NBA preview: Another Heat wave coming?

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 30, 2012 - 7:19 PM

The NBA opens a non-truncated 82-game schedule Tuesday night with games in Cleveland, Miami and Los Angeles, tipping off a second season of the labor agreement in which the league's biggest market teams keep getting richer. The Lakers have reloaded in big ways, the defending champion Heat is back with superstar LeBron James poised to repeat as MVP and perhaps even win Defensive Player of the Year and even the Nets seem relevant after a big move to Brooklyn. Turn to page C4 for a look at five story lines to a season which the Timberwolves won't embark upon until Friday's opener against Sacramento.

Five story lines

1 What's that they say about the rich? Well, you can apply it to the Los Angeles Lakers about every four years. This time, General Manager Mitch Kupchak has thumbed his nose at the forthcoming restricted salary-cap luxury tax by turning the passé concept of a Big Three into a Big Four. He did so by striking trades for Dwight Howard and Steve Nash while keeping both Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. The big questions, of course: Howard's back and Nash's age. Long gone is Phil Jackson's triangle offense, replaced by Mike Brown's newly installed "Princeton" offense.

"There's a ton of pressure on Mike Brown," TNT analyst Charles Barkley said. "The Lakers have got to win now. And I've always said: I want my accountants from Princeton, not my offense."

2 One season after some team named the Clippers proved there indeed is another team in Los Angeles, the New Jersey Nets finally have joined the conversation in Gotham, moving across the river to Brooklyn in a switch that has transformed the organization with a new arena, new retro logos and a newfound energy. Oh yeah, and a remade roster built around veterans Deron Williams (above), newly acquired Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and newly-rich Brook Lopez, the Nets' gifted but rebounding-challenged center who signed basically the same max four-year contract Kevin Love did. And suddenly, the Atlantic Division is back to its glory days, with the Nets, Knicks, Celtics, Sixers and maybe even the Raptors all relevant again.

"We're not the New Jersey Nets anymore, we're the Brooklyn Nets," coach Avery Johnson said. "We're in a different state, different era, different team and we feel we have a chance now to forge our own path."

3 Kevin Garnett now has one less friend in his cellphone directory, but the defending champion Miami Heat now has more shooters to surround LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The Heat did so by signing free agents Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen, Garnett's now former teammate and pal. But most importantly, James -- the game's most dominant player -- is back knowing what it takes to win a title.

"I don't think you have to worry about the Heat," ESPN analyst Magic Johnson said. "They're going to come back even better. I just think they're primed to go back to the championship again."

4 The 2011-12 season -- with its lockout-truncated 66-game schedule -- was not kind to point guards and their knee ligaments. Oklahoma City backup Eric Maynor went down in January. Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio, of course, tore his anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in a March game against the Lakers. And Chicago's former league MVP Derrick Rose and New York's Iman Shumpert and Baron Davis all were injured during the playoffs. Maynor is back on the court 10 months later, Rubio is expected to be back sometime in December and expect Rose after the All-Star break at the earliest. How their respective teams survive until their return figures to be telling.

5 You can say one other thing about Oklahoma City General Manager Sam Presti other than he's really, really good: He sure is decisive. Would-be free agent James Harden rejected the Thunder's big but franchise-favorable contract offer like Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka had agreed to before him and within hours, Harden was gone, traded to Houston for veteran Kevin Martin, rookie Jeremy Lamb and draft picks. It's a deal that arguably brought the Thunder more for Harden than Orlando received for Dwight Howard, and don't assume it automatically gives the Western Conference title to the Lakers. Martin isn't the playmaker Harden is, but the Lakers still don't have anybody who can defend Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant.

TONIGHT'S GAMES

• Washington at Cleveland, 6 p.m.

• Boston at Miami,

7 p.m., TNT

• Dallas at Los Angeles Lakers,

9:30 p.m., TNT

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