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As NBA Season Begins, Spurs, Heat Seem Likely To Lead the West, East

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: A back-page sports article on Nov. 1 [“As the NBA Season Begins, Spurs, Heat Seem Likely to Lead the East, West”] gave a preview of the NBA season. The column should have attributed the prediction that the Spurs Antonio Spurs would not win 70 games because Coach Gregg Popovich would not let them waste their energy to analyst Marc Stein. The writer read Stein’s column in the course of his research and failed to properly attribute the statement. The section editor was aware that Stein’s predictions had been used as background, but did not realize the extent of the similarity. In this case, the missing attribution should have been corrected during the editing process.

By Yong-yi Zhu

The NBA season starts tonight, so I’ve broken down the conferences to distinguish the contenders from those that will not make it to the playoffs. But even before any analysis, unless things get incredibly crazy or injuries run rampant, it is obvious to me that the NBA Finals will pit the Spurs against the Heat.

Eastern Conference

The Detroit Pistons lost Coach Larry Brown, so they will no longer be the same dominant playoff force that they were the last two years. Even though they kept their core group of players in place, Flip Saunders cannot lead them on another playoff run as his track record with the Timberwolves showed. The Pistons have talent, but their lack of central leadership will prevent them from succeeding.

The team that benefits from Larry Brown now is the New York Knicks. With the addition of Quentin Richardson, Eddie Curry, and Jerome James, they are a much better team. However, they will still have a tough time getting to the postseason with the bevy of great teams ahead of them. This team may be one of the last ones in the playoffs.

The Indiana Pacers are a better team with Ron Artest back at small forward, instead of sitting at home promoting his rap album. But their team is not deep which could be a problem if injuries arise (or if another fight breaks out). They should make a run in the playoffs if everything goes right.

The other team looking for a good playoff run after a terrific offseason is Cleveland. Not only do they have a great starting five but a good group coming off the bench as well. Donyell Marshall and Eric Snow are good contributors who will take these guys into the second round, if Lebron cannot stay uninjured.

Finally, there is Miami, which has done nothing but improve this offseason. They brought in Antoine Walker, James Posey and Jason Williams to complement Shaq’s presence in the lane. They also have an excellent bench compared to the rest of the Eastern Conference. These guys are the real deal. This time, even if they have an injured Dwayne Wade, they will make it to the finals.

Playoff teams: Miami, Detroit, Indiana, Cleveland, New Jersey, Milwaukee, New York, and Washington.

Western Conference

As much as the road to the NBA Finals in the Eastern Conference goes through Miami, the road in the West goes through San Antonio. They were the best team of 2005, and they only got better in the off-season. The additions of Michael Finley and Nick Van Exel give the Spurs a second starting five coming off the bench. Don’t bet on them winning 70 games though, because Gregg Popovich won’t let them waste their energy before the playoffs start. The problem for the West is that while the Spurs got better, everyone else in the West, with the exception of the Rockets, got a little bit worse.

The Rockets still have Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, and they added Stromile Swift. This is enough to make them the second-best team in the conference but will still only give them a four-seed: the Spurs will win their division.

The loss of Michael Finley will be felt by the Dallas Mavericks right away. So will the loss of Amare Stoudemire to the Phoenix Suns. This drops both teams to a distant third and fourth in the West, but at least the Suns will get their incredibly talented power forward back sometime during the season.

Are the Lakers a better team now with Coach Phil Jackson at the helm? It probably depends a lot on whether Kwame Brown can actually be effective in Los Angeles. Phil will add a couple of wins and take them to the playoffs. But without Shaq, they will continue to suffer.

Playoff teams: San Antonio, Houston, Phoenix, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis, and Seattle.