Exactly one week from today, the game that’s dribbled in America but is followed by all 195 countries of the world—especially by our basketball-crazy nation—will begin. The NBA, after four months in hiatus, finally begins its 2008-09 Regular Season on Oct. 28.
I’ll make an admission: I haven’t followed the league. Ever since “the greatest athlete in world history” retired last April 16, 2003 wearing the Washington Wizards jersey, I’ve followed Federer-Nadal, running, Tiger, boxing, PacMan—but called a time-out when the topic was the NBA. And though two supermen named LeBron and Kobe are near-MJ-like, they’re still—and no one can ever replace His Airness—not Michael Jordan.
And so, to shoot an article on the NBA, I needed an assist from my good friend Dennis Que…
With the on-going Thursday Club basketball event at the Capitol Parish gym, he’s joined our Sportswriters Association of Cebu (SAC) team (together with Dave Lim and Chad Cañares) and, as point guard, few are better than Dennis Que. But more than his regular basketball-playing days, he follows the NBA with as much as passion as David Stern. And so yesterday, I lobbed several questions to Dennis….
The Celtics will repeat as champs? I asked. “No,” Dennis was blunt with his prediction, “Boston will not repeat this year. The Celtics played for everything and for what is expected of them last year. They didn’t mess around in the regular season, started slow in the playoffs, got their acts together and then steamrolled their way to an NBA Championship.
“This year will be different, other teams are a lot stronger and the big trio aren’t getting any younger. In my opinion, even if Boston stays healthy going into the playoffs they might have a hard time against Detriot and Cleveland who are more motivated to derail the defending champs. And if they get past the Eastern conference, they will have an impossible task of beating a young and hungry Lakers team.
“Last year I was rooting for LA because of Kobe Bryant. I’ve watched him play live a couple of times and it’s just amazing to watch him. But I’m also an old fan of Boston—when Larry Bird was still there—so I’m still happy that Boston won.”
I next asked Dennis about the preseason. “During preseason games, starters on every team play very limited minutes, 12 to 24 minutes, the most. Some superstars with nagging injuries are given time to rest rather than risk the injury. So the rookies and bench players are given the chance to prove themselves.
“Currently, New Orleans is the only unbeaten team, followed by defending champion Boston, Detroit, Orlando, Denver, Minnesota and LA Clippers with one loss each. Preseason games will end on Oct. 24. Regular season starts on Oct. 28 with three games on tap.
“Defending champion Boston Celtics will host the Eastern finalist, Cleveland Cavaliers, and LeBron James. Chicago Bulls host the new-look Milwaukee Bucks while the NBA finalists, the LA Lakers—with Andrew Bynum on the line-up—host the athletic Portland Trailblazers, with rookie Greg Oden.”
Who, in Dennis’ study of the game, will be tops at the Eastern and Western conferences? “Three teams will battle for the top spot in the East: Boston, Detroit and Cleveland while the sleepers are the Philadelphia 76ers and the Orlando Magic,” answered Dennis. “In the West, the Lakers will have the best record in the West and the best NBA record. They’ll be followed by New Orleans Hornets, San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks and the Houston Rockets. It would be another close battle for positioning in the West this year.”
New players to watch? “The top rookie is Portland’s Greg Oden (he was on the list last year but got injured at the season’s start—so, in effect, this will still be his rookie season). The others are Chicago’s No.1 draft pick, Derrick Rose; Miami’s 2008 College Player of the Year, Michael Beasley; Memphis’ OJ Mayo, Minnesota’s Kevin Love, and Portland’s Rudy Fernandez.”