TORONTO -- Looking at five hot-button topics around the NBA:
THE TEXAS TWO-STEP
If someone were to say after 20 games the two best records in the NBA would reside in the same state, Orlando and Miami would come to mind.
Yet, near the quarter mark of the season another region has emerged as the best the NBA has to offer - Texas.
Jumping out to match its best start after 20 games in franchise history, San Antonio lays claim to the NBA's best record at 17-3, the product of a twelve game win streak. Only two teams have higher margins of victory than the Spurs who initially looked to be an offensive super power but recently have shown signs of the defensive stalwarts that have traditionally defined the Alamo.
The team to end the Spurs' double-digit win streak was the other team in terrifying Texas - Dallas.
Contrast to what the Spurs have experienced, the usually offensively charged Mavericks have found their calling on defense, allowing only 92.2 ppg - good for third in the league. Dallas, currently in the midst of a nine-game win streak, is in position to be only the second team this season to win 10 straight. Along with being the hottest team in the NBA, the Mavs have extinguished teams running hot - stopping win streaks of 12 [San Antonio], eight [New Orleans], and nine [Utah].
What these teams share, however, are early MVP candidates.
Over the years, Manu Ginobili emerged as the go-to-guy in the closing moments of games, which remains unchanged, only now the Spurs rely on him throughout the game. Posting career highs in minutes [33.2], points [21.2], assists [4.9] and steals [1.9], the Argentinean has been the leading force behind San Antonio's stellar start.
Having already won an MVP award, it's hard to believe Dirk Nowitzki's strong play to start the season can outdo his 2006-07 campaign. But compared to that season, Nowitzki is scoring more and shooting a higher percentage from the floor - 24.9 ppg on 55 percent from the field.
If both these players can continue their dominance, it will possibly be an all-Texas affair in the Western Conference Finals come spring.
To start the season, Los Angeles appeared to be in prime position to obtain its third-straight NBA title, but a certain stat may strike doubt into even the most avid Laker fan.
It's a fact that's been thrown out at least a thousand times since the Lakers lost their fourth consecutive game, Dec. 1 against Houston, of damning proportion - no Phil Jackson coached team to lose four straight during the regular season went on to win a championship.
The Lakers don't seem overly concerned, as both Jackson and Kobe Bryant dismissed any notion Los Angeles should be worried over its recent slump.
Regardless, a look into the string of losses reveals some intriguing trends.
To start the season, the Lakers were the highest scoring team in the NBA, averaging 112 ppg during their eight-game win streak. Much of their early success was based on the balanced scoring between Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, as they were averaging 24.1 ppg and 23.2 ppg through the first eight games respectively.
During the losing skid, however, the Lakers are scoring a pedestrian 95.7 ppg.
Though Bryant has raised his scoring average to 32 ppg during the fall, it has come at the cost of his teammates. In the first eight games, Bryant and Gasol had nearly the same number of field goal attempts, 141 to 138. But during the last four contests, not so much. No. 24 has hoisted 103 shots while Gasol and Lamar Odom, combined, have taken only 91 attempts.
Even if the frontline is feeling the wear of being short handed in the absence of Andrew Bynum and Theo Ratliff, until the Lakers can restore the team concept they had out of the gate, their struggles will continue.
A week after the much maligned players-only meeting following a loss to the Dallas Mavericks and "bump-gate," the Miami Heat responded with its best week this season.
Highlighted by the greatly anticipated return of LeBron James to Cleveland, the Heat managed to pull off five-consecutive wins. Not only were they victorious, they did so in convincing fashion - beating opponents by an average of 17.2 points during the streak.
Much of the success is the result of the "Big 3' finally looking like the unit so many believed they would be prior to the season.
During the recent five-game win streak, Miami's All-Star trio has averaged a combined 66.8 ppg, scoring 75 points or more combined in three of five contests. What makes the latter so impressive is that the starters have been pulled for much of the fourth quarter in the lopsided wins.
Leading the resurgence has been the two-time MVP, James, who has raised his level of play in response to the claims that The King wasn't taking his stint in South Beach seriously.
Any doubt thrown onto the focus of LBJ was silenced during the Heat's matchup against the Cavs where, amidst the boos, James put in a spectacular 38-point performance - 24 of which coming in the third quarter - in only three quarters of play.
Though, with the exception of Atlanta, all of Miami's wins came against sub-.500 teams, whose combined record of 27-53 is nothing to brag about. But signs of improvement are evident and the Heat seemed poised to be making strides in the right direction.
As help is on the way, with the return of Mike Miller in the coming weeks, the Heat watch will continue as things are warming up in South Florida.
NEW OWNERS IN NEW ORLEANS
All the uncertainty surrounding the New Orleans Hornets ownership situation just got even more confusing.
It appears the apparent sale of the team from owner George Shinn to minority partner Gary Chouest crumbled in recent days. Instead of finding another prospective owner, the league has moved forward with their proposal to purchase operational control of the team - much like what Major League Baseball did with the Montreal Expos and the NHL with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Though the league intends to find a potential owner who will keep the team in New Orleans, there are a number of stipulations that may make that difficult.
Due to dwindling attendance numbers, the Hornets are on pace to have the right to opt out of their lease with the state of Louisiana as early as March 1. According to the Times-Picayune, the Hornets can opt out of their current lease with the state of Louisiana and might have the freedom to move yet again if they average less than 14,213 fans during a 13-game stretch of home dates between Dec. 1 and Jan. 17.
With so much uncertainty in the front office it remains to be seen how All- Star Chris Paul reacts to the situation. Paul's distaste with the direction of the team in the offseason was well documented and if the situation doesn't resolve quickly and becomes a distraction, the Hornets may be saying goodbye to their franchise cornerstone in the summer of 2012.
Someone in Chicago must have taken offence to the destruction of the Bulls at the hands of the Magic and decided to take matters into their own hands.
Fantasy owners everywhere were scrambling to find a replacement for Dwight Howard after it was revealed the big man would miss Friday night's game against Detroit with a stomach-virus.
It wouldn't be newsworthy except for the fact that three of Howard's teammates were also afflicted by the illness.
Before the Magic's matchup against Milwaukee the following night, J.J. Redick, Jameer Nelson and Michael Pietrus were all sent back to Orlando because of the virus.
Though there has been no explanation as to how the players contracted the bug, it's safe to assume all team meals will be tested for quality control from here on out.