The country’s number two sport tipped off Tuesday night.   NBA basketball is back for another hopefully stellar season.  For those of you who are still under the delusion that Major League Baseball is America’s number two sport, I have five words for you: The TV ratings say otherwise.

MLB’s crown jewel – the World Series – just posted all-time low TV ratings on Fox, which means the NBA Finals, last June, beat baseball again when it mattered most.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk hoops.

LeBron James is no longer carrying around that monkey.   He’s finally a champion.  The man who took his talents from Cleveland to Miami has played in two straight NBA Finals with the Heat and won it all last season.  Since leaving high school nine years ago, he’s played in three NBA Finals.

Will it be Kobe and LeBron in the Finals?

But his sole title still leaves him 10 titles short of Bill Russell, five away from Michael Jordan, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar and four titles to tie Kobe and Magic in his quest for championship greatness.

But who is counting?

Nonetheless I won’t make the Heat the outright favorites to win it all this season.   I think the Lakers will have something to say about that, now that Dwight Howard, the NBA’s best center,  and Steve Nash the NBA’s best pure passer, have both joined Kobe in LA.

Right behind the Heat and the Lakers are the OKC Thunder with Kevin Durant and his sidekick Russell Westbrook.   Gone though from the Thunder in a trade just days ago, is the league’s premier sixth man, shooting guard James Harden.  The bearded one who did almost nothing in the Finals for OKC is taking his hairy distraction to the Houston Rockets.   But his instant energy will be missed, and is why I have to rate the Lakers over the Thunder in the West.

But several other teams out West will be heard from.  Of course Tim Duncan, and his San Antonio Spurs running mates, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker will pose a serious threat, as will the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers.

In the East chasing the Heat will be Boston, Indiana, Atlanta, Chicago, the Knicks and maybe even the Nets who’ve moved from Jersey to Brooklyn.

But this year there will be a full slate of 82 games, not the condensed lockout revision from a year ago which saw only 66 games crammed into the abbreviated season.

When all is said and done though, provided there are no injuries to key players, I expect Miami to beat the Pacers to win the East and advance to a third consecutive Finals to face the Lakers.   My pick – sorry LeBron, are the Lakers, now fortified by Dwight Howard and Steve Nash who are hungry to win their first NBA championships.  Which also means Kobe wins his sixth title to tie his much older nearly twin brother Michael, as the Lakers win the series 4 games to 3 in what will be the NBA’s highest-rated Finals ever, with once again, millions more viewers than Major League Baseball.



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