NBA Power Rankings: No concern over Rockets, Thunder after rough starts as context remains key

We’re less than a full month into the NBA regular season, which is a.) too early to start drawing firm conclusions about teams, but also b.) late enough that we certainly have some indications about where teams are heading.

The key is context.

Compare, say, the Sacramento Kings, with one of the most surprising records in the league at 6-4, and the Charlotte Hornets, sitting at 5-5. It’s huge for Sacramento to bust out its best start in four seasons. But how real is that record? Consider that the Kings’ five-game winning streak didn’t exactly come against a murderer’s row: Memphis, Washington, Miami, Orlando, Atlanta. I can’t imagine we’ll be talking about the Kings as an above-.500 team in, say, a few weeks. Eight of their next 10 games come against teams that were in the playoffs last season — plus the Lakers and the above-.500 Grizzlies.

The Hornets, however, may be a team that proves to be better than their record. Consider that the Hornets’ plus-7.5 net rating ranks fifth in the NBA, ahead of the Pacers, Celtics, Trail Blazers and Jazz. Four of their five losses have been by four points or less. A few bounces here or there and the Hornets would be right up there with one of the top records in the NBA.

Context is especially important when looking at three teams with high hopes coming into the season but stumbled out of the gate: the Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder and Washington Wizards.

If you’re a fan of the Rockets or the Thunder, you should feel a little bit happier when you’re looking at the context of those rough starts. For the Rockets, James Harden and Chris Paul have only been on the court together in three games so far; the Rockets are 2-1 in those games. I am not concerned about the Rockets; come April, they will be a top-four seed in the West. Nor am I particularly concerned about the Thunder. Their four-game losing streak to start the season comes with the context that Russell Westbrook not only didn’t play in those first two losses — he wasn’t able to play during training camp due to recovery from his knee surgery. The surreal shooting woes will correct themselves in time.

As far as the Wizards? Yikes. Their five-game losing streak ended Sunday when the schedule-makers mercifully gave them the Knicks, but the Wizards lost those five games by an average of 18.6 points. They have one of the worst defenses in the NBA, and the locker room is already publicly sniping at each other for selfishness.

Context matters.

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