Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Shane Battier

Five early season NBA trends to be thankful for


We are 10 games or so into the NBA season and one thing is clear — this is fun. Not everything is fitting neatly into the preseason prediction boxes and that is the best part of being a sports fan.

We at PBT are thankful for a lot of things. All of you who read us, for one. That Rasheed Wallace is back in the NBA and yelling things at free throw shooters again. That some key players — Wednesday night it was Kevin Love and Nene — are getting healthy.

Here are five NBA early-season trends we are really pumped about:

1) The Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers are legitimate. While we may yet see a Lakers vs. Heat finals, but if that happens you want those teams to have to really earn it. Before the season started we thought a Lakers vs. Thunder Western Conference Finals was inevitable — Now the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers stand there as legitimate threats. Memphis is a physical, scrappy team built for the playoffs but they have reinvented their offense with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol more as playmakers for others. Also, lesson here for NBA fans and GMs is that continuity matters.

We knew the Clippers could put up points and entertain — Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are always a threat, and now Jamal Crawford has stepped up as a shooter and playmaker — but the question was defense. And could DeAndre Jordan step up his game? So far the Clippers have the second best defense in the NBA (if you go by points by possession) and Jordan is having a career year so far. If those hold, the Clippers are contenders.

2) The Knicks and Nets have brought quality basketball back to New York. There was a time when if you wanted to see entertaining basketball in New York you were better off heading to Rucker Park than Madison Square Garden. Not anymore. The Knicks are sporting the NBA’s best offense (111.7 points per 100 possessions) and they are top 10 in defense. Carmelo Anthony has been more than a scorer as the four, he has been a leader on both ends of the floor. Raymond Felton has been a star, a legitimate star. Plus, Rasheed Wallace.

Then there are the Nets — they are 6-4 so far and have been entertaining with Brook Lopez and Deron Williams leading the way. Plus Gerald Wallace is becoming a cult hero for doing things like trying to goad Kobe Bryant into taking free throws with his eyes closed. The Nets are not contenders, they are not the best team in New York, but they are respectable and playoff bound.

3) The Charlotte Bobcats don’t suck this year. The Bobcats — who won 7 games last season total — are 6-4 to start the season. Kemba Walker has taken a huge step forward with his game, Michael Kidd-Gillchrist brings nightly energy on both ends and Ramon Sessions is the sage, savvy veteran leader. There will be some regression, but this team is fun to watch, pushing the tempo with their athletic guards, and they have real hope now.

4) Small ball lineups are finding their way. A lot of has been made of small-ball lineups, but they work. Well, except in Boston but that’s not about size. The Knicks move Carmelo Anthony from the three to the four and they are 8-2. I think we all pretty much knew the Heat would be a force going small. Philadelphia is 7-5 without Andrew Bynum. Milwaukee is leading (and well could win) the Central Division with an undersized backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.

All of this is more entertaining than watching the Sixers throw the ball into Bynum in the post and see if he can back down his man and take a little jump hook.

5) That the Lakers are providing plenty of entertainment if not great basketball. Admit it, you like seeing the Lakers struggle.

Outside of some delusional Lakers fans — and there are more than enough of them in the world — nobody thought this would be easy for the Lakers. But man it has been a soap opera beyond imagination — a 1-4 start, Mike Brown fired as coach, his disaster of a Princeton offense out and Mike D’Antoni’s more instinctual offense is in. The Lakers defense is inconsistent. At best. Bernie Bickerstaff now has a higher winning percentage as Lakers coach than Pat Riley. And even when you think they are playing well and maybe starting to figure it out they can go out and give you 20 turnovers and lay an egg in Sacramento.

Through it all we’ve seen an efficient Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace knocking down threes while other teams have leaned on hack-a-Howard. It’s been fun to watch.

The Lakers are 6-6 and it feels like the 2010 Heat. A team that did eventually figure it out. But we’ll see if the Lakers can withstand the storm, get Dwight Howard fully healthy, and then we’ll see if they play good enough defense to really contend. Because if you look at the first thing we are thankful for, the Lakers road to contention has some big mountains in the way.

