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posted: 10/29/2013 5:30 AM

Bulls season begins: Who will reign in 2014?

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  • Will we see a repeat of this scene from 2012 in the 2014 NBA Playoffs?

      Will we see a repeat of this scene from 2012 in the 2014 NBA Playoffs?
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 

The Bulls and Miami will be in the spotlight when the NBA season opens on Tuesday. But there is so much more going on across the 30-team league. Here are some prominent questions heading into the 2013-14 campaign:

Q: Can Miami make it three in a row?

A: The Heat barely survived Game 6 against San Antonio in last year's Finals and the competition in the East figures to be much tougher with Derrick Rose back, Indiana a year older and extra all-stars in Brooklyn.

To win three titles in a row, this would also be Miami's fourth Finals in a row, while LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have played in multiple Olympics. So the strain of another long run into June will be another challenge.

Last week, TNT analyst Steve Kerr said he felt emotional fatigue could be an issue for the Heat this season.

"If they are able to three-peat, it would be an incredible accomplishment," Kerr said.

James has been dominant the past couple of years, but really, the Heat have gone as far as the outside shooters have taken it. Now Ray Allen is 38, Mike Miller has gone back to Memphis and Shane Battier is often inconsistent. Newcomers Michael Beasley and Greg Oden won't provide what Miami needs most.

"Our goal here is not to get bored," Wade said. "Don't get bored with trying to be great. Go out there every night, compete and understand that we're the champions and represent ourselves as champions."

Q: Will Kobe Bryant make a miracle recovery?

A: Don't be ridiculous. Bryant had surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon on April 13. That's often called one of the toughest injuries for an athlete to bounce back from.

Bryant told reporters in August that he tried a different surgical procedure to repair the tendon and hoped to return in November or December. Maybe that will still happen, but Bryant has already backed off his six-month recovery timetable. He won't play in the season opener against the Clippers.

Q: Is Brooklyn a threat to win the East?

A: Here are two ways to look at it: The Bulls knocked off the Nets in last year's playoffs by refusing to guard Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans, and now those spots are filled with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Or, the Bulls beat last year's Nets without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, so a couple of old Celtics aren't going to help much.

If nothing else, this should be entertaining to watch, as Garnett and Pierce try to bring that Boston intensity to Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. The Nets are a threat to win the East, but if it doesn't happen this season, this lineup is done.

Q: Will Danny Granger's latest injury hamper Indiana?

A: Probably not, since the Pacers played without Granger nearly all of last season. In fact, trying to work Granger back into the lineup might turn out to be Indiana's biggest cause for concern.

Indiana announced Monday that Granger will miss three weeks with a strained calf. Not long ago, Granger averaged more than 24 points per game. But now, this is clearly Paul George's show. Granger must adapt to a supporting role and he may not last beyond this season, anyway, since his expensive contract will expire.

Q: Which teams will claim the final playoff spots in the East?

A: The Bulls, Miami, Indiana, Brooklyn and New York figure to be the top five. There aren't even many serious candidates for the last three spots.

Atlanta still has Jeff Teague and Al Horford, and added Utah's Paul Millsap. Detroit signed ex-Hawk Josh Smith and traded for Brandon Jennings from the Bucks. And Washington has a young nucleus that might be ready to blossom.

So those are the top three. Cleveland could challenge if it hits big with rookie No. 1 draft pick Anthony Bennett. Maybe Toronto if it decides not to chase Canadian Andrew Wiggins in the lottery. And Milwaukee could sneak in if all the other candidates mess up.

Q: Which is the team to beat in the West?

A: Actually, the West seems to be wide open. The Clippers with Doc Rivers should step forward. The Spurs might have another run left in them. There's no third wheel, but Thunder has Kevin Durant and will get Russell Westbrook back eventually. Memphis' nucleus is still intact. Golden State added Andre Iguodala to the Stephen Curry show. And Houston has the newest dynamic duo with Dwight Howard and James Harden.

We'll stop there. Six potential candidates to win the West.

Q: Will the NBA miss Commissioner David Stern?

A: No. Since taking over in 1984, the NBA has multiplied in popularity many times over. He was valuable, but left the league in great shape.

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