Under the former NBA schedule, the first month of the season would just be coming to a close this week.
The earlier start that the league went to last year, with the regular season beginning two weeks sooner, means some teams are now already more than a quarter of the way through their 82-game schedules.
The extra time doesn’t make it any easier to explain things so far.
The Clippers and Nuggets are up. Houston and Boston are down. Golden State has already been both, flying out to a fast start that quickly came to a halt after Stephen Curry was hurt.
The restructured schedule, done to build in more opportunities for rest and fewer back-to-back games, trimmed the preseason and reduced the number of exhibition games, in some cases forcing coaches to continue tinkering around Thanksgiving when they’d prefer to be done with it by Halloween.
“Just like every team in the league, in November you’re not going to be the same team as you are in April or May,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “So you kind of expand your play list a little bit.”
Eleven teams in the Western Conference are .500 or better, and that list doesn’t include the usually automatic San Antonio Spurs. The Clippers, Denver and Memphis are all in the top five spots after missing the playoffs last season.
The experimenting figures to continue for the Celtics, who had to readjust to having Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, and the Rockets, who had to replace Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute. Both teams start the final week of November at .500 after falling a game short of the NBA Finals last season.
Then there’s the Clippers, perhaps the surprise of the league and percentage points ahead of the Warriors for the best record in the West. The team that once boasted a starting lineup that included Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan now fields a much-more anonymous starting lineup but with excellent results.
Can that continue? Like plenty else around the NBA thus far, it appears too early to tell.
“I think we can beat anyone,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, “but I think we can lose to anyone.”
The Warriors are recovering. The Raptors are rolling.
When they meet this week, possibly with Stephen Curry back on the floor, it sets up as one of the games of the NBA season.
Golden State heads to Toronto on Thursday for the nationally televised game with the Raptors, who have the NBA’s best record at 17-4. Led by Kawhi Leonard, they have won five in a row overall and are 8-2 at home.
The Warriors have won two in a row after a four-game skid that was their longest under coach Steve Kerr. The game in Toronto opens a five-game road trip to the Eastern Conference during which they believe Curry will return from a strained left groin that will sideline him for a 10th straight game Monday against Orlando.
Golden State knows how good Leonard is. He had led San Antonio to a huge cushion in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals at Oracle Arena two seasons ago before injuring his ankle in what would turn out to be one of his last appearances for the Spurs. He played in only nine games last season before being dealt to Toronto over the summer.
Now the Raptors are looking forward to testing themselves against the champs.
“Obviously we’re excited every night to play against anybody,” forward Paskal Siakam said, “but good teams is always a bigger challenge and we’re just more excited.”
OTHER GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEK
Minnesota at Cleveland, Monday. Maybe things are settling down after turbulent times for the teams, as each have won two in a row.
Lakers at Denver, Tuesday. LeBron James and the Lakers handed the Nuggets their first loss of the season after a 4-0 start back on Oct. 25.
Atlanta at Charlotte, Wednesday. They had an exciting finish Sunday in Atlanta, where the Hawks pulled out a 124-123 victory.
Milwaukee at New York, Saturday. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks make their first of two December trips to Madison Square Garden. They’re back to play in the leadoff game on the Christmas schedule.
Clippers at Dallas, Sunday. The Mavericks will be trying for their first seven-game home winning streak since starting 7-0 there in 2013-14.
BUTLER DOES IT
The scouting report on Jimmy Butler after just a short time in Philadelphia should by now be obvious: Don’t let him take the potential winning 3-pointer from the right wing.
He’s already won a pair of games for the 76ers from nearly the identical spot on the floor. After beating the Hornets in overtime in Charlotte on Nov. 17, Butler struck again Sunday to win a game in Brooklyn that Philadelphia trailed by 20 points.
Next time the 76ers face that situation, count on Butler wanting to get back to his favorite location. But maybe he shouldn’t wait until then.
“I think if I get there at any point in time in the game,” he said, “I could make a lot of shots.”
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