The NBA season begins this week and with four rounds of Playoffs will linger into the middle of next June.
The Los Angeles Lakers are favored to repeat their title of a season ago with their most likely victim expected to be LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers who now feature ex-Laker Shaquille O’Neal.
The Lakers also strengthened their roster with the signing of Ron Artest in the off season.
But the Lakers will be challenged by up and coming Portland and long time nemesis San Antonio.
Portland has an abundance of young and maturing talented players while the Spurs are comprised of many veterans, including Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. They also added Richard Jefferson to the roster which should add some offense while the loss of Bruce Bowen should cause a decline in their defensive prowess.
Cleveland will be challenged in the East by Boston who also made a major off season addition with the signing of Rasheed Wallace. Orlando figures to be a threat to repeat their Eastern Conference championship of last season especially with Vince Carter on board for a full season.
The call here is for a repeat of the NBA Finals from two seasons ago with the favored Lakers winning the West over San Antonio and the Boston Celtics this season getting by Cleveland to win the East. This time the presence of Ron Artest will enable the Lakers and Kobe Bryant to get past the very talented and deep Celtics to win back-to-back NBA Titles.
The main hope for the coming season is for lengthy injuries to be kept to a minimum so that we may enjoy these talented athletes as much as possible and that the best teams emerge after the grueling 82 game schedule to compete in the Playoffs.
Washington at Atlanta: Both teams are being mentioned as dark horse contenders in the East. With a healthy Gilbert Arenas the Wizards should return to the playoffs after winning just 19 games last season when Arenas missed all but 2 games. Antawn Jamison will start the season injured, however. Atlanta ha increased their win totals each of the past 4 seasons, going from 13-69 in 2004-05 to 47-35 last season, making the Playoffs the past two seasons. The Hawks have a good blend of youth and veteran leadership and are the more complete team starting the season. They’ll be favored here and should be able to outrun what should be an up tempo Washington team under new coach Flip Saunders. ATLANTA.
Portland at Houston: Houston will be without Yao Ming all season, without Tracy McGrady indefinitely and Ron Artest has left for the Lakers. There’s not much to like about the Rockets aside from proven coach Rick Adelman. This is an early rematch as the teams open the season against one another on Tuesday in Portland. If the Blazers win in a blowout as expected (they opened as 10 point favorites) this would make for a good play on Houston as an Underdog to gain a measure of revenge. If Houston pulls the upset, then look for Portland to gain their measure of revenge. PLAY THE STRAIGHT UP LOSER OF TUESDAY’S GAME.
New Orleans at Boston: New Orleans looks to rebound after slipping by 7 wins last season and a first round Playoff exit. They are led by Chris Paul and added some power up front with the off season addition of Emeka Okafor. Boston was unable to defend their NBA Title of a couple of seasons ago despite winning 62 regular season games. The absence of injured Kevin Garnett for the Playoffs is largely responsible but he’s back and the team is strengthened by the addition of Rasheed Wallace to add depth and compliment Boston’s other two super stars, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. New Orleans relies too much on Paul and that will be a negative against deep and well balanced teams such as they will face here. BOSTON.
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Andy Iskoe