By Jonathan Potts
For the Daily Titan
In Los Angeles, the Dodgers and Angels’ World Series hopes are still very much alive as both teams gear up for their respective league championship series. In Pittsburgh, Sidney CrosbyÂ and his merry band of Penguins have come out of the gates blazing with a 5-1 recordÂ Â en route to their defense of the Stanley Cup. In Denver, a stout Broncos defense has helped their squad to a surprising perfect start, giving up a total of 43 points on the season. The first drops of rain fell on Tuesday and Wednesday, and Halloween is right around the corner. What could all this mean?
It’s time to lace up your sneakers and hit the hard wood because the NBA season tips off in less than two weeks, and this year promises to be as thrilling as any. With all the crucial player movement that has occurred over the off season, many teams have gotten better while some have gotten worse, a few have remained abysmal.
With the addition of 2004 Defensive Player of the Year Ron Artest and the crucial re-signing of match-up nightmare Lamar Odom, the Los Angeles Lakers are the clear preseason favorite to repeat and win the NBA championship, something that hasnâ€™t been done by any team since 2002 when, ironically, the Lakers completed their three-peat.
Although they are the favorite, the Lakers will be hotly contested by four other teams that round out the upper echelon of the NBA: the Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic, San Antonio Spurs, and of course, the Boston Celtics.
In Cleveland, the entire city was in dismay at the end of last season when their Cavaliers were embarrassed by Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals. In doing so, the Magic slammed the door shut on the dream of a Lebron James versus Kobe Bryant Finals matchup and left King James and his crew in stunned silence, literally.
However, the King has a new toy in town, and he runs on diesel.
With the addition of Shaquille Oâ€™Neal, assuming he stays healthy, the Cavs now have something they never had: a huge physical body that is going to clog up the lane on defense and pull in about 10 rebounds a game. Also, James will now be able to have more freedom on offense because opposing squads wonâ€™t know who to double team. If you double up on Oâ€™Neal, James will kill you off the dribble. Throw the double at James and he will just dump the rock to Oâ€™Neal for an easy deuce.
Moving West to San Antonio, the Spurs will likely be the Lakers’ only threat to make it out of the conference.
The Spurs entered training camp with almost half the team wearing silver and black for the first time. This is something the Spurs have desperately needed as they have seemingly put the same squad on the floor for the last five seasons.
Everyone knows about the trio of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili, who are single handedly responsible for most, if not all, of the Spurs’ success over the last decade. It is the new and young faces, however, that are going to keep this team among the elite.
Point guard George Hill, who came on at the end of last season, is having a particularly impressive preseason. The addition of forward Richard Jefferson, who can shoot the three ball, makes the Spurs the only team that will likely be able to compete with the Lakers in the West.
Onward to Orlando, the Eastern Conference champions, who were dismissed by the Lakers in five games in the finals last year, have reloaded. The Magic dropped Hedo Turkoglu, who was an overachiever last season, and added the scrappy Matt Barnes and experienced veteran Vince Carter.
Carter joins fellow All-Stars Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis, and as we saw from the Celtics overnight turnaround in the 2007-08 season, any team with three superstars and a solid supporting cast (Jameer Nelson should not be taken lightly), should be on the fast track to the NBA finals.
Last but not least, we find ourselves in Boston, where a hungry and disgruntled Celtics team gears up for the coming season.
Last year, the Celtics were ousted by the Magic in the Eastern Conference Semifinals after two long, grueling, seven game series took their toll on a team that was without its best player and driving force, Kevin Garnett. It is safe to assume that had KG been healthy the Celtics would have trounced the Magic and dismantled the Cavs on their way to facing the Lakers in the finals.
However, nothing was ever accomplished by dwelling on the past and that is why the Celtics have added veteran big man Rasheed Wallace,Â who gives them yet another offensive threat in addition to Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and the developing Rajon Rondo. The Celtics look to be the favorites to meet the Lakers in the NBA finals come June.
While these four teams are the only clear-cut threats to dethrone the Lakers, the beauty of the NBA is that sometimes all it takes is one trade by a mediocre team or an injury to one of the elite for the balance of power to shift. This means that good but not great teams such as the Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks, and Portland Trailblazers could all be knocking at the door come playoff time.