Author: Joe Siegal
With the NBA season ready to tip off on Oct. 20, hopes are sky high for Los Angeles’ two teams. The Lakers and Clippers, both coming off playoff appearances last season, will have their sights set on winning the NBA’s Western Conference with the help of new additions to their rosters.
The Lakers, who finished third in the West during last year’s lockout-shortened season, made two blockbuster deals over the offseason, first bringing in former Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash, a two time NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP). Weeks later, the purple and gold sent center Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia in a multi-team deal that brought the Orlando Magic’s All-Star center Dwight Howard to L.A.
Adding Nash and Howard to the Lakers’ already potent lineup has created sky-high expectations for this year’s team. If Nash and Howard can gel with the styles of Kobe Bryant, Paul Gasol and Metta World Peace, the Lakers will have the top starting five in the league. If the Lakers’ bench can alleviate the pressure on the starters, L.A. could very well win the Western Conference.
Lost in the Lakers’ shadow in all the preseason hype, the Clippers finished just one game behind their Staples Center cohabitants last season, and have only strengthened their team since. Former Laker and Clipper forward Lamar Odom returns to L.A. this season, joining stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, a potentially lethal duo who showed glimpses of brilliance last season. The Clippers also added guard Jamal Crawford, a veteran scorer who provides another offensive option.
Though Los Angeles boasts two strong teams, the favorite in the West should remain the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder, starring Forward Kevin Durant, the NBA’s three time defending scoring champion, are a young and fast team that will only continue to build chemistry following their loss to the Miami Heat in last year’s finals. The Thunder’s ability to run the floor in transition sets them apart from the Lakers, who will remain primarily a half-court offense.
Another significant challenger in the West could be the ageless San Antonio Spurs, who have managed to perennially stay in the upper echelon of the NBA, though the Thunder may permanently eclipse them in this regular season.
In the Eastern Conference, the defending NBA Champion Miami Heat continue to build around their “Big Three” of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Miami lured sharpshooting guard Ray Allen away from the Boston Celtics and also added veteran forward Rashard Lewis, a dependable shooter. Both these additions continue to play into the Heat’s dynamic, floor-spreading style, in which perimeter shooters have many three point opportunities.
The Heat, barring catastrophic injury, should easily win the East, but the rest of the conference’s playoff spots are wide open for the taking. With last year’s regular season first-place finishers, the Chicago Bulls, missing their star guard Derrick Rose indefinitely, the Celtics, New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks will all be trying to return to the playoffs, with their eyes on the conference’s second spot. Indiana, New York and Boston will provide the strongest threats to Miami. Expect the Nets to contend for the playoffs as well in their first year in Brooklyn.
At the season’s onset, the NBA looks to be quite top-heavy. The strategy of building teams from the top down with highly paid stars seems to be correlating with playoff success in the league, leaving many teams in the dust of the star-powered favorites. Though anything can happen in an 82-game season, it’s hard to imagine a situation in which Miami, Oklahoma City or the Lakers don’t win the championship. Regardless, the first full season in two years will be a welcome sight for NBA fans.
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