Twelve story lines to keep in mind as NBA season gets underway

 

The NBA season tips off on Christmas Day with five games. From there, it will be more like a sprint than a marathon. The playoffs will be here before we know it. Here are a dozen story lines to get you in a basketball frame of mind:
1. The shorter season: Each team will play only 66 games instead of 82 from Christmas Day to April 26. That includes several weeks with four games, back-to-backs, and travel. The quality of play could be ragged at the start with teams coming off a compressed training camp and multiple transactions, making cohesiveness a challenge. As the season moves on, the travel fatigue could catch up to some teams, especially those with veteran players. If the hoops are better than we expect, maybe everyone will realize that a 70-game regular season would be just about right.
2. The Heatles: You might have heard that Miami was supposed to win the NBA title last season. Of course, that did not happen and now LeBron, D-Wade and Chris Bosh are back for another try. The criticism of James was rough – although he seemed to embrace the villain role – especially for a guy who averaged 27 points, seven rebounds and seven assists during the regular season. The Heat still has issues at point guard and center, but did add defensive force Shane Battier.
3. Derrick Rose: Guess it makes sense that the first beneficiary of the new “Derrick Rose Rule” is Derrick Rose. The reigning league MVP who led the Bulls to 62 wins agreed to a 5-year, $94.8 million extension. The new rule allows a team to pay a player 30 percent of the team’s salary cap instead of the previous maximum of 25 percent if the player qualifies by being named league MVP, being voted in as starter to two All-Star Games or earning All-NBA honors twice within his first four seasons. And if he wasn’t good enough already – 25 points per game, 7.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds last season – Rose spent the offseason developing a post game.
4. Chris Paul: The saga of which team would be the point guard’s new home embarrassed the NBA, but he eventually landed with the Los Angeles Clippers, once David Stern signed off. The combo of Paul, reigning Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin, and newcomers Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler might make LA a two-team NBA city after all.
5. Dwight Howard’s future: The drama has left New Orleans and landed in Orlando. Howard says his trade request remains in place, but he would be willing to remain with the Magic if certain personnel moves are made. Expect this issue to linger until Howard is moved or gets what he wants from the front office. “This is about the Orlando Magic,” new CEO Alex Martins said. “And yes, there are pieces that come and go along the way, but we’ve proven we’re a winning organization. And we’re going to continue to win games.” So there, Dwight.
6. The Lakers: The other LA story begins with new coach Mike Brown and an injured Kobe Bryant, after he suffered a torn ligament in his right wrist in the preseason. He is listed as day-to-day. What they don’t have is Lamar Odom, seemingly sent to Dallas for virtually nothing in a salary dump; Andrew Bynum, who has to sit out a five-game suspension; and Ron Artest, because Artest is no longer. He now goes by Meta World Peace.
8. Aging Celtics: If the post-lockout schedule will make this a season for young teams to thrive, the Celtics could be in some trouble. The quartet of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett is as good a group as there is in the league, but three of them are 34 or older. The Celtics’ numbers drop substantially when they are off the floor, so will Boston have enough for a fifth consecutive Atlantic Division title?
8. The Knicks: Amazingly, they have not won a playoff series since 2001. The duo of Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire will be able to have a full season together, but the Knicks don’t have much else. The addition of Baron Davis, after Cleveland used the amnesty clause on him, should help once he is healthy. He is expected to miss 4 to 8 weeks with a back injury. “It’s all about chemistry,” Stoudemire told reporters. “Everybody is a non-selfish player. We love to play together. We love to have fun. It’s going to be great.”
9. Don’t forget the champs: Dallas will defend the first championship in franchise history without some of the key members of last season’s team. Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and Caron Butler are all elsewhere. In their places, the Mavericks have added Lamar Odom, Vince Carter and former Saint Joseph’s star Delonte West. That might not be an even swap, but it could have been much worse. “We weren’t the favorites to win it last year, so nobody really knows what’s going to happen,” Dirk Nowitzki said.
10. The rookie class: The shortened preseason and the lack of contact with coaches all summer could make it tougher for rookies to make an impact. Or, it could mean more opportunities as coaches go to their benches to rest tired veterans. It is an intriguing bunch of rooks, led by Kyrie Irving (Cleveland), Derrick Williams (Minnesota) and Kemba Walker (Charlotte).
11. Ricky Rubio: And speaking of rookies…the wait is over in Minnesota. The Timberwolves chose Rubio with the fifth pick in the 2009 draft. He remained in Spain for 2 more years, but is ready to give the NBA a try. The Timberwolves plan to turn the reins at the point over to the 21-year-old.
12. Kris Humphries: Rarely has a guy with a career scoring average of 5.6 points per game gotten so much attention. And yes, we know the Nets forward upped that to 10 points a game and 27 minutes last season. Still, the name recognition for the former Mr. Kim Kardashian has skyrocketed. “Basketball has always been something I’ve taken really serious and I continue to do that and I’m just moving forward,” he said recently on the “Today” show.

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