Sat, Oct 28, 2006 - Page 19 News List

All eyes on Wade as same old Miami defend top spot

AP , NEW YORK

The Raptors aren't the only team with a different look. Chicago signed Ben Wallace away from Detroit, possibly altering the balance of power in the Central Division and becoming Miami's biggest threat in the Eastern Conference.

Don Nelson is back on the sideline for Golden State, and former Warriors coach Eric Musselman is at the Sacramento Kings.

Across the country, Isiah Thomas replaced Larry Brown and is coaching the New York Knicks team he assembled -- though he's already been warned that he has one season to show "evident progress" with the high-priced mess he's created, or he'll be gone, too. He might be able to pull it off in the East, where there are no more than a half-dozen strong teams.

The West, on the other hand, remains a killer. Los Angeles might have two playoff teams again -- and for the second straight season, the Clippers might be higher-seeded than the Lakers.

It took 44 wins to make the playoffs there last season, and the conference figures to be even tougher with the improvements made by teams such as Houston, where Bonzi Wells joins a healthy Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming (姚明), and New Orleans.

They are both in the Southwest Division, where San Antonio and Dallas each won 60 or more games last season but were forced to meet in the second round, ushering in a rules change: A division title no longer guarantees a team a top-three seed if the fourth-place team has a better record.

"We've got the best division in the NBA, I don't care what people say," Spurs guard Tony Parker said. "Our division is tough."

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