Sports Column

With the 2008 NBA season heading into its final two months and teams making blockbuster trades before the deadline, things are really starting to heat up down the stretch. In the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers might have just sandwiched themselves with the Celtics, Pistons and the Magic in the top tier with the addition of four key players.

Obviously, Lebron James (the soon-to-be ’08 MVP) needed some help quickly and GM Danny Ferry responded by trading away seven guys for Big Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West and Joe Smith. The defensive intensity and physicality Wallace brings to the table is something the Cavs have needed for the last few years.

However, I think the James Gang has a lot of work to do before potentially knocking off one of the aforementioned Eastern powerhouses. Yes I know, they won the conference last year, but these guys need to gel as a team like Detroit did once the pieces of the puzzle were filled. A Detroit/Cleveland playoff series could make for great TV.

Now to the wild west, where any of nine conference teams have a legitimate shot at making it to the Finals.

The Lakers, Mavericks and Suns were my deadline winners, with each team bringing in a superstar to take their team to the next level. If I had to pick the big winner, well, it’s got to be Los Angeles.

With center Andrew Bynum still out at least two more weeks and Kobe desperately needed another go-to guy, the Lakers brought in Spanish big man Pau Gasol from Memphis in exchange for practically nothing. What a steal by the Lakers; Gasol has been averaging 22 points and six rebounds during the squad’s eight game winning streak.

I really believe Gasol’s impact will continue throughout the season and could give Kobe and Phil Jackson another title, but will they have to go through tough teams in Phoenix, San Antonio, New Orleans, Dallas and the surging Rockets. A frontcourt of Odom, Gasol and a healthy Bynum is not what these Western Conference teams want to face come playoff time.

The Mavs did not have to give up anything special either to bring in a great player like Jason Kidd, otherwise known as the human triple-double machine. They needed to make this type of move, and it will certainly advance them past the first round.

And finally, the run-and-gun Phoenix Suns traded Sean Marion to get the Shaq attack and all the media attention that comes with him. I’ve heard analysts that were critical of Phoenix making this move due to the guy being “over the hill”, but Shaq still provides the team with experience and can help Amare Stoudamire inside.

The Lakers are once again turning into a powerhouse. The Mavericks finally have a true playmaker to compliment Nowitzki and Josh Howard. And the Suns are generating a whole lot of excitement and have an experienced champion to guide them through the playoffs.

I am really getting excited about the forthcoming playoffs and all the drama that usually comes with it. Can Lebron and the Cavs knock off the Celtics? Can Shaq help the Suns get over the hump? Has there ever been a player better than Detleff Schrempf?

These are just some questions to ask ourselves once we hit the middle of April.

But the most important question: who will be crowned NBA champions?

Bold Prediction: The L.A. Lakers will win the NBA championship, and the Vermont Frost Heaves will win the ABA title.

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