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NBA season preview

The NBA season started last night with the Los Angeles LAkers winning against Clippers (no surprise here … huh ? ) and Celtics dominating and winning in Cleveland in front of the famous duo LeBron and Shaq.
We did not posted any previews of the season so far because it’s irrelevant to write something when it’s way to early and so many things can change. But now, that the NBA season has started we can overview what we have on the courts and what we can expect to see.

Looking at every division, there’s a few observations and also some predictions for the teams.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

1. Boston
2. Toronto
3. Philadelphia
4. New York
5. New Jersey

Raptors make the big splash with Hedo Turkoglu.
Nets jettison Vince Carter to save money for big splash in 2010.
Sixers get the oft-injured Elton Brand back as Andre Miller departs.
Boston’s Big Three another year older; does that make them wiser or more fragile? NO, but Wallace’s addition can only make them stronger.
Knicks treading water until they can make move on LeBron James. How patient are fans?
Who’s going to run the offence in Philly, or will they just look to score everything in transition? If Nets don’t get to Brooklyn, will Russian owner stick around?

Prediction :
Boston remains the cream of the crop and should win going away, but are there one or two other playoff teams coming out of the division? The pick here says one.

CENTRAL DIVISION

1. Cleveland
2. Chicago
3. Detroit
4. Milwaukee
5. Indiana

Cavs, exposed in the conference final last June, add Shaq and two former Raptors starters in Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker.
Pistons go all offence with Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon.
Bucks may hand reins to rookie point guard Brandon Jennings.
Will loss of Gordon cost the Bulls dearly, or is a healthy Luol Deng a good enough replacement?
Who’s the odd-man out in the Detroit offence, and will he be a happy camper?
Can Shaq and Zydrunas Ilgauskas really get along in Cleveland?
Will Mike Dunleavy be any help at all in Indy?
Who scores the points in Milwaukee?

Prediction :
Cleveland is the cream of the crop, but Chicago and Detroit should be in a dogfight for the bottom of the post-season roster. There may not be room for both of them.


SOUTHEAST DIVISION

1. Orlando
2. Atlanta
3. Washington
4. Miami
5. Charlotte

Jamal Crawford adds to a potent offence with the Hawks.
Vince Carter goes home to Orlando to replace the departed Turkoglu.
The Heat do nothing to keep Dwyane Wade happy.

Can the Magic keep shooting three-pointers as well as they did in last season’s run to final?
Can Dwight Howard shoot FTs well enough to stay in late-game situations?
Can the Wizards ever stay healthy?
Bobcats made late playoff run a year ago; can they do it again?

Prediction :
Magic might be the best team in the East and should cruise. If Wizards can get their act together under Flip Saunders, they might be able to win big time and challenge Atlanta .

SOUTHWEST DIVISION

1. San Antonio
2. Dallas
3. New Orleans
4. Houston
5. Memphis

Spurs load up for a run at Lakers by adding key front-liner Richard Jefferson and veteran backup big Antonio McDyess.
Mavs get Shawn Marion as running mate for Jason Kidd.
Hornets finally move Tyson Chandler.

Can Manu Ginobili remain healthy enough to really help the Spurs make a run?
How will Houston cope with no Yao Ming and, when he returns, a surgically repaired Tracy McGrady? Is Emeka Okafor just a more expensive version of Chandler for the Hornets?
Will trying to save money drive the Grizzlies further into oblivion ? and how can Iverson change the face of the Grizzlies ?

Prediction :
The Spurs will only be judged on whether they can legitimately challenge Lakers. The Mavs think they have championship potential but depth may be an issue. Hornets are no longer flavor of the month.


PACIFIC DIVISION

1. L.A. Lakers
2. Phoenix
3. L.A. Clippers
4. Golden State
5. Sacramento

Suns jettison Shaquille O’Neal, which should make for a more peaceful season.
Lakers make one huge move, adding Ron Artest.
Clips banking on rookie Blake Griffin making them relevant. Eventually, but certainly not now.

Is this the worst division in the league? Many would say yes, by a long shot.
How long until Stephen Jackson finally wiggles his way out of Golden State?
If Suns fall out of race quickly, will they look to move Steve Nash and rebuild?
How is Amare Stoudemire’s eye? Is he motivated enough?
Are the Kings still in the league?

