heat in their opener at the Garden, right? It's been just a few games, and I expect the Lakers, Nuggets, Thunder and Heat to overcome their sluggish starts and make deep runs in the playoffs (I stand by my Lakers-Heat final), but there is another story to talk about.

The biggest surprise is taking place in Houston, where something special appears to be happening. Jeremy Lin and James Harden have people talking about them being one of the best and most exciting backcourts in the league. When the Rockets acquired Harden from the Thunder less than a week before the season, many wondered if the fourth-year shooting guard was good enough to be a standalone star. Some attributed his success in Oklahoma City to being a complementary player on a team with Kevin Durant, who elevates the play of everybody around him.

According to Elias, Harden's 82 points in the Rockets' first two games are the most scored by a player in his first two games with a team in NBA history. I don't know if Harden can keep up such an electrifying pace, but he has certainly made a statement. Lin, whom many relegated to irrelevancy once he left New York and signed with the Rockets, has benefited from Harden's hot start, racking up 15.3 ppg and 7.3 apg. They play off each other well and will likely get better as they play together more. This is good news for basketball fans and bad news for fans of other Western Conference teams.

I just wrote about the Houston Rockets after the first week of the NBA season. Yup, that qualifies as a big surprise.