Monday, October 31, 2005

The NBA season is upon us.

By the time you read this, basketball season will be upon us. The NBA is already in full swing. This brings to mind some questions I have about this year’s hoops season and I will try to answer these questions.

Will Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant get along in Lakerland? I believe that both of them have done a good job of answering questions like this without really answering the questions. You know what I am talking about. The good old sports cliché riddled answers athletes seem to use any chance they get. Such as, “I just have to play my game” or “I need to let the game come to me.”

You know what I am driving at. Phil and Kobe seem to be saying all the right things, but they have said some pretty mean things about each other in the past. Can either of them at least forgive, if not forget?

I think yes. I believe the Lakers will have a somewhat successful season; of course anything will be better than last year. I think Kobe realizes that he needs Phil to have a chance to win a title without Shaq. As for Phil, I have no idea why he came back, unless he wanted to take a team that is not ready to contend and turn them into champions.

Whatever the case, they will make the playoffs this year but they will be a first round casualty. They have a talented team and with Phil Jackson drawing up the game plan, that will win them a few extra games.

Their main problem is they are playing in the tougher conference in the league. If it weren’t for the 3 teams that could win it all in the Western Conference, the Lakers may have a brighter future. After last year they should be happy with even a brief playoff appearance this year.

Which brings me to another question, is the Western Conference that much better than the Eastern Conference this year? In a word, no. I believe that the Eastern Conference has a few teams that have a legitimate shot at winning the title, which is more than could be said in the last 10 years.

The Detroit Pistons have lost nothing but a coach, although he is a great coach, and have returned their whole team for the most part. They may take some time to get used to Flip Saunders style of play, zone defenses and a more up-tempo offensive style, but they will be there in the end, just like last year.

The Miami Heat has practically added a new team to their roster, including former UK Wildcat Antoine Walker. They have the talent and on paper they look like a contender, the only problem is they have added a few mental patients in Gary Payton, Jason Williams, and the aforementioned Antoine Walker.

If these three cannot accept the roles they need to play to win, then this will be a train wreck that will be fun to watch. Stan Van Gundy better hope he can make this work because Pat Riley is lurking in the background like Bela Lugosi. In the long run, with Shaq and Dwayne Wade, you have to like the Heat’s chances.

There is another team that I believe has a legitimate shot at the title in the East and that is the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers have the players and the coach to beat anyone in the league. The main problem the Pacers have, besides the brittle Jermaine O’Neal, is the insane Ron Artest. You remember him, right?

The same Artest who climbed into the stands to administer some outlaw justice to the person who hit him with a Pepsi. Well, he is back after a long unpaid vacation and is ready to go. He claims he is a caged animal and the refs are going to have to do their job to keep him under control. It sounds like he learned his lesson to me. If the Pacers cannot keep this loosest of loose cannons under control, they will merely be a good team. But if they can rein him in, they have the horses to win the whole thing.

I know some of you are wondering whether the Cleveland Cavaliers have a shot this year, uh, no. They will be more improved and will make the playoffs, but LeBron James is not good enough to perform miracles, yet. The Cavs will be an exciting team to watch and will be competitive all season long.

They may even topple some of the stronger teams in the conference, but they will not be able to outlast the Detroits, the Miamis, or the Indianas in a seven game series. If Cleveland is serious about keeping James and winning a title, which I am sure they are on both counts, then they should only be two or three years away form a serious run at the Finals.

As for who is going to win the whole thing, you have to look to the West. San Antonio is the best team in the NBA. They return basically their whole team from last year and they have added Michael Finley and Nick Van Exel. I know Van Exel can be a knucklehead every once in a while, but he is nearing the end of his up and down career and I believe that Greg Popovich, the coach of the Spurs, can keep the feisty guard in check. If he can’t, he will just get rid of him, simple as that.

If you want my prediction of the winner of the NBA Finals, check out San Antonio on TV this season and you will see the answer to that question every time they play. When you have a bench with a couple of all stars ready to sub in, you have a very good team. Let’s also not forget a man by the name of Tim Duncan.

Those are just a few questions I had rolling around in the old skull this week. Perhaps I answered some that you had or more likely I caused you to have even more questions. Whatever the case, I believe this NBA season will very interesting, whether you are tracking the career path of LeBron James, whether you are interested in seeing the Spurs repeating, or whether you are interested in seeing Ron Artest storming into the stands again.

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