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Looking At The Top Two Teams In The East And West

Four teams sit atop the NBA mountain almost one month into the season. Spencer Davies details why.

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Four days away from the one-month mark of the NBA season, the league standings have begun to take shape. So far, there have been a few surprises, but that’s expected in the early parts of the year.

To name some good ones, the Orlando Magic and New York Knicks have gotten off to a better start than some expected. Others, such as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder, have had a rough go out of the gates as new players get adjusted to their teams.

Aside from one big surprise, the teams most people thought would be at the top of both conferences are right there. Let’s take a look at the top two in the East and West.

Boston Celtics, 12-2

The Celtics started off 0-2. They lost Gordon Hayward within minutes of tipping off their season. They didn’t have Marcus Morris for the first couple of weeks. Al Horford has missed two games with a concussion. On top of all that, Kyrie Irving got friendly fired by Aron Baynes’ elbow and will likely miss a game or two in addition to his absence against the Toronto Raptors.

No matter. “Next man up” is a cliché, but Boston has lived up to that saying, piling up 12 straight wins behind a sound defense and crisp ball movement. Everybody’s getting in on the act, whether it’s the starting five or the bench that spells them.

Through 14 games, the Celtics are the top defensive team in the league, allowing a mere 94.5 points per 100 possessions with opponents shooting under 43 percent from the field. Offensively, they’re an unselfish collection of guys. Not once this season have they racked up less than 15 assists in a single game, which explains why 61.4 percent of their made field goals have come from those.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of this team is the youth. Brad Stevens has given them a platform and they’ve reciprocated their head coach’s trust by producing and buying into his system. Behind Irving’s superstardom and Horford’s leadership, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have embraced the challenge in front of them. Key members of the second unit like Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier have done the same. With such inexperience, only time will tell how sustainable this success is, but as it stands now, this team is clearly the top dog in the East.

Detroit Pistons, 10-3

Joining the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, the Detroit Pistons are the only other team in the NBA that is in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive rating. Coming into the season, the attention was going to be on Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond to step back up and make last year’s disappointing campaign a distant memory.

Almost one month in, they’re accomplishing that and then some. The Pistons are off to a tremendous start. As written a few weeks ago, Tobias Harris is stepping up as a go-to primary scoring option. His aggressiveness and willingness to take on the role have been crucial, earning him his first-ever Eastern Conference Player of the Week award. Avery Bradley is also settling in with his new team as the three-and-D threat they brought him in to be.

Most importantly, Jackson has played like the floor general we saw him as in Detroit before last year’s injury-riddled version. He’s taking care of the basketball and scoring when he needs to. In addition, he’s averaging over six assists per game and hitting 91 percent of his free throws.

Drummond, his tandem partner in the frontcourt, is doing much of the same by producing at elite levels in his own way. Leading the team in Box Plus-Minus with a 6.1 rating, he is crashing the boards with extra vigor and finishing with force. Surprisingly enough, he’s also shooting over 63 percent from the charity stripe as well. If he, Jackson and the rest of the Pistons keep this up, we’ll be seeing these guys making some noise in April.

Houston Rockets, 11-3

Talking MVP isn’t easy when there are so many deserving players around the league, but in the case of James Harden, he might be as clear-cut of a number one candidate as it gets right now. He’s the captain of this extremely efficient and fun Rockets squad and it explains why their record is where it is.

Mike D’Antoni’s offense is unfathomable at times. The precision, the open shot creation, the quickness—it’s virtually unguardable. Close to 54 percent of Houston’s field goal attempts have come beyond the arc. Putting Harden at the helm of his vision was a match made in heaven and nothing’s changed about how he’s run it this year. He’s only gotten better, and so have his teammates.

Despite being without Chris Paul since the start of the year, Houston is clicking on every level. Eric Gordon has filled in for the time being and has taken off as the team’s second-leading scorer. Just when you thought last season was a great comeback story for him, he’s displaying an assertiveness and athleticism that hasn’t been seen since his earlier years. The rise of Clint Capela as an elite player on the interior has been evident, as he’s averaged over 18 points and 16 rebounds per 36 minutes.

Newcomers Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker have fit right into D’Antoni’s scheme, and they’ve added a new defensive presence to this previously one-dimensional bunch. Their attitude and veteran savvy approach have rubbed off on that end for nearly everybody on the team. Obviously they’ve got to show it come playoff time, but this could be one of the most dangerous offensive teams we’ve ever seen.

Golden State Warriors, 10-3

Speaking of dangerous teams, the Warriors have been cruising along. It was a bumpy start for the defending NBA champions, but it was clearly nothing more than a little bit of rust. This stacked roster is cohesive, selfless, and loaded with talent. They have the second-best record in the West, but they’re the cream of the crop in this league.

Stephen Curry is unbelievable. Kevin Durant is unstoppable. Klay Thompson can go off at any time he desires to. And to top it all off, Draymond Green is the glue who holds the team together. It’s as simple as those four to dissect why this Golden State group is the standard bearer of the NBA.

They have a heck of a supporting cast, too. You look at guys who have been there like Andre Iguodala and JaVale McGee, the young talent like Patrick McCaw and Kevon Looney, and in bunches, rookie Jordan Bell has been an absolute force. Adding sharpshooter Nick Young and swingman Omri Casspi to the mix has proven to be wise, too.

Breaking down the Warriors is simple—they’re a complete basketball team that executes on a nightly basis with ease. It’s like taking elements of the Rockets offense and combining that with the Celtics defense. At the top of the mountain alone in assists per game (31), net rating (14.4), and field goal percentage (52.1), it’s not shocking how well they’ve clicked. There’s a reason why they were the title favorites. Barring an injury, it’s likely they’ll repeat.

Spencer Davies is a Deputy Editor and a Senior NBA Writer based in Cleveland in his third year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past five seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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