Who will be the NBA’s last undefeated team?
Still early into the 2008-09 season, only 3 teams remain who are undefeated. Atlanta and Los Angeles at 4-0 and Utah at 5-0. The two Western Conference teams were expected to be where they are, but Atlanta certainly would never have been picked to get by both Orlando and New Orleans in the first week. The question now is which team has the best chance of being the last team to lose in the NBA this season?
The first step is natually to look at each team’s next game. Atlanta travels to Oklahoma City on Sunday, while Utah travels to New York and Los Angeles hosts Houston. Obviously, while the Lakers have the only home game of the three, it is also against the toughest opponent since Utah and Atlanta play expected bottom feeders and LA plays one of the projected best 5 teams in the West. This would obviously mean the Lakers have the toughest road, especially since their next two after that have them traveling to Dallas and New Orleans. So if you look at Sunday’s games, you would have to lean toward Los Angeles losing simply because they play the toughest opponent. Even if they were to make it past Houston at home, the next two games on the road would be rough.
So if we rule Los Angeles out, the next step is to look at the following schedules for Atlanta and Utah. Utah begins a 5-game Eastern Conference road trip on Sunday, starting with New York before traveling to Philadelphia, Washington, Charlotte and Cleveland. They also have to play 4 of those games on back-to-back nights, meaning they play thos 5 games in the next 7 days. So while it may be against easy opponents until Saturday, it will be hard for them to play often and on the road. Atlanta also begins a road trip and 5 games in 7 days, although their opponent on Wednesday, Boston, should spell the end of their undefeated season. If the Hawks can slip by the Thunder on Sunday and the Bulls on Tuesday, there is very little chance they could win a game in the Garden on Wednesday.
Looking at the schedules, it seems that Utah would have the easiest set of opponents for the group, since they don’t play Cleveland until Saturday, and Los Angeles is stuck against Houston, New Orleans and Detroit within the week and Atlanta is stuck on the road against Boston. The strength of schedule would certainly point toward Utah to be the final undefeated team in the NBA, but that does not make them the best team in the league.
Most would argue that Los Angeles is the best team in this group, and many would also argue best in the league. While I am not attempting to refute that claim in this article, I don’t think they will be the last undefeated team. I believe Utah has the best shot of achieving that accomplishment. Certainly that does not make them the best team in the NBA, but it should at least say something about their shot at being deep in the playoffs in the Western Conference. Something important to note about Utah and Los Angeles is that they have both beaten the Clippers twice this season, so their victories are slightly padded as the other Los Angeles team has not looked sharp this year. This next week should go a long way in showing the potential of these 3 undefeated teams.
I doubt anyone would say Atlanta is the best team in the Eastern Conference, but they should at least receive some recognition for their good start this year. They have beaten tough opponents in New Orleans and Orlando and have done it at home and on the road. They have come back to win and they have gotten early leads and held on to win. This is a very good team that few people are talking about, and they are finally buying into the defensive philosophies of their coach. While Josh Smith’s injury will hurt their win total for the next couple weeks, this could end up being a dangerous team in the East. The Conference is soft yet again this year and the opportunity is there for some teams to step up and make a name for themselves in the playoff chase. Orlando seems to fade in recent years while the Billups hole in Detroit may hurt more than people realize. Cleveland may still not have found the right help for LeBron and Boston may have lost their motivation to dominate. The NBA and especially the Eastern Conference still have a lot of questions, so anyone has the ability to elevate their game and become a front runner. Atlanta just may have a chance to be a playoff team for the second year in a row.
Los Angeles and Utah are both expected to be playoff teams in the West. While they of course play in a much tighter conference, the general consensus is that they both have the talent to get it done. The question now is whether or not both teams can stay healthy. Utah’s Deron Williams will be out for at least a month and Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum tend to have injury issues for the Lakers. Los Angeles is fortunate because any team with Kobe Bryant on it automatically has a shot at winning the title any year. If Williams has to miss significant time for the Jazz this season, their playoff chances get much slimmer. That being said, their strength of schedule should leave them the lone undefeated team when the dust settles next week.
So what do you think? Will Los Angeles remain undefeated because they’re the best team in the NBA? Will Atlanta continue to surprise and impress in the East? Only time will tell.
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