Ben Gordon goes vegan for a stint, notices improved energy

Orlando Magic v Golden State Warriors
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Ben Gordon ate avocados any time of day for their healthy fat, and also fueled his workouts with oatmeal and different juices or nutrient-rich smoothies.

Gordon went the vegan route – no dairy or meat – for a stretch a few months back.

“With that diet you have to kind of be creative,” the new Golden State guard said. “At that time I had a chef so it was a little bit easier.”

Gordon is back to a more “normal” diet as the season gets underway and he looks to play a part on the defending NBA champions.

He is eating meat again to gain back some of the weight he lost as a vegan for about the final six weeks of the season last spring and several weeks of the offseason. He needed a bit more strength to handle the rigors of an NBA schedule, yet his energy increased on the diet and he felt “a lot lighter and faster.”

The 6-foot-2 Gordon got down to his high school weight of 185, but noticed he wasn’t quite as strong and built himself back up to his typical playing weight at around 200 pounds.

“I experimented with that this summer and throughout the end of last season,” he said. “As you get older you try to see different things that work for you. I’m not doing it right now but I kind of use it functionally depending how my body feels. But with all the running, protein is hard to come by sometimes when you’re doing the vegan thing. I just like to mix it up.”

The 32-year-old Gordon, a London native and the third overall pick by Chicago out of Connecticut in 2004, averaged 6.2 points last season with Orlando. He enters his 12th NBA season looking to give Golden State another reliable shooter coming off the bench – something the Warriors have wanted.

Gordon wanted to be part of a winning situation, and he got that all right.

“You always have to prove yourself,” he said. “With this team, they won a championship so for me it’s just trying to mesh with the guys and not try to do too much. The league is so much about being in the right situation, being with the right group of guys that mesh with your talents and skills. This team here, the style of play is just a lot of ball movement and unselfish play, and they’re not shy about shooting so I think that’s right up my alley. They don’t have a guy on the bench who shoots a high arc from the 3-point line.”

Sure, committing to be a role player might be considered a risk for a guy who has long been a starter, yet Gordon is confident he will find his place on the defending champions and, he hopes, help the Warriors make another special postseason run.

“He’s been around a long time but he’s still got gas in the tank,” coach Steve Kerr said prior to taking a leave of absence last week to fully recover from back surgery. “He’s a good shooter, good scorer. You don’t have to have a traditional point guard in that role because Shaun (Livingston) and Andre (Iguodala) off the bench handle the ball. So he would be a good fit.”

Gordon played all 82 games in four different seasons, including three times in his initial five years with Chicago and again for Detroit in 2010-11. Yet Gordon has played as many as 75 games just once since with Charlotte in 2012-13 and averaged only 14.1 minutes last season with the Magic.

Not that anybody’s counting.

“I think he’s going to use this year to get another long deal,” said swingman and Finals MVP Iguodala, who made his pitch to Gordon to join Golden State while in Las Vegas this summer.

With the Warriors’ up-tempo style, Gordon plans to be patient and knows shots will find him given the way Golden State moves the ball.

“The last few years for me have been tough, but I think I fit in well here,” he said. “I’m taking my chances here. I’m not shy about this opportunity. It’s a great one.”

Oh, and he can’t wait to engage in some regular shooting competitions with NBA MVP Stephen Curry.

“It’s great to be out there with another great shooter,” Gordon said. “Just to see the way he works, how hungry he is. Even though I’m a vet, a few years older, I’m still picking up things and learning as I’m going along.”

Khris Middleton dunks, Jimmy Butler can’t stop him (VIDEO)

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Khris Middleton has more expectations and more pressure on him after a breakout season in Milwaukee, followed by him getting him PAID this summer.

Well, he looked pretty good on this play against the Bulls, making the steal then throwing down despite Jimmy Butler‘s efforts to stop him.

Middleton finished with 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting for the Bucks. However, Butler had the last laugh as he went off for 23 points on 12 shots and led the Bulls to the (meaningless) preseason win.