Since 1980, only nine NBA franchises have won a championship, including one-time champions the Dallas Mavericks and the Philadelphia 76ers. What this means is that the NBA is a largely dominated by the same case of characters year in and year out. Partly because of this, the consensus among hardcore groups of NBA fans is that there is almost no relevant professional basketball in October and November. But the 2012–13 season isn’t like the others. This year, there is intrigue from day one. It seems appropriate that the newly crowned NBA champion Miami Heat will open the season at home against the aging Boston Celtics, out to prove they have one more championship run left in them. Boston pushed Miami to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals last season. It’s hard to imagine in this age of the 24/7 news cycle that any team or player will be scrutinized more closely than the Miami Heat and LeBron James in their quest to win “not five, not six, not seven” in South Beach. What should sustain viewership over the long haul of the season are the challenges that Miami faces from teams all over the NBA. The Celtics lost Ray Allen to the Heat but added Jason Terry, Jeff Green and an assortment of big bodies to exploit Miami’s lack of size inside. Another potential challenge could come from Los Angeles where Kobe Bryant will be trying to obtain his sixth NBA title with the help of off-season acquisitions Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. For Miami to even reach that point, the Heat will have to navigate a rather contentious group of contenders in the east: the new look Brooklyn Nets, the restocked Indiana Pacers, a formidable foe in the New York Knicks, a completely unknown but potent team in Philadelphia, irritants in the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls and the Milwaukee Bucks. Despite this, the Miami storyline is still compelling. Bryant, Nash, Pau Gasol and Howard have been pushed to the backburner. This is a considerable feat since Bryant, starting his 17th season with the Lakers, is trying to tie Michael Jordan with six championships. In the background, at least for now, is the emergence of Kevin Durant, not just as a great scorer but perhaps the league’s second best player next to LeBron James. Through performance and demeanor, Durant became the darling of basketball purists everywhere last season. Durant was sold as the anti-LeBron, the guy that it’s safe to root for. But now that Durant has been to the NBA finals and lost, will the perception of him change? It seems the NBA always needs a bad guy, someone to root against, whether it’s LeBron, Kobe or the numerous other stars before them who were previously dubbed failures for their lack of big game performances until they won a title. With Durant’s stock as high as any athlete’s last year, will this new-found criticism of his inability to deliver a title last season become too much to handle, or will he raise his game to yet another level? There’s emerging talent out west as well. In Los Angeles, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin added former finals MVP Chauncey Billups and former Sixth Man of the Year — and current Kardashian sidekick — Lamar Odom to their rotation. The Memphis Grizzlies finally added a competent backup point guard, Jared Bayless, and with Zach Randolph back to full health, they look to be a team that could threaten. The San Antonio Spurs have replenished their aging roster with youthful depth and if the core trio of Parker, Ginobili and Duncan can stay healthy come playoff time, they will cause problems for almost any team. For the first time since 2008, when the Celtics and Lakers renewed their rivalry, the NBA has more than one or two interesting teams, and more than one interesting plotline to watch. The stories will complicate further if big names like James Harden, Tyreke Evans, Al Jefferson, Michael Beasley and Kevin Martin find new homes as has been suggested by various media outlets throughout the summer. The most important question entering this season is whether Miami will be able to repeat as NBA champions. They were already the most hated team in the league and now as reigning NBA champions there will be extra motivation for teams to beat them. Other interesting questions include: How will the Lakers gel? Will Dwight Howard, returning from off-season back surgery, be the dominant interior presence he was when he led Orlando to the NBA finals in 2009? And will Steve Nash be able to make it into June without breaking down? The Eastern Conference will have plenty of drama as all the teams are pretty evenly matched and impossible to predict from seeds two to eight. A probable top-eight would be: the Heat, Pacers, Knicks, Celtics, Nets, 76ers, Bulls and Bucks. In the Western Conference, it’s a toss up from three to eight. All those teams have huge upside but are also significantly flawed in ways that can be exploited by other teams. How far they progress come April will depend on whom they match up against in the playoff seedings. A reasonable top eight in the west are the Thunder, Spurs, Lakers, Grizzlies, Clippers, Nuggets, Mavericks and Timberwolves. Conference finals: Heat over Pacers, and Lakers over Thunder. This could lead to a truly epic NBA finals comprising of a staggering 70 all-stars and 22 championship rings among participating players. This year, the NBA can expect record-setting ratings, any number of marquee games and the fact that the biggest media markets in the country — New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, Miami and Boston — all have superstars and a team who believe they have enough talent to take home the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy at the end of the year. It’s the kind of season that night after night you, if nothing else, pay attention.
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