Baseball wrapped up in grand form (SOX RULE!), the rousing NFL season promises more surprises for armchair QBs and the NBA just rolled back into the spotlight in a big way. Sorry, NHL fans; enjoy the lockout!
You could sense a shake-up in the NBA at the end of last season: The gritty Eastern Conference Pistons had shut down the glitzy Western Conference Lakers, who were then dismantled when the most dominant force in basketball was traded for a draft pick, a couple of—at best—above-average veterans and one promising prospect. Throw in a few more teams upgraded by key trades and a new division system that will crank up the competition (have fun in the Southwest, New Orleans!), and you've definitely mixed the league up.
Sure, we're dealing with some of the same old drama—Shaq vs. Kobe—but the whole NBA looks reenergized. With a week of games under our collective belts, we have a little more basis for season predictions; so let's get cracking.
In the East, the Pistons should keep up the no-nonsense basketball that earned them a ring last year; adding a seemingly healthy Antonio McDyess gives them even more defensive muscle and offensive force when Larry Brown needs it. Indiana now has the second best center in the East named O'Neal—a distant second that will keep the Pacers from heading back to the conference finals.
Which brings us to the 325-pound gorilla in South Beach. By himself, Shaq—refitted with more muscle, less fat and a new attitude in the off-season—is enough to propel Miami deep into the playoffs, especially with the weak competition in the Southeast Division. Sorry, Wizards fans, but once again I'm going to be thunderstruck if we win 50. If Dwayne Wade plays less erratically, the Heat can definitely pass the Pacers and challenge Detroit. But anyone who thinks Shaq sans Kobe can beat the improved Pistons is kidding himself.
The biggest change out West is the ultra-competitive Southwest Division, which will be the proving ground for the Mavs, Spurs and Rockets, all who smell a championship. Dallas added Erick Dampier, which gives them more of a presence on the boards, but the rest of the squad still can't guard a broom closet; plus, they lost one of the best shooters in the league in Steve Nash. Apparently Yao and T-Mac are the new Shaq and Kobe, which fits because the Pistons took them apart. Now the Spurs—there's a team; add in Brent Barry, and you've got arguably the most complete squad in basketball.
I'm still going to pick Minnesota over San Antonio. Kevin Garnett has finally come into his own as an incredibly dominant all-round star, and—barring the distinct possibility of Latrell Sprewell-related drama—he has a great supporting cast that can light up the scoreboard and tough it out on D. San Antonio will survive the Southwest, but not without suffering a few injuries in intense divisional play; plus, lately, KG has looked more determined and passionate than the quietly successful Tim Duncan. You can always make a case for the Kings, but they never catch a break.
My dream for the finals: Dallas over Detroit in seven. David Stern's dream: Heat over Lakers in seven. What will happen: Pistons over T-wolves in six.
Dan Greene. Dan, alright fine, VJ, is proud to be a senior at Blair and a member of the best paper. Ever. He's really funny, trust him. As managing sports editor and ombudsman he enjoys sports and ombudsing. Dan also enjoys literature, soccer and crude humor. One … More »