(SportsNetwork.com) - One of the so-called contenders in the West is off to a shaky start. Let's take a closer look at that team along with a few others who have stumbled out of the block.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
I don't have a good feeling about this team, which I think has looked even worse than a 5-4 record would indicate.
For a club with championship aspirations and a very bad taste in its mouth from last year's tough playoff exit, I would've thought we'd see the Clippers play with a lot more intensity and urgency.
The two areas where effort really matters-defense and rebounding-is where we've seen Doc Rivers' team come up short.
Despite the fact that DeAndre Jordan is leading the league in rebounding at 12.4 per game, the Clippers have been the worst rebounding team along with the Miami Heat, pulling down 37.4 per game. That's nearly six rebounds less than what they averaged last season.
The Clippers' defense is also nowhere near where it needs to be as they rank 21st in points allowed, giving up 102.7 per game, and opponents are shooting 46.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from downtown.
All these numbers aside, it just looks like they don't have enough talent to be serious title contenders. I believe the combination of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin isn't strong enough to put the Clippers in contention, and I also think the supporting cast isn't on par with the elite teams in the league, especially with Darren Collison departing via free agency.
The Pistons were one of the biggest disappointments last season with a 23-59 record, and new leadership hasn't made much of difference so far this year. Stan Van Gundy was hired as the coach and team president with the hope that he would change the franchise's culture, but with little change to the roster it seems the players are more of a problem than the coach.
The front line of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith is continuing to have problems playing together, with Smith struggling more than he did last season as he's averaging 13.6 points and shooting just 36.8 percent from the field, while Drummond's play has dropped off considerably to start the season.
The third-year center has been horrible offensively and has hurt the team on the defensive end too.
Drummond was second in the NBA in field goal percentage last season at 62.3 percent, but is shooting only 41.4 percent this season.
The Pistons are scoring just 93 points per game after averaging 101 last season, and Drummond's drop in scoring from 13.5 to 8.7 points per game is a big reason for the fall off.
The 21-year old's recent struggles led to a conversation with Van Gundy last Thursday, and they both decided that his offensive game should take a back seat for now.
"Stan and I got a chance to sit down this morning and we all know the offense hasn't really come around for me at this start of the season yet, and it's really been frustrating for me," Drummond said. "So Stan and me really just talked and we just decided to go out and get on the rebounds, because I'm one of the best rebounders in the league. So I decided to really just focus on the defensive end today and let the offense come to me."
And speaking of the defensive end, he's got to be a lot smarter there.
Drummond's constant foul problems have kept him off the floor way too much. He's averaging 4.3 fouls per game and has fouled out twice.
In last Saturday's 95-88 lost at Memphis, Drummond was limited to 20 minutes due to foul trouble, and his absence allowed Zach Randolph helped dominate in the paint with 17 points and 22 rebounds, including 13 offensive rebounds. Beyond the struggles of Drummond and Smith is the big question if they and Monroe can thrive playing together. It looks more and more like the answer is no.
The Nets have stumbled to a 4-6 start and are lacking the crisp ball movement we saw last season when they played a smaller lineup following Brook Lopez's season-ending foot injury.
Brooklyn's four wins have come against opponents who are currently all under .500 (Pistons, Thunder, Knicks, Magic) while they've also lost games to the Celtics and Timberwolves.
As for Lopez, his return has seen its ups and downs, and he doesn't feel totally comfortable yet.
"I think getting back in the game has been a slower process than I thought," Lopez said after scoring 21 points in Saturday's loss in Portland. "I'm slowly trying to chip away at it, and just get out there and play."
If the Nets hope to be at least as good as they were last season, Lopez will have to stay healthy and play near an All-Star level, because Brooklyn lost a lot of firepower and some depth with the departure of Paul Pierce, Shaun Livingston, Andray Blatche and Marcus Thornton.
The Nuggets' 3-7 start is due in part to the major struggles of Danilo Gallinari and Nate Robinson, both of whom are trying to rebound from major injuries.
Gallinari, who tore the ACL in his left knee in April 2013 and missed all of last season, looks nothing like the player we saw prior to the injury. There is a tentativeness in his movement and he seems to lack confidence in his game.
"I used to go to the paint and have a couple of dunks," said Gallinari after losing to his former team, the New York Knicks on Sunday. "I'm not doing that right now."
The 6-foot-10 forward, who was the center piece of the deal that brought Carmelo Anthony to New York, is averaging 6.2 points in just under 17 minutes, and his shooting touch has disappeared as he's connected on just 26.8 percent of his shots.
Robinson, meanwhile, is also making his way back from a torn ACL which he suffered last January and has also had to deal with a hamstring injury that occurred on November 7 in a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The former slam dunk champ hasn't been the usual spark plug off the bench yet, as he's playing limited minutes (13.9 per game) and also struggling with his shot, hitting 38.1 percent from the field.
With the competition in the Western Conference being so tough, the Nuggets will need bigger contributions from Gallinari and Robinson a lot sooner than later if they don't want to fall out of the playoff picture way too early.