Team on the Rise
Sacramento — Outside of Wednesday night’s 112-100 loss against the Lakers, the league’s highest-scoring team (113.8 ppg), the Kings are learning how to win. All three of their victories have been by three points or less, and they have scored over 100 and allowed over 100 in every game. Sacramento has won three of the five games it trailed at the half and two of the three when leading after the third quarter and one when trailing entering the fourth.
Perhaps most noticeable from the 3-2 start is that the Kings are 2-1 on the road, which has them on pace to easily surpass the seven wins they managed on the road last season, Samuel Dalembert has returned from his leg injury, but rookie DeMarcus Cousins is going to keep the starting center job for the Kings. Coach Paul Westphal told the Sacramento Bee: “I don’t see any big reason to change things right now.” Cousins has been solid thus far, averaging 13.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, .6 steals and .4 blocks in nearly 23 minutes a game. The only knock would be the 4.8 fouls per game — tied for second most in the league.
Team on the Decline
Houston — The Rockets are off to an 0-4 start despite Aaron Brooks, Kevin Martin, Shane Battier and Luis Scola returning as starters and Yao Ming getting back into the fold in limited minutes. It’s been a tough start with games against the Lakers on their ring ceremony night and the Warriors when Monta Ellis dropped 46 on them. Houston returned home to get rocked by Denver and fell to New Orleans 107-99 Wednesday.
The Rockets have no five-player combination that has a +/- over 7 —the 32nd-best combo in the Western Conference. More numbers that are puzzling are that Houston is third in the league in first-quarter scoring at 29.8 a game and drop to 21st in third-quarter scoring at 22 a game before rising back to second in the league at 28.2 in the fourth quarter. Perhaps the Rockets need to stay on the floor during halftime and keep shooting.
Numbers to Know
30 & 22 — Saturday’s Memphis-Minnesota game was one for the ages if you’re a fan of sloppy basketball. Both teams set franchise records as Minnesota coughed up 30 turnovers, while Memphis recorded 22 steals. Grizzlies guard Mike Conley stole seven of those to tie a franchise record. Conley then went on to steal $40 million over five years from Memphis just under the deadline to extend 2007 rookie contracts.
3 — The Warriors are 3-0 at home for the first time since 1990, when Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin helped the team to a 6-0 start. Fittingly, Golden State, even without stud Stephen Curry (ankle), leads the league in fast break points per game at 23 a contest.
42 — Orlando handed the Minnesota Timberwolves their worst loss in franchise history with a 128-66 trouncing Wednesday. The 42-point deficit came a night after the T’Wolves fell to Miami by 32. The Magic had 78 points at the half — a franchise record.
17 — Kobe Bryant posted the 17th triple double of his career in Wednesday’s win over Sacramento. Bryant had a line of 30 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds for the 5-0 Lakers.
1 — The Clippers got their first win of the season against an opponent that should have pushed the team to 0-5. However the two Erics — Gordon (27) and Bledsoe (17) held Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City to a 37-percent shooting night from the field in a 107-92 win. Durant was 6-of-24 for 16 points. The Thunder have dropped two in a row — by 15 to the Clippers and 21 against the Jazz.
4-0 — The Hornets matched their best start in franchise history at 4-0, and it’s the first time the team has won its first four games against teams that finished better than .500 the previous season.
11 — In 16 meetings this season, the Western Conference is 11-5 against the Eastern Conference.
Beyond the Arc
Not much back-to-back in pursuit of three-peat: The Lakers only have 15 back-to-back games this season in pursuit of their third straight title. That is the fewest they’ve had since joining the league in 1948. Fellow Western Conference teams Phoenix (16) and Oklahoma City (17) are second and third on that list, while Eastern Conference playoff favorites Atlanta, Chicago and Milwaukee top the list at 23 back-to-backs apiece.
Where’s the Love? Despite the stink that came up last week with Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis not giving Kevin Love enough minutes — remember Love did say this summer that Team USA treated him better than his own NBA team — the Timberwolves’ F/C is still getting it done. In a paltry 26.4 minutes a game, he is tied for second in the league with three double doubles in five games at 16.8 ppg and 10.8 rpg. He was one rebound shy of his fourth double double on Wednesday night.
Conley extended: So there are varying opinions on the Grizzlies extending relatively unproven PG Mike Conley with a five-year, $40 million contract Monday night. The organization is already considered a participant in the most lopsided trade when in February 2008 it sent Pau Gasol and his salary to the Lakers for his brother Marc, and two first-round picks that turned out to be Darrell Arthur (2008) and Greivis Vasquez (2010) in addition to three players not in the league anymore. Cap space cleared enabled the Grizzlies to get Zach Randolph. Memphis locked up rising superstar Rudy Gay to a max contract in the summer to go along with Conley’s contract, but will there be enough left in the kitty to keep OJ Mayo and Marc Gasol? Maybe Memphis got caught up in the success point guards are having at the outset of the season, including Conley's. He is averaging 15.8 points,, 9.2 assists, 5.8 boards while shooting 44.6 percent from the line, 35 from beyond the arc and 68 from the line. He is also averaging 38 minutes — eight more than his career average. So Conley is either going to blow up or burnout with minutes like that.
— Corby A. Yarbrough @AthlonCorby on Twitter