NBA report: Spurs will win another title

Nov 6, 2007 7:41 AM

Limited space in last week’s issue prevented the inclusion of our inaugural NBA column for the 2007-08 season so our fearless preview and forecast is presented here even though the season is a week old.

Over the next 5½ months arguably the best conditioned athletes will run up and down the court for 48 minutes 3 or 4 times a week to determine the 16 teams that will make the playoffs next April.

As always there have been significant changes in personnel during the offseason with the most ballyhooed changes occurring in Boston. Gone is most of the roster that ended last season with yet another playoff miss for one of the NBA’s most storied franchises. The major holdover player, Paul Pierce, has been given a pair of All Star caliber teammates as Ray Allen comes over from Seattle and Kevin Garnett heads east from Minnesota.

Those acquisitions almost instantly made the Celtics favorites to not only win the Atlantic Division but in some locales to represent the Eastern Conference in next spring’s NBA Finals. Odds of roughly 300/1 at the end of last season have been dramatically cut to single digits at some sports books.

And while that may be a bit too optimistic at least for this season the Celtics are clearly the most improved team in the league.

There appears to be greater parity throughout the NBA which includes a narrowing of the gap between the Western and Eastern conferences. The West is still the better conference but there are more aging teams that are contenders in the West than in the East.

Defending champion San Antonio, Dallas and Phoenix are still the teams to beat, although both Denver and Utah should be legitimate contenders. A surprise team to consider might be the New Orleans Hornets, a team with maturing youth that is poised to make strides this season. Houston is also a team on the rise as long as Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming stay healthy.

Detroit is still the most formidable team in the East despite losing to Cleveland in the Eastern finals last season.

San Antonio will be tough to dethrone as champions as the Spurs have been the most consistent team and the class of the league for the entire decade.

The Lakers remain an enigma and their success or failure may well be tied to any decision to trade star Kobe Bryant.

Look at how the Lakers have fared since Shaquille O’Neal was traded. The prediction is that there will be no trade involving Kobe Bryant and that the Lakers will be an average team that improves over the course of the season.

Ultimately look for Dallas, Denver, Houston, the Lakers, New Orleans, Phoenix, San Antonio and Utah to make the Playoffs from the West.

In the East the projected Playoff teams are Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Miami, New Jersey, Toronto and Washington.

The call is for Chicago to get by Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals (Toronto is an attractively priced longshot) and for San Antonio to outlast Phoenix in the West.

In the NBA Finals the experience of San Antonio will be too much for Chicago and the Spurs finally get their repeat in their fourth attempt at accomplishing that feat in the past decade.

Here’s a look at three games to be played over the season’s opening weekend.

Spurs at Hornets (Fri): The Spurs remain the class of the NBA and are again the team to beat with a roster very much similar to the one that won last season’s title. New Orleans is an up and coming franchise, led by Chris Paul and a developing nucleus of talented players including Tyson Chandler who may be on the verge of an outstanding season. San Antonio won all four meetings last season. Both teams have started the young season by winning all three games. New Orleans should be decided underdogs in this interesting contest. HORNETS.

Phoenix at Orlando (Sat): Both teams have won two of their first three games and will have played on the road Friday night. Phoenix won both meetings last season and figure to be small favorites here. Starting the season the Suns are the deeper team whereas Orlando figures to improve as the season wears on and they get acclimated to new coach Stan van Gundy. The Magic’s Dwight Howard is already an elite player but his supporting cast is not as talented as the players surrounding Phoenix’ Steve Nash. SUNS.

Wizards at Hawks (Sun): Among many of the "wise guys" Atlanta is a chic pick to show improvement both on the court and at the betting windows this season. This long forlorn franchise has steadily improved the roster over the past season or two. Joe Johnson continues to improve and leads a group of young, talented players with much upside. Atlanta appears to have made greater strides in the offseason. HAWKS.