Prediction :

The Lakers should have the division title sewn up sometime around the American Thanksgiving holiday. Clippers, Warriors, Kings should be making plans for draft lottery today and save themselves some time.


NORTHWEST DIVISION

1. Portland
2. Utah
3. Denver
4. Oklahoma City
5. Minnesota

Youthful Blazers pick up key veteran PG Andre Miller after losing Hedo Turkoglu.
Jazz stands pat with glut of big men with Paul Millsap and Carlos Boozer.
Conference finalist Nuggets let starting two-guard Dahntay Jones go to the Pacers.

Most competitive division? It’d be close, along with the Central.
Can Portland make the next move up the ladder, having tasted the post-season already?
Is Kevin Durant good enough to drag Thunder to legitimate playoff chase for first time?
Will Timberwolves rue the day they drafted two point guards back-to-back and let one stay in Spain?

Prediction :
If Blazers remain healthy and Andre Miller provides leadership, they should win division. Jazz may be distracted until they move Boozer in a trade.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Ron Artest, Lakers
The defending champion Lakers in effect traded young up-and-comer Trevor Ariza for the mercurial Ron Artest in what has to be considered a gamble. Can he fly all season on the straight and narrow under the intense scrutiny of Los Angeles?

Shaquille O’Neal Cavaliers

Right now, Shaq’s all about the ring and trying to get one for LeBron James. But does he fit in Cleveland as a big man who likes to plant himself in the paint, precisely where James does his best work? An interesting combination, to say the least.

Vince Carter, Magic

At home and comfortable in Orlando, joining a team centred around Dwight Howard, with little pressure to be the top dog. Seems like a perfect situation for the ex-Raptor, who proved in New Jersey that he could still make the huge play when needed.

Richard Jefferson, Spurs

San Antonio stole him from Milwaukee in a move designed to save money for the Bucks. But if he’s the fourth offensive option with the Spurs behind Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, that’s a pretty high-powered offence. And he defends well, too.

Rasheed Wallace, Celtics
He’s in a secondary role with the powerful Celtics and gives them another talented big man who could ease the load on Kevin Garnett as he recovers from knee surgery. Motivated, Wallace is an excellent player; can the Celtics keep him interested all year?


STORIES TO WATCH


*Clearing the decks for 2010

It’s known as The Summer of LeBron, when James and a handful of other all-stars — Chris Bosh among them — can opt to become free agents. Every player move made during the season will be couched in terms of what it means financially next summer.

*What’s up in New Orleans?

It wasn’t too long ago that the Hornets were seen as one of the good young teams to watch. Now, all-star Chris Paul has lost some key players and friends, coach Bryon Scott’s in a lame-duck year and the Hornets are just another team. How will fans react?


*Being careful not to be sick

The league has mandated that any player showing signs of a flu needs to be tested for the H1N1 virus and kept away from the team. There will be more hand sanitizer than you can imagine around every franchise to help avoid spreading the virus.


TEAMS TO WATCH

Portland
The Trail Blazers were everyone’s darlings a year ago and they responded with a drive to the playoffs. Now the real work begins as they try to join the elite teams in the West and they won’t be able to sneak up on anyone.

Washington
The hits just keep on coming for the Wizards, who get oft-injured Gilbert Arenas back but will start the season with Antawn Jamison on the shelf. They added depth with Randy Foye and Mike Miller for new coach Flip Saunders.

Memphis
Watch ’em if you’re the type that likes a train wreck because the possibility exists. Toss shot-happy Zach Randolph and Allen Iverson into a mix that includes O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay and this could get ugly fast.

Oklahoma City
Are the Thunder this year’s Trail Blazers? Kevin Durant is a unique talent and with plenty of good young teammates around him like Jeff Green and a good young coach in Scott Brooks. This could be the up-and-coming team to watch this season.

Miami
With all the changes teams in the East made, the Heat were strangely silent, not giving Dwyane Wade any real help. Michael Beasley’s had off-the-court issues, Jermaine O’Neal could very well get injured and Miami could be in for a long year.

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