What's the limitation on peats? Four? Five? Wasn't it an eight-peat for the Boston Celtics?
The Los Angeles Lakers go where no Bull ever tread, in serious search of a fourth consecutive NBA title. It sounds impressive, but two were miraculous, with the Trail Blazers' meltdown in the 2000 conference finals and the Kings' seventh-game meltdown in last season's conference finals.
Phil Jackson did to the Spurs after they won in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season. Rick Fox and Doug Christie already had it out in an exhibition game Friday. Too bad they don't meet again until Christmas.
Although most are counting on a Kings-Lakers conference finals rematch, there are other possibilities. The Mavericks will win a lot of games again, and who knows what Don Nelson has in mind to upset Shaquille O'Neal now that the NBA says it will enforce free-throw-line violations that the Mavericks accused O'Neal of committing.
It is the last season for the Spurs' David Robinson, but don't count him out. He comes into the season as healthy as he has been in five years. The Trail Blazers, like the Pistons in the East, don't have a superstar, but they can throw more talent at opponents than any other team in the conference. Plus they have Arvydas Sabonis back.
And yikes! It's Yao Ming! Yao, the Rockets' No. 1 overall pick, will be the curiosity piece of the early season. Glen Rice and Maurice Taylor are back from injuries to help Yao, Steve Francis and the Rockets. Also watch the improving Clippers with Andre Miller, and, of course, Utah's John Stockton and Karl Malone taking one last bow.
(In predicted order of finish)
Last season: 57-25, lost to Kings 4-1 in conference semis.
They are a good regular-season team for now. They'll win a lot of games but don't have the muscle to go anywhere in the playoffs. They are deep with Nick Van Exel and Raef LaFrentz there for a full season. They say Shawn Bradley is a new man, but we have heard that before. The Steve Nash-Dirk Nowitzki combo may be the NBA's most fun to watch. And Michael Finley is steady. So they add yet another offensive player in Walt Williams. This is a classic Don Nelson team.
San Antonio Spurs
Last season: 58-24, lost to Lakers 4-1 in conference semis.
The last season for one of the best and one of the good guys, David Robinson, who could go out at any time with back problems. It's going to take some time for much-hyped Argentine Emanuel Ginobili, and Tony Parker is just 20 now. It appears Tim Duncan will re-sign after the season to lead the redevelopment. For now, he will have to carry this team again.
Last season: 44-38, lost to Kings 3-1 in first round.
Another farewell tour? Who knows with John Stocktonhe could play until he's 45 and be effective. Figure Karl Malone wants a shot at the Finals again and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's career scoring record, so he'll probably leave the Jazz when his contract expires after the season. The zone rules hurt their pick-and-roll, but it is still effective. It is uncertain whether Matt Harpring can replace Donyell Marshall's scoring and post play. They are rebuilding with DeShawn Stevenson and Andrei Kirilenko, but it is still the Stockton-and-Malone show.
Last season: 28-54, missed playoffs.
Western Conference capsules
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