Phil Jackson’s Quest For Fourth Three-Peat Makes Rest of NBA’s Mission Clear

The 2010-2011 NBA regular season tips off tonight with more story lines than a Quentin Tarantino flick. Amidst the sepulchral, perhaps chilling, backdrop of an imminent lockout, 30 teams will commence liftoff, and a handful consider themselves worthy of championship contention.

Gale-force winds will follow Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh wherever they may roam. The star-studded Miami Heat's multiple title chase begins in Boston, where the grumpy, grizzled Celtics are determined to mark their territory as the reigning Eastern Conference champs. Bedlam and ear splitting boos await Erik Spoelstra's squad at TD Garden.

Kevin Durant—the well-mannered youngster who landed in Oklahoma City by way of Washington D.C., the University of Texas, and Seattle—is expected to make the jump from the Thunder’s explosive scoring hatchback to an MVP who carries his mates to late May.

Has any squad with one playoff series under its belt—a six-game defeat—been expected to make such a dramatic jump? Durant conquered the rest of the world at the 2010 FIBA World Championships. Now, Durantula, Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka, and the rest of the supporting cast must navigate through uncharted waters—and topple several West powers who have been there and won that.

Dwight Howard’s Orlando Magic spent the summer engaged in a “bring it on” war of words with the stacked Heat. Even if Howard did not join Stan Van Gundy and GM Otis Smith in ripping Pat Riley’s South Beach bunch, he wore his disdain like one of his famed sweaters. Vince Carter will try to avoid another reputation-destroying disappearing act—if J.J. Redick does not steal his starting spot first. Van Gundy has promised to replace his signature turtlenecks with ties and button-down shirts, per new dress code regulations, and to supplant his defining courtside scowl with more smiles. Good luck ...

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