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SPORTS - Hoops, Anyone?

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SPORTS REPORTED
By Matthew Ross

HOOPS, ANYONE?

THE TOP NBA STORIES TO WATCH THIS SEASON

Yet another NBA season is upon us. No more free agency talk. Time to actually get to the nuts and bolts of on-court play – and it’s about time! 

While this offseason was as hectic as we’ve seen in years, it’s all behind us now, thankfully. With so many storylines heading into this season, it was hard to boil it down to only a few. Left off the list are intriguing possibilities, including a triumphant return for Derrick Rose, a lousy Knicks team (and even more restless New York fan base), and a Spurs team looking to repeat as champions. Nonetheless, here are my top five storylines to watch this NBA season. If you only follow a few basketball topics for the 2014-2015 campaign, follow these ones:

THE CAVALIERS
You can’t help but feel excited for the entire city of Cleveland. Talk about a hard luck sports town. They haven’t seen a major sports team win a title since the ‘50s. But it’s not just the lack of championships that has dogged Cleveland – it’s the dramatic ways in which its teams have made losing an art form. 

It could all change this season. With LeBron James, Kevin Love and the rest of the veterans that have been brought in, the Cavaliers aren’t just legitimate NBA contenders – they’re one of the favorites! James is the planet’s best basketball player, back in his home state. His return to the Cavs will make their home court one of the loudest in the league, a real advantage. 

It’ll be interesting to see how quickly James gels with Love and all-star guard Kyrie Irving. If you recall back in 2010, LeBron’s first season with the Miami Heat, the team got off to a sluggish start. 

THE CLIPPERS
When the offseason headlines weren’t about LeBron, they were about the ownership situation of the Los Angeles Clippers. Man, was that a saga or what? With billionaire Steve Balmer now in charge of the team, and Doc Rivers continuing on as the man in charge of basketball operations, things are looking up for this franchise. 

The Clippers are in the midst of a rare moment in their history – they’re more must-see than the Lakers! But can they get it done on the court and take the next step? The Clippers are in tough in the Western Conference with the likes of the Spurs and the Thunder in their way. Can they overcome? We’ll see. Here’s hoping for one thing – no one utters the name Donald St....uh, nevermind. 

KOBE BRYANT
Speaking of La-La Land, how will Kobe Bryant perform this season? What does he have left in the tank? There are many calling for the Kobe to retire, but he doesn’t roll that way. One of the most relentless rehabbing athletes in the history of sports, Bryant is determined to go out his way – and that may not even be this season. 

With one of the most scrutinized salaries in pro sports, Bryant will be making a whole lot of money and is under immense pressure to deliver right away, despite missing a lot of time. Love him or hate him, Kobe is back and we’re all eager to watch. 

WIGGINS VERSUS PARKER
While there are several rookies who have the ability to make a major impact in their first season, the top comparison comes down to number one pick Andrew Wiggins versus number two pick Jabari Parker. While Wiggins began the summer as a member of the Cleveland organization prior to the Kevin Love trade with the Timberwolves, he seems to be in a good situation in Minnesota. Meanwhile, Parker is languishing on an awful Bucks team that won’t be anywhere near the playoff hunt this season. 

Sure, the T-Wolves are more likely to compete for a playoff spot. However, Parker figures to get more touches and points with Milwaukee. So, which player will take home rookie of the year honors? I’m taking Parker in a photo finish. 

THE HEAT
Sans LeBron, most pundits expect the Heat to be middle of the pack. I don’t think so. I still view Miami as a contender, with Chris Bosh playing a major role in their success. If you recall, Bosh was a perennial all-star with the Toronto Raptors, prior to signing with the Heat back in 2010. Armed with a new contract, I believe that Bosh will once again put up big numbers and be his team’s focal point on offense. 

As for Dwayne Wade? Very little is expected of Wade this season, since his knees continue to be a story. Look for Wade to play somewhere around 60 games, to better preserve him for the postseason. Wade has more than enough guile and basketball IQ to make up for what his body can no longer do. 

Don’t be surprised if the Heat are much better than expected, and finish in the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference. 

Matthew Ross is a longtime sports freelancer and radio host. Follow @MatthewWords

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