NBA preview: Players and teams to keep an eye on

Mike Giannattasio
Journal Staff

With the NBA season opening up next week, there are many storylines that should be followed throughout the course of this season. This upcoming campaign is going to be very different from last year, as many teams have changed with the acquisitions of new players.

The Miami Heat added Lebron James and Chris Bosh this past offseason, and with Dwyane Wade, the team is expected to contend for the championship this year. It’s going to be exciting to see how the group plays and if they can live up to all the hype.

It will also be interesting to see how the Cleveland Cavaliers play this year without James, who had been a member of their organization for seven seasons. James brought the Cavs to the Finals once, but could not bring the city a title. Most people assume the fans are not going to give him the warmest reception when the Heat play their first game in Cleveland on December 2.

Another storyline to follow involves The Boston Celtics, who were six minutes away from winning the 2010 NBA Finals after having an extraordinary postseason.

With new players like Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal and Delonte West added to the club this offseason, the Celtics will once again have a team filled with older veterans that could be very dangerous.

The Los Angeles Lakers will look to defend their NBA crown for the third consecutive season and it will be interesting to see if they will be up to the challenge again this year. The Lakers did not make any major changes in the offseason, but did add small forward Matt Barnes, point guard Steve Blake and center Theo Ratliff. Barnes, as very solid wing player, will most certainly bring a boost of energy off the bench. Blake, meanwhile, will be a good change-of-pace guard for incumbent Derek Fisher, and provide a shooting touch from the outside.

Another team to keep an eye on out west is the Oklahoma City Thunder. After Kevin Durant became the youngest player ever to win the NBA scoring title last year, it’s going to be exciting to see if he can have another phenomenal season in 2010-11, and bring the Thunder a step closer to the promised land.

Many young players are also expected to rise this season, including Greg Oden of the Portland Trail Blazers, Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls, Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers and John Wall, who was the first player selected in the 2010 NBA Draft by the Washington Wizards.

The New York Knicks added Amar’e Stoudemire during the offseason, but it’s only a guessing game as to whether they will improve this year.

Yao Ming, who was out all of last season with any injury, could very well be the Comeback Player of the Year if he plays well for the Houston Rockers. While the Lakers are bound to win the Western Conference again this season, other teams in the West that are going to be tough to beat include Dallas, Denver, Oklahoma City and San Antonio.

The Eastern Conference title will be up for grabs by Boston, Miami or Chicago, but expect Orlando, Washington and Milwaukee to hang around until the end of the season.

Ultimately, it was a very busy offseason in the NBA. Some of the best players in the game switched teams, and it will be interesting to see if a new team emerges, or if the Lakers and Celtics continue to dominate in a very talented league.

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