Pumpkin or basketball? If you asked a handful of NBA superstars, like Shaq, Iverson and Melo, they are more likely to tell you the thing pictured left is a pumpkin or at least feels like one. I've not yet had the chance to get my hands on one of these new NBA balls, but the reviews thus far are something less than complementary. Players have said it feels like the rubber outdoor balls that we all used to use in grade school and that it's much lighter than the previous all leather ball. I wondering if P.E.T.A. somehow got in David Sterns ear about how using a leather ball was inhumane and cruel and he decided to be a trend setter. One is left to wonder....
Lets get on to more important things shall we? The NBA season is upon us and tips off tonight with the Bulls vs. Heat at 6pm MST and the Suns vs. Lakers at 8:30 MST. The Bulls-Heat match-up has some interesting story lines. For the Heat fans, the ring ceremony and raising of the 2006 World Championship banner are greatly anticipated, not to mention seeing basically their entire roster come back to defend their title. The Bulls meanwhile, have added star C Ben Wallace, a free agent this off season, for defensive and rebounding help and some needed interior toughness. While Wallace may not be able to hit the broad side of a barn from the charity stripe he's a tenacious rebounder and one of the best defenders in the NBA. The Heat feature NBA Finals MVP Dwayne Wade and the ultimate (and aging) big man in the NBA, Shaquille O'Neal. Bolstered by long time NBA vets and former all-stars, Gary Payton and Alonzo Mourning, the Heat are the favorites to win their division and should be a favorite to win the Eastern conference.
Suns -Lakers should be a wide open game with lots of offense and pretty much no defense. Kobe and Steve Nash in prime time is a dream match up for most NBA fans. The Lakers finished last season on a roll and hope to build off that momentum this season, problem is both the Suns and Staples Center co-tenant Clippers are better teams than the Lakers and are in the same division. Someone other than Kobe Bryant is going to have to step up for the Lakers to have a chance at being anything more than a 7th or 8th seed in the playoffs. The Suns, assuming Amare Stoudemire is healthy, should be a top seed in the Western Conference come playoff time but they still need to figure out how to play defense and get by the Spurs and Mavs.
Now on to the division breakdowns
1. New Jersey Nets- Assuming the trio of Kidd, Carter and Jefferson can stay healthy, they should dominate this weak division. The continued growth of C Nenad Krstic is a bonus to this team. Another 3rd seed in the playoffs is pretty much a guarantee.
2-5 Mix em up and throw them in a hat and pick. The rest of this division is terrible. Maybe the Celtics can step up and actually play to their talents level this year. Perhaps Isiah Thomas can get over the disaster that was the Larry Brown hiring and prove that he's worthy of being an NBA GM. Isiah spends money like a drunken sailor in a Singapore whore house and has the highest paid and most under achieving roster in the NBA. Hey, at least they dumped Jalen Rose's near 17 million dollar salary. The Philadelphia Allen Iverson's should be the same one man gang we've seen over the last few seasons. Lot of AI and not much else. The real story here will be to see if Iverson makes it past the trade deadline in a 76ers uniform. Oh yeah, there's this team in Toronto that has one of the best young players in the league in post player Chris Bosch. Bosch is a 20-10 type player but gets no attention playing north of the border. It's a damn shame too because kid has crazy game.
1. Detroit Pistons- Led by star PG Chauncey Billups the Pistons will have to fight off challenges from the young Bulls and the Lebron James lead Cavaliers. The Pistons are known for their defense, but how much will they miss Big Ben Wallace? Nazr Mohammed is half the player that Wallace is but the Pistons still have the other Wallace, Rasheed and super sub Forward Antonio McDyess. This team should be contending for the Eastern Conference crown once again.
2.Cleveland Cavaliers- One word: Lebron. Lebron James is THE NBA superstar right now. The scary part is he's only going to get better and may already be the best all around player in the NBA. Scary thought for someone that's just 21 years old. If Larry Hughes can stay healthy, this team can be a threat to Detroit and win the division.
3. Chicago Bulls- Da Bulls are one of the chic picks this year because of the new addition mentioned above, Ben Wallace. The Bulls have a bunch of young talent with Ben Gordon, the John Stockton-esque Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni. Rookie Tyrus Thomas will provide some highlight reel plays throughout the season and will be one of the more exciting first year guys in the league. If .everything comes together for this team they could threaten to win the division crown, but are probably another year away
4. Milwaukee Bucks- Jack Sikma, Sidney Moncrief and Terry Cummings lead the Bucks....er wait...my bad, 80s flashback. Second year C Andrew Bogut and sharp shooter Micheal Redd lead this team and the off season aquisition of F Charlie Villanueva should bolster the front court. The Bucks biggest problem is they play in the ultra competitive and talented Central division and the teams above them are just plain better.
5. Indiana Pacers- Shootem Up, shootem up!! And I'm not talking about taking shots behind the arc either. The Pacers continue to make headlines for all the wrong reasons. Stephen Jackson was involved in an early morning shootout outside of a, ahem, gentlemen's club in Indianapolis last month. Aside from F Jermaine O'Neal, the Pacers don't have a superstar on the roster but do have some good veterans and a great coach in Rick CarlislekeK. If O'Neal can avoid the injury bug that's plagued his career the Pacers should be competing for a playoff spot. A division championship seems to be a reach for this team.
1. Miami Heat- The defending champs are primed to not only repeat as the division and Eastern Conference champs, but quite possibly as NBA champs. The Heat centerpieces are D-Wade and Shaq, with a great supporting cast of veterans such as Antoine Walker, Jason Williams,Alonzo Mourning, Gary Payton, and James Posey. The only way this team stumbles is if D-Wade has a lengthy injury that keeps him out of 20+ games. This team can score and play nasty defense. The coach aint too shabby either...some dude named Riley.
2.Orlando Magic-Are these guys the Arizona Cardinals of the NBA? A young stud team that the pundits are high on that falls on their face or a team that's ready for prime time? I say the latter. Dwight "Don't call me Schrute" Howard is a budding superstar and rapidly becoming a dominant inside force. Howard should get some good support from former superstar and oft injured SG Grant Hill. The former all-star and Duke studis said to be healthy and in great shape (where have we seen that before?) and is joined by fellow Dookie, rookie sharpshooter JJ Reddick.
3. Washington Wizards- Too bad gmaes are not played on paper, because this is a pretty talented and loves to run. Gilbert Arenas is a flat out stud, Caron Butler can fill it up and Antawn Jamison is still one of the top PF in the East. This team is just good enough to challenge for one of the last playoff spots and that's about it.
4-5 Charlotte Bobcats and Atlanta Hawks- Both teams are young and not very good. The Bobcats have talents, but that talent spend more time on a training table than on the court. Adam Morrison should be a contender for the ROY award. The Bobcats have an over abundance of bigs and not much help for the 2 and 3 positions. Maybe they can move a big for a 2 guard? The Hawks don't seem to have any direction what so ever. They whiffed in last years draft by not drafting Chris Paul and getting yet another tweener in Marvin Williams. Williams had his momments last year, but still seems like he a ways from reaching his potential. Joe Johnson can fill it up from anywhere on the court but will need scoring help from Willimas and PF Josh Smith. Speedy Claxton is not the answer at PG for this team. Maybe once management is done squabbling and figures out what direction they want to take this team, other than into the ground, we will see the Hawks rise and become a good young team. Don't hold your breath.
Next up, the Western Conference