For one week, Toronto could surprise

Nov 1, 2005 4:56 AM

We’re just talking opening week in the NBA, but one team with a chance to break strong is Toronto.

The very same north of the border Raptors, who suffered that "mazel-tough" 105-103 preseason loss to Maccabi (Israel).

Hear us out. Five of the first six games are at home. Washington is the opener Wednesday, followed Friday by ex-favorite son Vince Carter and New Jersey. After a quick stop Saturday in Detroit, LeBron James and Cleveland visit Air Canada Centre next Monday. Games against Utah and Seattle complete the homestand.

By no means are we putting Toronto in the same class with defending champion San Antonio. In fact, if this were a jet and the Spurs rode first class, the Raptors would be near the rest room.

Still, the early schedule favors a decent start. After all, when Toronto’s "over/under" projected wins is a scant 27½ for the 82-game grind, you can imagine the impact of a good start.

Want stronger opinions? We have them in our Gang of Four — chosen for their ability not to get "Pittsnogled" at the buzzer.

TED SEVRANSKY

(nationwide handicapper)

OVER: Golden State. On the verge of a breakout season. Young talent (Mike Dunleavy, J-Rich) maturing. Better leadership from point Baron Davis. One of the league’s surprises. Utah. Rookie PG Darren Williams (Illinois), has drawn rave reviews. Solid players in Kirilenko, Boozer, Harpring and Okur. Jerry Sloan can still coach.

UNDER: Miami. Pat Riley has tinkered with this team too much. Antoine Walker and Gary Payton are team chemistry killers. All kinds of defensive problems in preseason. Hard pressed to match last year’s 59 wins. Phoenix has its star Amare Stoudemire out four months. No chemistry with Joe Johnson and Q-Rich dealt. A Steve Nash hamstring pull away from a lottery team. Atlanta is the NBA’s worst. Won’t win 20.

MIKE COLBERT

(Plaza sports manager)

OVER: Chicago is a sleeper to win the East. Cleveland has the NBA’s MVP in LeBron James. LA Lakers win three extra games just for having Phil Jackson coaching and Kobe is healthy. Portland has been going steadily downhill, but should reach 30 wins. UNDER: Detroit is older and not the same without Larry Brown.

JOHN KELLY

(Stardust Line radio host)

UNDER: San Antonio will be focusing on playoffs, not now. Miami has to worry about Shaq’s mileage and weight, along with Wade’s high-risk game that is prone to injury. Cleveland. Yes, LeBron is a superstar, but don’t like addition of Larry Hughes. Plus, health of Ilgauskas always a concern. New York. Garden crowd can work against you when things go bad. Not even Larry can help. LA Lakers. Kobe leads NBA in scoring, but best team in LA. is Clippers.

MARK MAYER

(GamingToday sports editor)

OVER: Chicago has a young, talented, deep team now with playoff experience. Atlanta is Chicago from a couple of years ago. Golden State. This year’s Chicago White Sox. The NBA’s most exciting, together team with work ethic. UNDER: Detroit growing old and without Larry. Memphis misses J-Will and must prove Pao isn’t soft as Yao.