The National Basketball Association season tips off Tuesday with a new franchise in action and some well-known players changing teams. Several teams are considered the early favorites to prevail as the eventual champion.
The defending champion Detroit Pistons open the new NBA season by hosting the Houston Rockets. Detroit is again expected to be a top contender, but repeating as league champion will be difficult. Detroit is in the same division as the Indiana Pacers, which basketball experts believe have really improved their scoring ability and could meet the Pistons in the playoffs.
Also playing on opening day will be the Dallas Mavericks, who host the Sacramento Kings. The Denver Nuggets are in Los Angeles to play the Lakers.
But the all-star pair that helped win three NBA titles for the Lakers has been broken up. Kobe Bryant remains in Los Angeles, while Shaquille O'Neal has moved to the Miami Heat. The Lakers are not expected to dominate in the Western Conference while Miami is now seen as a team that can go far in the playoffs. O'Neal says he is happier in Miami where he feels his talent will be better recognized.
"Things were changing there, and I wanted to come somewhere where I could be me on and off the court. I think this was a good situation for me," he said.
A new tandem has been formed in Houston where the Rockets have acquired guard Tracy McGrady from Miami. He is teamed with Chinese sensation Yao Ming, who begins his third NBA season after showing steady improvement in almost every statistical category.
Overall, the dominant teams are in the West, including the Minnesota Timberwolves led by the league's most valuable player last season, Kevin Garnett. Perhaps the strongest team heading into the new season is the San Antonio Spurs. Upset by the Lakers in the second round of the playoffs last season, San Antonio is expected to have a high scoring offense and be able to stifle their opposition with defense.
The NBA's newest member, the Charlotte Bobcats, will tip off their inaugural season as part of the Eastern Conference while the New Orleans Hornets will move to the Western Conference. Each conference will now have a total of 15 teams with three divisions of five teams.
The road to the NBA championship is long, with the winner decided in June.