NBA 2008-09: Houston over Detroit

If Yao, McGrady and Artest stay healthy and sane -- three big ifs -- look out for the Rockets.

By King Kaufman
Published October 29, 2008 11:00AM (EDT)

With the rain still falling in Philadelphia and the World Series on the shelf, the NBA season began Tuesday night in Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles. Kind of snuck on me. How about you?

Greg Oden, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2007 who missed all of his rookie season following microfracture knee surgery, made his debut for the Portland Trail Blazers in the nightcap of a national TV double-header. He looked, well, like a rookie in a lopsided loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, getting into early foul trouble, missing several shots that, added up, didn't equal the length of his beard and leaving in the first half with a foot injury.

I like Greg Oden a lot. I like his humility, his blog, his youthful doofiness, and I still think the Blazers made the right call picking him over Kevin Durant, though if the foot injury is serious, I might be ready to reconsider.

But whatever happens: That beard's got to go.

The Boston Celtics beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the curtain-raiser. Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, Marv Albert. Yup, it's an NBA season all right. The Chicago Bulls pounded the Milwaukee Bucks in the other game.

The defending champion Celtics are the clear favorites to at least repeat atop the Eastern Conference. I started last year skeptical about them and was decisively proved wrong, but I still never fell in love with that Celtics team, so I'll pick against them again and go with the old standbys, the Detroit Pistons.

They're old and they're the same old same old, but I think Joe Dumars will make a midseason deal that will give this group one last shot at the title. In Cleveland, Mo Williams is an improvement at point guard, but there still isn't enough around LeBron. The Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers look a little undermanned, though the Sixers with Elton Brand are a chic pick.

Boston will win the conference if I'm wrong about the Pistons, and maybe even if I'm right.

In the West the Lakers are the near-consensus pick, and a healthy Andrew Bynum might be enough help for Kobe Bryant, but I don't like a team going into a playoff series with both Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol in the frontcourt. The Lakers are my pick for No. 1 seed, but not conference champ.

I know it's an odd-numbered year but I think the San Antonio Spurs have hit their sell-by date, though they'll be in the championship mix, unlike their rivals atop the Western Conference the last few years, the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns, who look like playoff teams, but not championship contenders.

I'm going with that other Texas team, the Houston Rockets.

I figure if you're not going to be right, be way wrong, and that's what'll happen if I'm wrong about the Rockets, which I'm sure I am. With a Big Three of Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady and Ron Artest, the Rockets are two injuries and a meltdown away from 50 losses, and both injuries and a double shot of crazy are close enough to smell at all times.

But the NBA regular season is long and played at three-quarter speed. Now I have something to watch. Houston Rockets, NBA champs!

If I weren't already picking a darkhorse, my darkhorse pick would be the Utah Jazz. But it's hard to picture winning an NBA title with Mehmet Okur as your starting center. I'm going to mention the New Orleans Hornets here because if I don't I'll get letters asking why I didn't say anything about the New Orleans Hornets. A good team that could win a playoff series, maybe even two.

The Houston Rockets over the Detroit Pistons in a Flyover Finals. You heard it here first. And probably last.

King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

MORE FROM King Kaufman

Related Topics ------------------------------------------