Tuesday , Nov , 02 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

NBA is primed for an exciting season

By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – The NBA is ready to take center stage.
The start of the 2004-05 regular season is here and there are plenty of things
to get excited about.

The offseason proved to be extremely interesting. The NBA’s new class of
rookies found out where they would call home, All-Star players were involved
in blockbuster trades, and a new divisional alignment was implemented with the
expansion Charlotte Bobcats ready to tip off their inaugural season.

NBA fans are waiting to see if Shaquille O’Neal can dominate the East. It will
also be fun to watch Houston’s Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming try and become the
new Shaq and Kobe of the league. What did LeBron James work on in the
offseason that is going to make him a better player? Which team improved the
most through trades and free agency?

Here’s a list of seven reasons to be excited about the NBA in 2004-05.

1. SHAQUILLE O’NEAL – In the biggest trade of the offseason, the Miami Heat
obtained the All-Star center from the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for
forwards Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, Caron Butler and a first-round draft pick.
Shaq is a man on a mission and he is ready to have the best season of his
career if he can stay healthy. All eyes will be on O’Neal, who should have his
way with the centers in the East. Shaq’s ability and his charisma make him an
exciting player to watch, but seeing him play on a new team could be the most
intriguing thing of all.

2. TRACY MCGRADY AND YAO MING – McGrady and Yao are ready to try and become
the most feared one-two punch in the NBA. The Rockets, who won 45 games during
the 2003-04 regular season and lost in five games to the Los Angeles Lakers in
the first round of the playoffs, acquired the All-Star McGrady from Orlando in
a blockbuster deal during the offseason. The high-flying McGrady is one of the
most electrifying players in the open court, while Yao continues to improve on
his game in the low post. If McGrady and Yao can jell, the NBA could have
their next dominant inside-outside duo. This should be fun to watch!

3. LEBRON JAMES – Year two of the James era is set to get underway in
Cleveland, as the Cavaliers hope the 2003-04 Rookie of the Year can lead them
to the playoffs for the first time since 1998. James, who averaged a team-high
20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists last season, lived up to the hype in
his rookie campaign. He is silky smooth on the court and his thunderous dunks
bring the fans to the edge of their seats. The 19-year-old phenom, who will
turn 20 on December 30, makes the future of the league look very bright.

4. DENVER NUGGETS – The Nuggets, who were the most-improved team in the NBA
last season, made one addition to their roster in the offseason and it was a
big one. Denver got its man in a sign-and-trade deal when they sent three
future first-round draft picks to the New Jersey Nets for All-Star forward
Kenyon Martin, who reportedly signed a seven-year contract worth more than $90
million before being traded to the Nuggets, who won 43 games last season and
earned their first postseason berth since 1995. With Martin, Carmelo Anthony,
Marcus Camby, Nene and Andre Miller, the Nuggets have a solid nucleus that
will battle the Minnesota Timberwolves for the Northwest Division title.
Denver could be ready to jump to the next level and compete with the elite.

5. SOUTHWEST DIVISON – With the expansion Charlotte Bobcats joining the league
this season, the NBA implemented divisional realignment as the Eastern and
Western Conferences will now have 15 clubs each with three divisions of five
teams. The Southwest is the only division that has five squads that
participated in the 2004 playoffs. Dallas, Houston, Memphis, New Orleans,
which was moved from the East, and San Antonio makeup what is arguably the
toughest division in the entire league. Last season, the Mavericks, Rockets,
Grizzlies, Hornets and Spurs combined for 245 victories.

6. CHRISTMAS DAY – Two games will be on the slate during this festive day.
There will be a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference finals with the
Indiana Pacers hosting the defending champion Detroit Pistons in the first
game of the day. However, the second contest of the afternoon will peak most
of the fans’ interest, as Shaq’s Heat and Kobe’s Lakers will square in
O’Neal’s highly anticipated return to Los Angeles. What a great day of
basketball it is going to be.

7. PLAYOFFS – They will be here before you know it!