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Wednesday, May 05, 2021

NBA offers exciting regular season storylines

As a self-proclaimed NBA fanatic, it's frustrating when year after year I'm unable to convince most people to follow the league's regular season. This is especially difficult with a packed NFL schedule and the World Series going on at the same time.

Still, I have to make my case for the excitement this NBA season will bring from start to finish. That's because it's very difficult for me to remember another year with so many intriguing storylines from around the league.

Without further ado, here are some of the biggest question marks heading into the season:

Can anyone stop the Lakers?

While forward Trevor Ariza was a major force in Los Angeles last year, it's hard to argue with the intangibles that his replacement, Ron Artest, will bring to this team. You have to assume the Lakers' experience will be enough to keep Artest out of trouble.

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Center Andrew Bynum has missed almost 80 games because of injury in the past two years, and as always, a breakout season from him could put the Lakers over the top in the west. With Pau Gasol's early injury concerns, it will be that much more essential for Bynum to stay in uniform.

The Lakers are still stocked with depth and will likely be the favorite out west along with San Antonio and possibly Denver. Still plenty of challengers in the east, though, which leads us to...

Will the Celtics be the top team in the Eastern Conference with a healthy Kevin Garnett?

Of all the awards and honors that Kevin Garnett has collected over his 14-plus NBA seasons, I would argue that none are as important as his 10 consecutive selections to the NBA All-Defensive Team. Garnett is a dominant and infinitely valuable presence in the paint, so it came as no surprise to anyone when the Celtics never quite recovered after Garnett's knee injury in February.

Now Boston is off to a quick start, and I can see them matching up well with anyone in the east. The acquisition of veteran big man Rasheed Wallace was an excellent move, as Wallace will have plenty of motivation trying for a shot at another championship. As long as Boston can deal with Wallace's temper, he will add great depth up front as well as a lot of big-game experience.

In addition, the Celtics got great news this week when they agreed to a contract extension with point guard Rajon Rondo. Rondo is already one of the better point guards in the league and with this distraction behind them, both Boston and Rondo can move on without concern.

Is Shaq the answer for Cleveland's title chances?

This move has generated a lot of criticism so far, but I think in the long run it will be one the Cavs won't regret making. With only a year remaining on his contract, it's a big risk, but definitely one worth taking, especially with LeBron also weighing his options for next year.

Obviously it will be crucial for Shaq to stay healthy to be a force this season, but even if he goes down, the Cavs still have Zydrunas Ilgauskas as a fallback plan.

One of Cleveland's biggest weaknesses in their Eastern Conference Finals matchup against Orlando was defending against the pick and roll. O'Neal's lack of quickness certainly doesn't make him the solution to this problem, but Shaq does provide the Cavs with another big body to throw at Dwight Howard, which could serve as a huge asset later in the season.

Will Vince Carter replace Hedo Turkoglu's production in Orlando?

Don't get me wrong—Turkoglu had a fantastic year last year for Orlando. He made it count in the playoffs, averaging 16 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists, and the Magic trusted him to take shots with the game on the line.

However, I totally understand why Orlando wasn't willing to offer him the five-year, $53 million contract he received from Toronto. Turkoglu was probably the third or fourth most important piece for the Magic, which makes him expendable in this economic climate.

In a new situation, Vince Carter could fit in very well. With practically every team he's played for as the first or second option he's been considered a bust. Carter has always been able to put up the statistics, but now he has been given a legitimate chance to win the title. I think Orlando's system could accommodate him much better than in years past.

Look for Orlando to be a big contender once again.

How do you think this year's NBA season will turn out? E-mail Matt at mfox2@wisc.edu.

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