How soon is too soon to start making judgments about our beloved Association? To put it another way, when does the curtain rise on small sample size theater and begin its second act? Right about now is the answer. Most people start to pay attention around Christmas, but we are not most people. We are the few, the committed, the insane and we want to know if the Bobcats are for real.
This is what we'll be watching this week, all times Eastern:
What you'll be watching: New York at Brooklyn (7 p.m.)
The battle of Los Angeles was actually fun last season for the first time in a long time because there was an honest to goodness chance the Clippers might have finally been better than the Lakers. They weren't as it turned out, but even still there was the unmistakable aura of a faux rivalry, a classic Hollywood story as it were, because at no time were the Lakers ever in danger of losing their status as the princes of the city.
This is different because the Knicks are vulnerable. They're vulnerable because James Dolan has managed to turn a flagship franchise with every conceivable advantage into a cheap joke and succeeded in alienating one of the most loyal fan bases in sports. The Nets offered something new, something cool and, like so many Jersey transplants, they smartly shed their unfortunate past and started over from scratch once they arrived in the big city.
Ah yes, but the Knicks have managed to turn it around this season and are not only playing winning basketball, they are playing a brand of ball that New Yorkers value: smart, tough and gritty. Now we're talking about borough bragging rights in a city that breathes boasts like the rest of us consume oxygen. All that, plus Reggie Evans and Rasheed Wallace on the undercard.
What the Twitterati will be watching: Charlotte at Oklahoma City (8 p.m.)
League Pass After Dark: New Orleans at Clippers (10:30 p.m.)
Anthony Davis has appeared in only a half-dozen games because of a concussion and an ankle injury and he won't play in this one. This may seem like an interminable wait for a franchise that spent all of last season in limbo, but ask the Clippers what it's like to wait for a top draft pick. There is no reason to rush Davis and like Blake Griffin, he'll be worth it eventually.
What you'll be watching: Dallas at Philadelphia (7 p.m.)
Andrew Bynum's nightmare is really Doug Collins' dream scenario. Without his best player, Collins is free to wring every last drop out of this odd roster of castoffs and misfits from Kwame Brown to Swaggy P. They will win more games than they should and they will overachieve, but the pressure to be great is gone like so many gutterballs rolled down the alley of life.
What the Twitterati will be watching: Toronto at Houston (8 p.m.)
Kyle Lowry plays every game like he's pissed off at the world and if you had to watch all of your drive and kicks end in Andrea Bargnani bricks you'd be angry too. If you ever wanted to watch someone play with a boulder on his shoulder, look no further than Lowry in his return to Houston with the weight of a sagging franchise looming heavy on his psyche.
League Pass After Dark: Indiana at Lakers (10:30 p.m.)
Your nightly dose of Laker schadenfreude.
What you'll be watching: Houston at Oklahoma City (8 p.m.)
Speaking of weighty returns ... You can make the argument that James Harden was Sam Presti's greatest coup. Yes, Presti was blessed with high draft picks back in those days, but he not only made the right calls, he made them amid mass confusion and a lack of consensus atop the draft boards. Taking Harden third that year only seems logical with the benefit of hindsight. Normally when a player returns home after a contract dispute there is a question of reception from the home crowd, but this is OKC and if one boo is heard it will be one too many.
What the Twitterati will be watching: Charlotte at Atlanta (7:30 p.m.)
My favorite part of the first FreeDarko Presents book was tying the history of Bobcats-Hawks games to the Aztec calendar. What's that you say? The Bobcats are over .500 and the Hawks enter the week with the top-ranked defense. The Aztecs came after the Mayans, which ruins this analogy but fuck it. We're doomed.
League Pass After Dark: Minnesota at Clippers (10:30 p.m.)
Things have become messy for the Wolves after that unexpected strong start, and not even the surprise return of Kevin Love has been able to right the sinking ship. The thing about streaky teams is they eventually find their equilibrium. If only Derrick Williams could find his.
What you'll be watching: San Antonio at Miami (8 p.m.)
Like green leafy vegetables and cardio, the Spurs are just good for you. Has any team aged more gracefully than San Antonio? Enjoy them while you have them because we are not likely to see a collection of players like Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili stay together for this amount of time anytime soon.
What you'll be watching: Portland at Boston (7:30 p.m.)
Rajon Rondo has been passing up layups for assists, which is surprising only if you never watch the Celtics play. Dude's been doing this for years and it rarely ends well. As chapter chairman of the local Rondo Appreciation Society, I feel it is my duty to remind people that his gaudy assist totals are only a small portion of his importance to the green machine that is suddenly ranked in the top 10 in Offensive Rating. Maybe someone should remind Rondo.
What the Twitterati will be watching: Milwaukee at Minnesota (8 p.m.)
Where have you gone, Ersan Ilyasova? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you, woo-woo-woo.
League Pass After Dark: Denver at the Lakers (10:30 p.m.)
The reason late-night basketball exists.
What you'll be watching: Memphis at San Antonio (8:30 p.m.)
The Grizzlies are like that house with cars up on blocks in the driveway. They come to your neighborhood and fuck shit up for everyone else. But get to know them a little bit and you'll find out they aren't so bad after all. Have them over for a High Life sometime. You'll see.
What the Twitterati will be watching: Brooklyn at Miami (7:30 p.m.)
I freely admit to being unable to get a proper read on the Nets. Their record says contender, but their résumé screams also-rans. Despite solid offensive numbers, they don't truly excel at any one phase of the game, and their defensive acumen leaves much to be desired. Brook Lopez's 25.4 PER does get your attention. If only he could rebound.
League Pass After Dark: Indiana at Golden State (10:30 p.m.)Is it time for us to start making definitive statements on the state of the NBA? It probably will be after this week.
So, the Warriors. Stephen Curry can't shoot all of a sudden and neither can Klay Thompson. Andrew Bogut is hurt and Andris Biedrinis is still lost. How is this team playing so well? Would you believe Carl Landry, who is getting 15 and seven off the bench every night and shooting almost 60 percent from the floor? The lesson here is that one should never try to figure out Golden State because one will always wind up confused and disoriented.
What you'll be watching: Orlando at Lakers (9:30 p.m.)
I'm as interested in Dwight Howard as the next guy, which is to say that I'm not even a little bit. His jokes are terrible and his game is a bore. His legacy is that of a follower and an unoriginal one at that. The next interesting thing Howard does will be his first, but it's the only game on a Sunday night so it will have to do.