ATHLETIC SUPPORTER New Rules, Old Sights: NBA Starts Season

The NBA returns to the hard wood tonight to open up another season, but it is quite probable that this year isn’t going to look too much like the ones that have come before it.

First off, MJ is back, goatee and all, playing here in D.C. for the Wizards. Illegal defense calls have gone the way of baseball’s bullpen carts, as has the disastrous idea of basketball in Vancouver. Shaq is back, and the lovefest with Kobe ensues for now, while across the city the L.A. Clippers have somehow turned themselves into a competent team. CWebb is still a King, the Jazz are still old but good, the Twin Towers still patrol the middle for the Spurs,

Many questions remain about the upcoming season, however, topped by the question that is on everyone’s mind: Do they not have barbers in Dallas, or does the entire Mavericks roster just choose to stay away from them? Half their roster looks like they just jumped off the set of a ’70s B-movie.

Slightly less pressing, but of more importance to the actual game on the court, is the changeover this offseason that allows for teams to play zone defense. This move was designed to increase scoring in a league where 76-73 games have become the norm rather than the exception, but it might potentially have the opposite effect.

Even if the new defenses don’t reduce scoring, they will probably handcuff some of the league’s stars. Instead of watching Iverson versus Jordan, it will turn into the rest of the Sixers (I just love watching Derrick Coleman) against the rest of the Wizards (Christian Laettner and company): not pretty.

The changes will even effect players like Shaq, because if Big Diesel thought he was getting abused underneath the basket before, wait until three defenders collapse in on him every time he gets the ball in the post. It will bring the term Hack-a-Shaq to a whole new level.

The new season will also find some old faces in unfamiliar places. After 20 years in Houston, first at the University of Houston then with the Rockets, Hakeem Olajuwon finds himself north of the border in Toronto. Fellow aging center Patrick Ewing has landed in Orlando (where he barely won a spot in the starting lineup), his third team in as many years, after a memorable career in New York. Joining him down in the land of Disney will be Grant Hill, who will finally be playing for the Magic after just a four-game stint last season due to injury.

Even the not-so-memorable Grizzlies found themselves a new home, moving to Memphis because they were simply too good for Canada. At least in Vancouver they were the best basketball team in the city – I wouldn’t put my money on the Grizz against John Calipari’s U-Memphis squad.

Another major change will be Shawn Kemp actually suiting up for the Blazers (No, that’s not Refrigerator Perry. Kemp has just picked up a healthy appetite between cocaine binges, boozing and cranking out illegitimate children, of which there are nine at the last count.) Hopefully rookie (and of course former Hoya) Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje won’t pick up too many of those sweet habits from Kemp.

Despite all the changes, it will probably be the same old stuff in the NBA this season. The Lakers will be celebrating again come June. Allen Iverson will snag himself another one of those MVP trophies. The Grizzlies will have changed countries but not win totals. The Pistons, Bulls and Warriors will be horrible.

Oh yeah, and MJ will still be MJ. He doesn’t have the horses surrounding him that will take the Wizards to a title, and he won’t quite drop 30 a night, but he’ll still amaze and he’ll still remind why he’s the best player in the history of the game.

That’s good enough reason for me to watch the NBA this season.

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