Jason Kidd returns to New Jersey next week, and few could have predicted the Nets would be so strong at the point guard spot so soon after he left.
Devin Harris has been that good.
The Nets are off to a surprisingly good start, largely because Harris is playing the best basketball of his five-year career.
``I mean I always knew I had it in me,'' Harris said. ``I've shown flashes in Dallas that I'm capable of doing so, but now I just have a little bit more of a consistent level on the team, a consistent role where I'm able to do a lot more.''
Kidd led New Jersey to its greatest NBA success but wanted out last season. In February, the Nets dealt him to the Mavericks, who visit the Meadowlands on Friday, for a package highlighted by Harris.
The Nets then traded Richard Jefferson to Milwaukee over the summer and were widely expected to finish fourth or fifth in the Atlantic Division. Instead, they were 11-9 through 20 games, good for second in the division.
mes last season. The Nets restructured their offense to open the middle of the floor for his speedy drives to the basket, and Harris has shown much better range on his jumper.
``He's playing as well as anybody. He's really good,'' Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said. ``His shot, just his confidence I think more than anything. Because in college he shot the ball pretty well and scored, and then he went through a couple of years where we literally just backed way up. He's improved enough now where you've got to guard him and he's extremely quick as always, and he's just playing with a great confidence.''
Harris never had a 30-point game in the regular season until this one, when he had seven in the first 20 games. He won player of the week honors on Dec. 1 after averaging 30 points on the Nets' 3-1 road trip, when he went for 34 points and 47 in back-to-back wins at Utah and Phoenix.
Kidd's strength was getting others involved. The Nets seem best when Harris calls his own number, sometimes making it look easy to take over games.
``I don't know about easy,'' Harris said. ``I mean it's more about reading the situation and what we need at that point in time. Capable, but it's not ever easy.''
CONTENDER OR PRETENDER? Any team that beats the Lakers and Spurs on the road has to be considered a title contender.
The Detroit Pistons believe they belong in the contender category, but realize they haven't played well enough to warrant a permanent spot there.
``You play against the Lakers and you pretty much shoot at a high percentage, play great defense and win the game there, and then you go home and you take a couple of bad losses, and then go to San Antonio and get a good win and leave there and kind of get some bad losses,'' forward Tayshaun Prince said.
``So it just shows you a lot of inconsistency, but it just shows you how good we could be. And then obviously the inconsistency is a huge part right now of what we're doing.''
The Pistons have clearly struggled to figure things out since acquiring Allen Iverson in the early November deal that sent Chauncey Billups to Denver. A 107-94 loss in Washington on Tuesday was their third straight since a victory at San Antonio, dropping them to 7-9 since the trade.
The struggles are especially puzzling for a team that's so used to having success, reaching the last six Eastern Conference finals.
``It's taken a long time for us to figure out, which is something that's mind-boggling because we do have veteran guys and we do have guys who do understand what it takes,'' Prince said. ``So that's troubling.''
t around when Detroit won the title five seasons ago. He called the team ``a work in progress'' and said it's better to have these problems now than later in the season.
And he insists that losing games hasn't caused him to lose confidence.
``If I had any doubt then I wouldn't even lace up my sneakers. I wouldn't even be on the basketball court and play. I don't have any doubt. But there's always people who ask that question all the time when we lose a basketball game,'' Iverson said. ``Just a bump in the road and we'll get through it.''
ALL-STAR SOLUTION: Google recently released its list of most-searched items in China for 2008, and the only U.S. brand to crack the top 10 was ``NBA,'' sitting in the No. 10 spot.
And if that wasn't proof enough of the league's popularity there, the All-Star balloting is further evidence.
New Jersey Nets forward Yi Jianlian was third in the voting for Eastern Conference forwards when the first returns were released Thursday. Despite averaging a mediocre 11.1 points through his first 20 games, he was one spot ahead of Toronto's Chris Bosh, who started the last two All-Star games, and two spots above NBA finals MVP Paul Pierce.
The overwhelming Chinese fan vote has helped Yao Ming get elected to start every year of his career, even when Shaquille O'Neal was still the dominant center in the league when he played for the Lakers.
len proposed an idea to reporters that he believes would ensure the All-Star starters are the most deserving players.
``I think (the fans) should be a percentage of the vote that determines, or guarantees, who the starters are. I think you guys as the media, you watch more basketball than anybody, I think you guys should have a big say-so. From you guys, to the fan voting, and then you throw maybe the GMs in there,'' Allen said. ``And that, to me, would give a pretty accurate representation of who the five starters should be in each conference.
``Because I think that would be the fairest, and that would say the best five players at their respective positions, or even the best five players in the first half of the season, it would be a fair representation of who would be the best five.''
SUMMER SCHOOL: Not long after NBA players began taking part in international competitions in the 1992 Olympics came criticisms that it affected them the following season.
The way members of the U.S. gold medal team are playing so far, it might be time to end that argument.
Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are off to terrific scoring starts, and Chris Bosh, who said his confidence rose after playing with the Americans, isn't far behind. Dwight Howard leads the NBA in rebounding and blocked shots, and Chris Paul is tops in assists.
an assistant on Mike Krzyzewski's staff along with New York's Mike D'Antoni and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. ``You know Wade, he didn't have postseason play, so he had a couple of months before he got into international play. LeBron did, so it's just different individuals.
``For the coaching staff, I can really just speak for us, we've gone through it three years where we really haven't had a summer off and having to be concerned about our own teams. I feel good, Mike looks like he's fired up. I saw Coach K the other night and coach Boeheim, they look pretty fired up on the sidelines, so this is what we do and once we get on the floor we go to work.''
There will always be team personnel or fans who see the extra play as a danger, believing all the extra time on the floor for China has caused some of Yao Ming's injuries, or even contributed to Alonzo Mourning's illness following the Sydney Games. And to be fair, Deron Williams and Michael Redd had long absences early in the season, though they were caused by severe ankle sprains that could have happened to anyone.
James even found his name in the debate early in the 2006-07 season, when his intensity didn't always seem there after spending the summer playing for the Americans in the world championships. But he certainly has improved by playing with the NBA's best this past summer, with teammates and coaches noticing what a better leader he has become.
James said the benefit for him was ``to be on that team and see how we got better every day and never took practice off,'' a mentality he's brought back to a Cleveland team that has rolled through the first quarter of its season.
``We know it's a long season,'' James said. ``You can take a game off because it's so long. The good teams, the best teams, never take a game off, never take a practice off because they have their goals and we want to play into June.''
AP Sports Writers Dan Gelston in Philadelphia and Howard Fendrich in Washington contributed to this report.

Top NBA Public Bets

NBA Top Stories

Thumbnail Lakers vs. Kings Pick Are the Los Angeles Lakers going to win for a second straight night when they play at the Sacramento Kings tonight at...
Thumbnail Spurs vs. Pelicans Pick Are the San Antonio Spurs going to notch a win at the the host New Orleans Pelicans...
Thumbnail Warriors vs. Thunder Pick Are the Golden State Warriors going to waltz into the home arena of the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight and pick up a win against the spread? Game time is 8PM...
Thumbnail Raptors vs. Knicks Pick Are the visiting Toronto Raptors going to cover the spread tonight at 7:30PM ET when they play at the New York...

NBA Team Pages