Tue, Oct 28, 2008 - Page 20 News List

NBA: Lakers, Celtics still teams to beat as NBA season opens

AFP , WASHINGTON

NBA scoring champion LeBron James displays his opinion of a play while watching the Ohio State Buckeyes play the Penn State Nittany Lions on Saturday at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.

PHOTO: AFP

Defending champion Boston and Kobe Bryant’s runner-up Los Angeles Lakers, once again the teams to beat in the National Basketball Association, open the league’s 63rd season with home games today.

Powered by Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce plus guard Ray Allen, the Celtics won their first title since 1986 last June and accept their championship rings when NBA scoring champion LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers visit.

“We’re not going to dwell on what happened last year,” Garnett said. “This is a new year. We have a new goal. We’re going to talk about going forward. The three of us are very competitive. We’re still hungry.”

The Celtics won their 17th NBA crown just one season after winning only 24 games, bringing in Garnett and Allen and winning 42 more games, the best one-season reversal of fortune in NBA history. But can they repeat that?

“That’s something we’ll see,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I can only tell you what I’ve seen is they are hungry. They have a great sense of urgency in practices. We want to do it again. It’s pressure but it’s good pressure, the kind of pressure you want.”

The Lakers, sparked by Bryant and Spanish center Pau Gasol, open the season against Portland in the NBA debut of center Greg Oden, the heralded rookie big man who missed last season with a right knee injury.

It also marks the first official game when Bryant, Gasol and 20-year-old big man Andrew Bynum, injured during most of the Lakers’ run to the finals, will play together as Los Angeles looks to live up to great expectations.

Bryant, who helped the US team win Olympic gold by beating Gasol’s Spaniards in the Beijing final, has not been nagged by a pinky injury from last year, when he scored 28.3 points and played in every game for the Lakers.

Bryant pondered leaving the Lakers before they moved last year but Gasol’s arrival eased his worries and raised his hopes of bringing the Lakers’ their first title since the departure of star center Shaquille O’Neal.

Familiar rivals will try to topple the Celtics in the East, including the Cavaliers, powered by James and his 30 points a game with Mo Williams added to provide backcourt scoring punch, and a veteran Detroit Pistons squad.

In the West, the Lakers will face a host of contenders, including a veteran San Antonio lineup, Yao Ming’s (姚明) Houston, playmaker Chris Paul and a quick New Orleans squad and perennial threats Dallas, Phoenix, Denver and Utah.

Houston added controversial forward Ron Artest, who had troubled stays in Sacramento and Indiana, to China’s Yao, who had 22 points and 10.8 rebounds in a season cut short by injury, and McGrady, who had 21.6 points a game.

Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson make Denver a threat, while Utah offers a balanced team lineup and the savvy of coach Jerry Sloan, in his 20th season with the Jazz, to rival the best in the West.

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