Beyond Nova Nation: Early season favorites for NBA crown

Corey Marine

Baseball season is over and done with. The NFL’s season is in full swing. A new season of the NHL is just about started. This can only mean it is about time for a new season for the pros on the hardwood.The NBA’s playoff format features eight teams from the Eastern and Western Conferences making the postseason for a total of 16 teams (out of 30 in the league). The recent pro-basketball trend has been a tale of two conferences. In the West, the competition within the conference is tight nearly game-in and game-out. Last season, the eighth-seeded Denver Nuggets needed 50 wins just to make the playoffs in an 82-game season. The East is a different story. In each of the past two seasons, three teams with a record of 41-41 or worse have made the playoffs. However, the teams at the top of the East have proven they can play with the best of the West, including last year’s NBA champion Boston Celtics.

Title Contenders

Boston Celtics: The “Big Three” in Boston are back for another season and looking for another title. Paul Pierce is looking as good as he has at any point in his career and has solidified himself as one of the premier players in the league. Kevin Garnett is still good for a double-double nearly every night and is a good interior defender. Ray Allen’s jump-shot is still the prettiest looking stroke in the league. Once again, it will take a supporting cast to step up and make plays when one of the members of the aforementioned trio is having a bad shooting night. You can also expect point guard Rajon Rondo to improve on his play as the season progresses.

New Orleans Hornets: Chris Paul is arguably the top point guard in the league. Forward David West should have another solid season, and Peja Stojakovic can still shoot the 3-ball. The offseason acquisition of James Posey brings another scoring option and playoff experience to the Big Easy.

Cleveland Cavaliers: All is well in King James’ realm. It is easy to forget Lebron James is only 23 years old because this is his sixth year in the NBA. His play has improved with every year in the league, and now he has the best supporting cast he has ever had. If the team can manage to get in sync, look for the Cavs to make a major playoff push in the spring.

Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant and company fell just short of bringing L.A. another basketball championship last season. With Pau Gasol returning for another season, a healthy Andrew Bynum, and one of the deeper benches in the league, the Lakers may be the team to beat in the West.

In the Playoff Hunt

Detroit Pistons: The Pistons found themselves in the midst of a blockbuster trade before the ’08-’09 season was even a week old. They sent Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess to Denver in return for Allen Iverson. Joe Dumars (Detroit’s president of Basketball Operations) has been known to shake things up if a formula is not working, including this latest move. The move adds another tremendous scorer to a team loaded with offense. Iverson’s reckless style of play could free up Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace. If the move does not work, Iverson is on the final year of his contract.

Houston Rockets: Houston now has its own version of the “Big Three.” Forward Ron Artest’s move to Texas was one of the big offseason moves, and the Rockets are hoping to get the same Artest who played solid basketball and stayed out of trouble with the Sacramento Kings. If Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady can stay healthy and play together for longer stretches than they have in the past, the Rockets may be able to get over McGrady’s inability to make it past the first round in the playoffs.

Philadelphia 76ers: Much was made of forward Elton Brand’s move east to the 76ers. Many thought he would remain with the Clippers after they signed Baron Davis. However, Philadelphia offered him close to $80 million over five years, and the move solidified Philly down in the post. Andre Iguodala is one of the up-and-coming players in the NBA, and Andre Miller is a solid option at the point.

San Antonio Spurs: “The Big Fundamental” Tim Duncan is still one of the best big men in the league. Tony Parker can still tear through defenses with his speed. However, guard Manu Ginobili is expected to be out until mid-December recovering from an ankle injury. The Spurs should make the playoffs, but Ginobili’s absence can have a significant impact on their seeding.

Playoff Snubs

New York Knicks: Out with Isiah Thomas, and in with Head Coach Mike D’Antoni. It is another rebuilding year for the Knickerbockers, and the franchise will remain that way until the contracts of some over-paid players, like Stephon Marbury and Jerome James, expire because no one else will pick up their salaries and lack of productivity. New York has talent, but the organization still has some recovering to do from the disarray caused by Thomas before returning to contention.

Phoenix Suns: Ever since Shaq joined the team, Phoenix has had an identity crisis. Built for an up-tempo game, the team has to slow itself down and run a half-court game so that the Big Diesel can set up. With the competition in the West, Phoenix may be on the outside looking in.