Sun, Dec 25, 2011 - Page 18 News List

NBA: Heat poised as favorites, but young guns lurk

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK:A list of five teams to watch this year includes the youthful Oklahoma City Thunder, who are hoping to build on their conference finals appearance


Last season’s runners-up are the early favorites this time. The “Big Three” of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have had the benefit of one season together and should be better the second time around. The shorter season and addition of forward Shane Battier should work in their favor if they can find a way to close out games in the playoffs.


A decade of consistent performances finally paid off for the Mavericks last season when they won their first NBA title, but defending it will be tough. Although they still have NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and have recruited Lamar Odom from the Lakers, the loss of center Tyson Chandler could be difficult to overcome.


The Bulls were the best defensive team last season and boasted the NBA’s youngest ever MVP winner in Derrick Rose. However, they came up short against Miami in the Eastern Conference final and face the same challenge this season despite upgrading their offense with the addition of shooting guard Richard Hamilton.


The Thunder boast one of the youngest and most improved lineups in the NBA. Led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, they made the Western Conference final last season on the back of a solid offense and should be stronger this season. Questions remain about their defense and ability to handle the big moments after they fell to Dallas in the conference final last season.


The Lakers have won 16 NBA titles, second only to the Boston Celtics (17), including two of the past three. They won their division last season, but fell to Dallas in the second round of the playoffs and questions remain ahead of this season. Coach Phil Jackson has left and been replaced by Mike Brown, while Lamar Odom, last season’s Sixth Man of the Year winner as top player coming off the bench, was traded to Dallas.


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