Larry Brown says a coach usually can tell right away if he has a team that can play or not.

Well, now that the first month of the NBA season has come to a close, coaches and players should have had more than enough time to form their opinions.

Everyone knows the Spurs and Pistons are good; the Raptors and Hawks are bad. And there's plenty more that already is clear.

What do you think of your team, Jeff Van Gundy?

"Right now we're the junior varsity game on everybody's schedule," the Houston Rockets coach said late last month.

What about your brother, the coach of the Miami Heat?

"Right now, we're not a team that has shown consistency of energy or intensity," Stan Van Gundy said during a recent losing streak. "We want to play only as much as we think we have to play, and we put ourselves in bad situations and we're taking some tough losses because of it."

Not everybody is unhappy. LeBron James loves his new teammates, the Pistons feel the same way about their new coach and the Pacers are glad to have Ron Artest back.

James' Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Clippers appear much better, Seattle might be worse, and teams such as the Rockets, Suns and Heat thus far get incompletes.

But they all have one thing in common with the rest of the league: It looks like they're all still chasing San Antonio and Detroit.

The Pistons brought in Flip Saunders to sit on their bench, the Spurs added Michael Finley and Nick Van Exel for scoring off theirs. So far the moves are paying off, and an NBA Finals rematch seems possible.

Some unfamiliar teams are among the ones looking ready to stand in their way.

The Clippers surged to the top of the Pacific Division -- that other team in Los Angeles has been at the bottom -- after adding guards Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley to play with forward Elton Brand.

Cleveland made changes designed to get James into the postseason for the first time in his three-year career. Larry Hughes, Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall have fit in nicely, James has been superb and the Cavs have stayed near the top of a Central Division that could be the NBA's most competitive.

The Pistons are just as happy with the move they made in hiring Saunders to replace Brown. Already one of the league's best defensive teams, Saunders has turned the Pistons into a pretty good offensive club as well. The players quickly embraced him, no doubt helped by their 8-0 start.

"Flip is one of those guys that doesn't get too excited about teams making runs, or us coming down and not getting a basket in two or three times down the court," Ben Wallace said. "It's so rare in this league for a coach to be that calm."

The Spurs aren't quite as pleased, but look nearly as good. San Antonio players don't think their defense has been up to its usual high standard, but now more than ever seem to have enough offense to overcome an occasional lapse.

"I think the record talks about us better than we are actually playing," Manu Ginobili said. "We don't think we're playing that great yet, but it's good to not play good and be winning. That's a good thing because we know we have a long way to go and improve, and we're still winning."

A few potential title contenders have gotten off to slower starts because of injuries.

Phoenix and Miami, losers in their conference finals last season, have been without their most important inside players. The Suns' Amare Stoudemire hasn't played because of knee surgery that could sideline him until late in the season, while the Heat lost Shaquille O'Neal to an injured ankle in their second game.

No team has been wrecked by injury more than Houston, which has been unable to do anything without Tracy McGrady. The Rockets lost the first eight games they played without their leading scorer, falling to the bottom of the Western Conference.

The absence of some of those stars has allowed other players to get attention. Chris Webber, off to a strong start in his first full season in Philadelphia, took notice of two early season player of the week winners.

"Definitely Marcus Camby," Webber said. "A lot of people said he only did that during contract years, but for him to continue to do it, I'm really happy for him to be putting up 20 rebounds, those type of nights. Young Gerald Wallace from Charlotte, he's fulfilling his potential, playing really good."

Camby has been leading the league in rebounding and near the top in blocked shots, helping the Denver Nuggets overcome their own key injury, the loss of top frontcourt reserve Nene on opening night.

Plenty of early intrigue comes from Denver's Northwest Division.

The SuperSonics, last season's surprising division champions, lost coach Nate McMillan during the offseason and haven't been as good -- or happy -- under Bob Weiss while tumbling into last place. Vladimir Radmanovic, who flourished as a sixth man under McMillan, has been particularly unhappy.

"I think you've got a few guys in there that are not real happy with their roles. It is just a different team," Hornets coach Byron Scott said of the Sonics.

Kevin Garnett hasn't been entirely pleased, either.

The Timberwolves star caused a stir -- and even some trade speculation -- by criticizing general manager Kevin McHale's handling of the team last season, when McHale fired Saunders and took over as coach before Minnesota missed the postseason. Garnett isn't sure if things will be much better this season.

"Are we a playoff team? I don't know. It's only November," Garnett said. "Talk to me in March."

It might take that long to figure out if Brown or Phil Jackson will be there.

Brown's return to New York and Jackson's to the Lakers caused plenty of news, but so far not too many wins. Neither came back to a deep roster -- Jackson's triangle offense now seems to mean Kobe Bryant shoots from the right, left and middle -- and spent much of the month at or near the bottom in their divisions.

But, as Brown pointed out, there is plenty of basketball still to be played.

"This is a marathon," he said. "It's not a sprint."

Houston Coach Jeff Van Gundy, left, and Miami Coach Stan Van Gundy, are two NBA coaches trying to figure out where their teams are headed.