Is this Mike's last season?
The NBA: Praise and Predictions
By Mack Williams
SeeingBlack.com Sports Columnist
about sports! Click here.
The NBA is back in business for what could be the last season of
David Robinson, John Stockton, and Michael Jordan. Meanwhile, we
look forward to watching newcomers such as Houston's Yao Ming and
Denver's Nene Hilario on new game networks ABC and ESPN. So what
else is in store this season? Let's dive right in.
The New Jersey Nets raised their Atlantic Division and Eastern
Conference championship banners in a ceremony that some feel was,
in a sense, twenty-five years late. Of course, we will never know
what would have happened had the 1970's Nets owner, Roy Boe, been
willing and/or able to bring his entire ABA championship teamincluding
Julius Ervinginto the NBA. But many older fans who had the
opportunity to see the Doctor in the ABA remain convinced that his
Nets team would have had a real chance at playing for the NBA title
in the first post-merger year of 1976-77.
Tragedy, bad picks, bad luck and bad play epitomized the Nets experience
for most of the next twenty-five years. But led by Jason Kidd, they
advanced to the 2002 finals, and now stand even strongerat
least on a short-term basisafter trading Todd MacCullough
and Keith Van Horn to the Sixers for Dikembe Mutumbo. Dikembe is
on the back end of his career, but remains the most intimidating
defensive force in the game. His presence in the middle makes J.
Kidd and the Nets' already potent fastbreak even more lethal, as
will more court time for high-flying Richard Jefferson. They should
be the clear favorites in the East.
That said, both of the other recent conference champions that have
fallen victim to the three-peating Lakers like their chances as
well. Any team with Allen Iverson has a shot at success, though
the 76ers' shot may hinge on Iverson taking less ill-advised shots
and learning to trust and lead his teammates. The Indiana Pacers
are young and athletic, and still have one of the game's greatest
clutch shot-makers in Reggie Miller. Neither of these teams can
be counted out.
Joining them in the playoffs will be New Orleans, Orlando, and
Washington. The new city Hornets are extremely talented with players
like Baron Davis, Jamal Mashburn, and David Wesley, and should benefit
from fan euphoria during their first year in New Orleans. The Magic
may have as good a chance as anyone if Grant Hill can remain healthy
and finally get to team up with Tracy McGrady.
Naturally no storybook endingif, in fact, this is to be
the endingof MJ's career would be complete without the rebuilt
Wiz Kids making a playoff run. The other two playoff spots will
be filled by two of the "bubble" teams the Toronto Raptors;
Boston Celtics; Milwaukee Bucks; and the "playoff-guaranteed" Atlanta
Hawks. Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson is off to a great start to
the chagrin, no doubt, of former Bucks teammates such as Ray Allen
- but nonetheless, Hawks management may need to get their season
ticket-holder rebates ready.
The Wild, Wild West
We all know the deal. Shaquille O'Neal is the best center in the
game, and Kobe Bryant is arguably the best all-around player in
the game. These Lakers are, in the eyes of some, the closest to
having Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan on the same team.
So is yet another L.A. parade inevitable? Maybe not. The Sacramento
Kingsor, as per Shaq, the "Sacramento Queens"certainly
don't think so. They might point to the fact that they could have
defeated the champs in the 2002 Western Conference finals had the
Lakers' Samaki Walker's Game 4 halftime three-pointer, which came
after the buzzer, not counted - especially since the Lakers went
on to win that game 100-99.
Kings fans would say that the two teams were virtually even, and
that the Kings have been the only one to improve as a result of
getting frontcourt help in Keon Clark. Laker fans might counter
by pointing out that the Lakers improve collectively each year by
virtue of Kobe's individual improvement. In any case, these two
may very well battle to the end again this coming spring.
There are probably several Western Conference teams that would
like to secede to the East. Both the Utah Jazz and the Minnesota
Timberwolves would be strong contenders in the East, but may have
a hard time getting beyond the first round in the West. The Dallas
Mavericks and Portland Trailblazers are each among the deepest teams
you'll ever see, and hope that their overall talent level can catapult
them into the finals.
As long as the San Antonio Spurs have Tim Duncan and David Robinson-and
a real chance at winning the Midwest Division title and a great
playoff seed- they cannot be totally counted out. The final playoff
team will come from the "bubble" Phoenix Suns and Seattle SuperSonics,
edge to the Sonics.
Finally, as far as TV is concerned, Disney/ABC got the league's
network contract, but fortunately TNT still has a piece of the cable
because there is little on the tube that is more entertaining
than "Inside The NBA" with Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley, and Ernie
Johnson. There are also few announcers as excitable and exciting
as TNT's Kevin Harlan. Edge to TNT.
-- November 16, 2002
2001-05 Seeing Black, Inc. All Rights Reserved.