NBA Opens Season Tuesday
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Game 5 of the World Series was called because of rain with the score tied. The series may resume tonight if the weather cooperates. But another sport will definitely start anew. The NBA regular season opens with three games, and they feature teams that could shape this pro-basketball season. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is with us. Tom, good morning.
TOM GOLDMAN: Good morning.
INSKEEP: Let's start with the defending champions. The Celtics will begin their title defense against Cleveland.
GOLDMAN: Yes, they will. And I suppose you wonder if they're going to win another title. If you believe in sports karma, no.
INSKEEP: Why not?
GOLDMAN: Well, Boston and New England have been charmed in recent years by their pro-sport success. But as you know, the Red Sox didn't make it to the World Series. The NFL's Patriots lost their star quarterback Tom Brady and probably their season. So it stands to reason that something bad will happen to the Celtics.
Now, if you don't believe in karma - which I'm sure you don't, Steve - they could repeat. Boston's big three - Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce - they showed up this season in great shape and hungry for more. Ray Allen was quoted as saying that the great Michael Jordan told him, when you win one championship, you've just been lucky. So Boston would like to prove that last year was not a fluke.
INSKEEP: Well, Cleveland, I think, would like to get lucky one time.
GOLDMAN: That's right. And maybe they will, or maybe they will get closer. Cleveland traded for a very good point guard named Mo Williams who not only can run the offense well, but he can shoot and score. And that takes some of the pressure for performing those duties off the all-world LeBron James. So the Cavs should challenge in the Eastern Conference.
INSKEEP: Well, let's go over to the Western Conference, if you don't mind. What's the big deal about this game that's getting a lot of attention between the L.A. Lakers and the Portland Trailblazers?
GOLDMAN: Well, it's a game about the present and the future. It's a game about the promise of two enormous young men. The Lakers got to the finals against Boston last year without seven-foot center Andrew Bynum. Now he's back from injury. And in this game he'll be matched up against last year's first draft pick, enormous Greg Oden of the Blazers. He set out...
INSKEEP: Is enormous his first name there, Tom? Just checking. The way you said it.
GOLDMAN: It's Mr. Enormous Greg Oden.
(Soundbite of laughter)
INSKEEP: Oh, to you.
GOLDMAN: He sat out all of last year after knee surgery. Now, both these guys are expected to boost their team's fortunes. Portland is an incredibly deep and young team, and they haven't made the playoffs for the last five years. But that's expected to change.
INSKEEP: How excited are people in Portland where you live, Tom?
GOLDMAN: Very. And this is a city that has one major pro-sports team, the Blazers. And they have not won a title for 31 years. So the hopes and dreams are there, and they frankly were weighing down Greg Oden as the preseason began. He just hasn't been dazzling in his games, but he is becoming more relaxed. Portland fans are trying to relax and not think back to another highly-touted big man, center Sam Bowie who the team drafted ahead of Michael Jordan in 1984 and then saw Bowie's career cut short by injury.
INSKEEP: Now, a couple of the players in tonight's game are fresh out of the Olympics.
GOLDMAN: Yes, they are. L.A.'s Kobe Bryant, Portland's Rudy Fernandez. Rudy Fernandez was the star of the Spanish team. Kobe was the star of the U.S. team, a team of NBA superstars. And in that game, especially a memorable final, Kobe Bryant really rehabilitated his image. And so did the NBA rehabilitate its image. The players played so well together, they handled themselves so well in Beijing that they really wiped clean the memories of recent American missteps and bad behavior in international basketball. And I think the experience gives the NBA more of a shine as it starts this new season.
INSKEEP: OK, Tom. Thanks very much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. He speaks with us as the NBA prepares to begin its season with three games tonight.