1. The Thunder Are The Favorites Out West Brett Deering / Getty Images As the lockout was winding down, a lot was made of the idea that the old guard (Celtics, Lakers, and Spurs) had an advantage in a shortened season because of their experience and the benefit of not having to endure an extra three weeks of games. This logic is totally flawed. The schedule is now packed and brutal. It's full of stretches where teams will be playing back-to-backs, four games in five nights, and even back-to-back-to-backs. This lack of rest will wear down teams and brutally punish franchises that find themselves facing injuries. The Thunder's youth is a huge advantage. An even bigger one? Having three different guys that can carry you on any given night. This fact is why we have to get past the whole "Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are Avon and Stringer from 'The Wire'" thing? Look I love "The Wire," but the metaphor misses the point. Namely, the Thunder may actually have a third star on their hands. James Edward Harden Jr, longtime owner of the best beard in the NBA, came on strong late last season, and went on to give a pretty stellar performance in last year's playoffs. So far this year he's averaging over 17 points per game through their first four contests, and though it's early, he looks like a prime candidate to make the leap. If that happens, the Thunder might be raising a banner next October. Hell even if Harden doesn't take the next step, these guys might be our champs, because they still have this guy: View this video on YouTube youtube.com How can you not love Kevin Durant?**Sorry people have Seattle. I know this must be hard for you. 2. Amare Stoudemire's Goggles Look Awesome Christopher Pasatieri / Getty Images It's too early to tell how good the team will be (so far, so good), but those goggles? Beautiful. 3. The Death Of The Lakers Has Been Greatly Exaggerated Mark J. Terrill / AP After they started 0-2, all of Lakerland lost their collective minds. Forget that they lost to a scary good Bulls team by only a single point. Forget that they're still getting acclimated to a new coach and offensive system (I know I'm being generous calling Mike Brown's* offense a system, but go with me here). Hell forget that they've had to play their first four games without their starting center (I refuse to call him "star center Andrew Bynum" no matter what ESPN LA tries to tell me). Nope none of that mattered in LA, where bandwagon doesn't even begin to describe much of their fan base (just wait till next summer to see how popular the Pujols-led Angels are). Well breathe easy Angelenos, it's okay to go back to Staples Center on nights when the floor is Purple and Gold. Last night the Lakers out-classed a much-improved Knicks squad to even their record, and tomorrow Andrew Bynum will be back on the floor. There was a time when I was dubious of the Lake Show's ability to put together a solid season, but they've still shown flashes of greatness this year. More than ever, I find myself thinking that as long as Kobe, Gasol, and Bynum are good to go who knows how far this team can go? *We make fun of Mike Brown a lot, but he has had a great deal of success (career winning percentage of .662). He's a lot like Phil Mickelson before he won a Major, Brown gets way more shit than a host of coaches that we give free passes to, because we feel like he's underachieved. Don't be shocked if he wins a title in LA and is instantly thought of as one of the best coaches of the last decade. It seems crazy, but it's totally in play. 4. Ricky Rubio Has Been Worth The Wait View this video on YouTube After years of hearing how terrible he was playing in Spain, it's nice to see that the claims that his game would translate better to the NBA weren't just David Khan trying to save his job. Rubio has been a joy to watch, and he still doesn't have a shot. If he ever figures one out this T-Wolves team might be tremendous. 5. The Lob City Clippers Are Coming, But It May Take A While Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images I don't want to rain on the "Lob City" parade because I do think they're going to compete for the Western Conference Title. That said, through their first two games they've looked like a teenager who just got his learner's permit and and a new Ferrari on the same day. They're excited, but overwhelmed by how awesome this is all is (and right now that means ugly basketball). Now this is normal, teams take time to gel, specifically when they add a piece as central as a Chris Paul. But it may not be till the All-Star break that we know just what this team's ceiling can be. If I'm a Clipper fan though one thing terrifies me. The teenager that has to learn to drive this Ferrari is Vinny Del Negro. Talk about needing an expensive insurance policy. 6. During The Lockout, Vince Carter Took Dieting Tips From Baron Davis MIKE STONE / Reuters He's even growing the neck beard to hide how fat his face is getting. That's a veteran move, Vince. I'm impressed. 7. The Miami Heat Are Even Better This Year Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. I say this not to make another tired attack on LeBron James (though I still won't be inviting him to my birthday party, a fact that I'm sure devastates the king), but rather to speak about rookie point guard Norris Cole, who played his college ball at Cleveland State. This kid was dominant in school. His senior year he averaged north of 21 points, 5 assists, and 2 steals per game. He was overlooked in the draft, because he played at Cleveland State and competition in the Horizon League isn't exactly at an NBA level (actually, it often seems closer to a WNBA level). But the fact is some guys have the type of game that can translate to any level of competition. Cole is that type of player. He's got a great jump shot and good court vision. Those things will work for you no matter who you are playing against. And most amazingly, he's played well so far this year without his flat top, which scientists say is the true source of his power. When it comes back (and Norris, it better come back), he'll make the perfect complement to those douche bags in Miami. Dammit I almost made it all the way through that without lashing out. 8. The Metta World Peace Era Is Fifteen Times More Fun Than We Thought It'd Be View this video on YouTube youtube.com Jerseys with World Peace on the back were fun, but this call from Kevin Harlan shows just how great this whole craziness is going to be. And it's been a long time since anything has made me as happy as Kobe Bryant's admission that he still calls him Ron. Thank you Ron ArtestMetta World Peace. Thank you. 9. The People Of Boston Are Lucky That The Bruins And Patriots Are Still Good SEAN GARDNER / Reuters I know Paul Pierce has yet to play this season, but it's not 2008 anymore. A dominant Paul Pierce isn't walking through that door. An aged, haggard Paul Pierce will be though, and that's fitting. These Celtics don't look terrible. They look old. Too old. And though Rajon Rondo is currently making a nightly case that he's a top three point guard, it looks like his performance will be wasted on a team that's over the hill and likely to end up in the worst place an NBA team can be. Good enough to make the playoffs, but not good enough to compete for a title. Welcome to mediocrity. 10. The Best Headline Of The Season Happened During The First Week ridiculousupside.com I could not be more excited for this "comeback." I will always have a soft spot in my heart for "Wrong Way" Ricky. 11. People Are Way Too Quick To Write Off The Champs MIKE STONE / Reuters Sure, an 0-3 start doesn't look great, but it's way too early to write off the defending champs. They lost some big pieces and need to find themselves. Let's give them some time to do that, then we'll decide if it was stupid of them to let Tyson Chandler and JJ Barea leave. 12. Fans Have Already Forgotten The Lockout Charles Krupa / AP A great week of basketball will do that. Welcome back NBA.