The 82-game NBA regular season begins Tuesday with 29 teams looking to dethrone the defending champion Boston Celtics who decisively defeated the Los Angeles Lakers to win their 17th NBA Title this past June.
Boston’s acquisition of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen during the offseason that followed the 2006-07 season proved huge as the All-Star duo joined veteran Paul Pierce to give the Celtics a trio of superstars.
That seems to be the formula for success in the NBA and perhaps we shall see some other team make similar moves during the upcoming season in an attempt to win the NBA Title.
Houston took a cue from Boston and added Ron Artest in the offseason to join Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming with the Rockets. When focused, Artest is an outstanding player who makes valuable contributions at both ends of the court.
Maintaining focus for a full season is a question, given his history of off the court issues. But it would seem to be a gamble worth taking considering the strength of the Western Conference and Houston’s improved recent play that has seen their win total improve from 34 to 52 to 55 over the past two seasons.
The Los Angeles Lakers are the team to beat in the West as Boston is in the East. Both defending conference champions will have more than a handful of challengers. Aside from Houston, both Utah and New Orleans appear poised to make legitimate runs at the Lakers. Aging San Antonio still has to be respected although with age comes increased injury risk and already key sixth man Manu Ginobili starts the season sidelined.
The window may have closed on both Phoenix and Dallas as western powers and many observers expect Denver to decline despite the presence of stars Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony. On the ascension appears to be Portland with a healthy Greg Oden expected to lead the way. In the East, Boston has the most talent but Detroit will remain a force within the conference as will Orlando and Cleveland. LeBron James alone makes the Cavaliers a threat to contend, but the addition of playmaker Mo Williams should have a significantly positive impact.
Philadelphia’s signing of Elton Brand in the offseason makes them a contender as well and the 76ers could be a legitimate dark horse to dethrone the Celtics come playoff time if Brand remains healthy.
With the emergence of teams such as Philadelphia and Toronto along with having the defending champion Celtics, the Eastern Conference appears to have narrowed the gap with the West. Also, recent western powers as Dallas and Phoenix appear on the verge of declining.
Although much can and will change during the course of the season as injuries take their toll and mid season trades change the complexion of rosters, here is our fearless forecast for the 2008-09 season.
In the East, look for a return to days of yore as Boston and Philadelphia battle it out in the Eastern Conference finals, after eliminating Toronto and Orlando in the semis. The continued maturation of Philadelphia will ultimately wear down the aging Celtics as the Sixers advance to the NBA Finals.
In the West look for the Lakers and Rockets to survive New Orleans and Utah to square off in the Conference finals. The presence of Kobe Bryant on the court and Phil Jackson on the bench gives the Lakers a decided edge in such a matchup and the call is for the Lakers to beat Houston to make a second straight trip to the Finals.
These franchises have battled four times previous for the NBA Title, including three times in four seasons in the early 1980’s when the Lakers two of three titles. It was then nearly two decades before the Lakers won again defeated the 76ers to win the 2000-01 NBA title.
After falling to the Celtics last season in the Finals, the Lakers’ edge in experience and having the game’s best player in Bryant proves the difference as the Lakers defeat Philadelphia next June to win another NBA Title.
Let’s enjoy the eight months’ journey to the NBA Finals where along the way we will be treated to some spectacular plays by arguably to most well rounded athletes of any major sport.
Here’s a look at three games to be played over the season’s opening weekend:
Spurs at Blazers (Fri): The Spurs have the better all-around roster and a huge experience edge over the up and coming Trailblazers. For now the edge belongs to San Antonio, especially at the defensive end of the court. And their age does not become a detriment until later in the season when fatigue takes its toll. SPURS.
Cavs at Hornets (Sat): The Cavs upgraded their roster with the addition of Mo Williams while the Hornets added James Posey, a key contributor to the Celtics title run last year. The Hornets have the stronger inside game and figure to focus on containing LeBron James. HORNETS.
Bucks at Knicks (Sun): Milwaukee has the deeper and more talented roster. Acquiring Richard Jefferson from the Nets in the offseason to complement Michael Redd gives the Bucks a pair of 20-point per game scorers. Neither team is committed to the defensive end of the court so this game should be high scoring. OVER.