Not too many people thought the NBA’s top squads at the start of the season would be the Phoenix Suns and Philadelphia 76ers, but the top two defenses in the league sprang out of the gate with a 5-1 clip.

NBA Phoenix Suns Philadelphia 76ers
Chris Paul and Devin Booker are off to a hot start with the Phoenix Suns. (Image: Getty)

The Sixers improved to 6-1 with a victory over the Charlotte Hornets. It’s a small sample size, but after the first 10% of the season, Doc Rivers has the Sixers on top of the Eastern Conference.

With the NBA trade rumor mill in full swing involving James Harden, the more the Sixers win, the less likely they’ll pull the trigger on a blockbuster trade to acquire the NBA’s leading scorer.

  • Philadelphia 76ers 6-1
  • Phoenix Suns 5-1
  • LA Lakers 5-2
  • LA Clippers 5-2
  • Orlando Magic 5-2
  • Indiana Pacers 5-2

The Phoenix Suns were the hottest team during the NBA restart with a perfect 8-0 record, but they missed a spot in the playoffs. Lots of fans joked that Kendall Jenner became the team’s good luck charm after KJ was spotted with Devin Booker. The two were romantically linked during quarantine.

Reluctant Philly

With two years remaining on his contract, the Rockets want a motherlode in return for Harden. They’re seeking a top young player in addition to multiple first-round draft picks. Many teams inquired about Harden, but no one is foolish enough to overpay for Harden’s prolific scoring. At least, not yet.

The Sixers were linked with Harden since the start of the offseason. The rumors increased when Daryl Morey, former Houston general manager, became Philadelphia’s new GM. Morey isn’t shy about his love for Harden, so it seemed logical that the Sixers would be in the running for Harden. However, the organization wanted to let Doc Rivers get a feel for the team before they made any major moves. The patience paid off because the Sixers are the top team in the NBA with a 6-1 record, while Harden still remains a member of the Rockets.

New Doc in Town

Doc Rivers transformed the Sixers into a heck of a defensive squad. They allow 101.7 ppg — the second-best in the NBA. Joel Embiid looked good from the opening tip of the season. Embiid is averaging 23.2 points and 12.3 rebounds (ranked #3 overall). His 27.71 PER is ranked #6 overall in terms of advanced metrics.

“I want to be the Defensive Player of the Year. My job is to make sure no one drives in the paint and they don’t get anything easy,” said Embiid.

Tobias Harris disappeared in the postseason last year, but he’s been highly visible as Philly’s second-best scorer, averaging 19.3 points and eight rebounds per game.

The Sixers acquired Seth Curry in a trade, and he’s been a godsend. The younger brother of Steph Curry, Seth made a name for himself in the league as a valuable role player. He’s played for six different teams in his first seven seasons in the league. Rivers inserted Curry into the starting lineup and the former journeyman is thriving with a career-high 15.4 points and 3.7 assists per game.

Ben Simmons saw his scoring diminish from 16.4 ppg to 13.3 ppg, but there’s been an uptick in rebounding with nearly 10 boards per game.

Phoenix Rising

Meanwhile out West, the Phoenix Suns jumped out to the best record in the Western Conference. Harden’s former teammate, Chris Paul, was shipped out of Houston when Harden grew tired of playing with CP3 and got sick of him griping that Harden should pass more. After a season in exile with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Suns acquired Paul in a trade. The team wanted a veteran like Paul to mentor their budding superstar, Devin Booker. It’s a small sample size, but the early results look good in Phoenix.

The Suns are the top defensive team in the league, allowing only 100.6 ppg. They need all the defense they can get because they’re not exactly lighting it up in the scoring department. The Suns rank #21 in total offense and average 107.8 ppg.

The Suns faced the fifth-hardest schedule to start the season, yet they’ve risen to the occasion with a 5-2 clip through seven games, including three games in a row against last year’s playoff teams (LA Clippers, Denver Nuggets, and Utah Jazz).

Booker (26.6 ppg) and Deandre Ayton (18.2 ppg) were the Suns’ big 1-2 combo punch last season. Both players saw their scoring averages dramatically dip, but that’s because they now have better players around them to help pick up the scoring slack. This season, Booker leads the Suns in scoring, but his average is only 21.1 pp. Ayton saw his dip to 13.7 ppg.

Third-year player Mikal Bridges (Villanova) emerged as Phoenix’s second-best scoring (14.1 ppg), while second-year player Cam Johnson (North Carolina) is providing valuable scoring off the bench with 12.7 ppg.