Kimmes previews the NBA

Brian Kimmes

Brian Kimmes

The NBA season is nearly upon us.

Training camps have started and exhibition games are underway. The NBA had a very exciting off-season. Shaquille O’Neal moved from the L.A. Lakers to the Miami Heat, and Tracy MacGrady went from the Orlando Magic to the Houston Rockets. Denver, Utah and Detroit made acquisitions to help them as well. The NBA added expansion team Charlotte Bobcats. With the Bobcats, the NBA changed from two to three divisions in each conference. The NBA forced the New Orleans Hornets to switch conferences, so each conference has 15 teams. The Eastern Conference consists of the Atlantic, Central and Southeast Divisions, and the Western Conference consists of the Northwest, Pacific and Southwest.

Here are my predictions for the conference winners, plus some teams that could make a run in the playoffs.

The Atlantic Division is the worst division in all of basketball. Not a single team has a chance to advance far in the playoffs. The New Jersey Nets have done well the past few years, but with all-star Jason Kidd injured and forward Kenyon Martin gone, the Nets will be a mediocre team at best. The Boston Celtics acquired one of the best point guards of all time, Gary Payton. Payton is past his prime, but the division is weak enough where Payton should make the Celtics good enough to take the division.

The Central Division is tough to call. The Indiana Pacers won the division last year and had the best record in the NBA, but the Detroit Pistons won the NBA championship. The Pistons played more like a team than any other team in the NBA last year. They also have the best defense in the league.The Pistons also added former all-star Antonio McDyess to an already impressive front-court of Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace. The Pacer’s best player, Jermaine O’Neal should play better this year and will make them a dangerous team again.

The Miami Heat should easily win the Southwest Division. The addition of Shaq makes them an automatic contender for the title. Nobody else in the division, or conference, can match up with Shaq.

The Minnesota Timberwolves should win the Northwest Division. The Wolves brought all of their key players back, plus they will have a healthy Wally Szczerbiak, Troy Hudson and Michael Olowakandi. Last year the Wolves had the best record in the Western Conference without those three players for most of the year. The Denver Nuggets will be an improved team with the addition of Kenyon Martin. Adding him to the team with Carmelo Anthony, one of the best young players in the game, will give them one of the best front-courts. The Utah Jazz should also be an improved team. They signed Carlos Boozer from the Cleveland Cavaliers and will get their best player, Andrei Kirilenko, back from injury this year. The Jazz have one of the best coaches in the league, Jerry Sloan. They come to play every night and give themselves a chance to win almost every game.

The Sacramento Kings should win the Pacific Division. They have their core of players back, minus Vlade Divac. If Chris Webber can stay healthy, the Kings are a legitimate threat to win the title. The L.A. Lakers will not be as good without Shaq. Kobe Bryant is an outstanding player, but the Lakers do not have the big bodies needed to do well in the Western Conference.

The San Antonio Spurs should come out on top of the Southwest Division. Tim Duncan is the best post-player in the league. The team works around him. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are two of the quickest and most exciting young guards in the league. The Spurs play excellent defense and are annual title contenders with a healthy Tim Duncan. The Houston Rockets are a team to watch. With Shaq moving to the Eastern Conference, Yao Ming is now the best true center in the conference. The Rockets also made many off-season moves. The biggest move was signing scoring machine Tracy MacGrady. MacGrady and Ming will give Houston an impressive duo.

This will be an exciting year for the NBA. Both conferences have numerous teams with legitimate shots at winning the title and will have many teams fighting until the last week of the season to make the playoffs.