Second season

Apr 19, 2005 6:36 AM

The prolonged NBA post season begins this weekend with 16 teams vying for the championship.

The usual suspects in both the Eastern and Western conferences are early favorites to win it all, including defending champion Detroit (3-1), and perennial Western powerhouses San Antonio (6-5), Dallas (7-1) and Phoenix (9-5).

Noticeably absent from the playoffs are the L.A. Lakers, which was dismantled after the end of last season.

The Lakers’ former center, Shaquille O’Neal, joined the Miami Heat and made them an instant contender at 6-5.

Newcomers at generous odds worth watching in the playoffs are the Memphis Grizzlies (35-1), Chicago Bulls (30-1), New Jersey Nets (75-1) and the Denver Nuggets (20-1).

The 16 NBA teams will compete in a seven-game series. If the series extends to the limit, the post season will last about one-third as long as the regular season.

In any case, the finals probably won’t be contested until mid-June.

See page 5 for complete previews and analysis of the opening round.