Melanie McDaniels: Hoops, hoops, hoops


As the doldrums of winter roll around, some will find themselves spending more time indoors, hanging out in front of the tube, watching countless reruns of Law & Order (mostly because it's on every hour of the day on some channel).

But besides New York cops and lawyers, TV is full of sports, hockey, football on Sundays, and the one professional sport where 19- and 20-year-old athletes make millions of dollars to bounce a ball around.

The NBA has started it's nine-month season and after Week 1 this is who and what teams I think will be at the top of their game and why:

1. Phoenix Suns. Even though Steve Nash is over 30, the man is incredible. The two-time NBA MVP is embarking on his 11th season in the NBA and like a fine wine, he should get better with age. Along with Nash, his supporting cast includes Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire, who consequently is coming off an injury, but looks even better than before.

2. Minnesota Timberwolves. Kevin Garnett has long been my favorite player, but that's beside the point. Garnett and the Wolves have received some bad raps because of Flip Saunders and Kevin McHale's inability to retain quality players and Garnett's off the court antics. KG will be looking to contend for the MVP trophy this year as long as his counterparts on the court can do their jobs. Mike James needs to continue to be a clutch player for the Wolves' -- his knack for reading the floor and finding KG in and out of traffic is necessary to the success of Minnesota, as is the ability of coach Dwane Casey to actually coach his team.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers. Ah, Lebron, or King, James if you will. The 21-year-old athlete continues to show why he and the Cavs made a deep run into the playoffs last year and should again this year. His 25-ppg average is among the top in the NBA, and his teammates do a good job of getting him the ball. Along with Lebron's knack for scoring, the Cavs veteran knows his defense is one of his best assets.

4. Los Angles Lakers. I will be the first to admit, I hate Kobe Bryant, but I respect his game. He's no Michael Jordan, but really no one ever will be. Bryant not only rolled off 81 points in a game against the Toronto Raptors, but to his credit and that of Phil Jackson (a North Dakota farm boy), the Lakers have won three World Championships.

5. Dallas Mavericks. After losing the 2006 title to Miami last year, expect Dallas to be back in action. Dirk Nowitzki is hungry for a ring, and the rest of the Mavericks will follow suit. Nowitzki has to remain consistent for his team to have the same level of success as last year, and injury will play a big role for Dallas if Nowitzki goes down.

6. Miami Heat. With Shaq and Dwyane Wade, the Heat will be looking for back-to-back titles. Under coach Pat Riley, anything can happen. And a new crop of talent to support Wade and O'Neal should put the Heat in contention for another Eastern Conference Championship, as long as they get past the Pistons.

Now I know that none of these teams are a surprise to anyone who follows the NBA, but there rarely is a surprise when it comes down to it.

Cleveland was the exception last year, but even with the exception, people knew Lebron was at the top of his game and leading his team to victory.

There also are the teams that you can't count out, like the San Antonio Spurs or the Detroit Pistons. Both teams have the potential and both teams fell short last year.

But it's a new season and a new game.

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