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The NBA is Back!!!

Jason Lewis | 3/12/2008, 5 p.m.

After years of poor play and off-the-court problems the NBA has recaptured an audience who grew tired of low-scoring games and players who were running into trouble with the law.
While baseball is being dragged through the mud over the steroid problem and the NFL is hoping that Spygate will go away, the NBA is running and gunning with a number of exciting story lines.
The games are more captivating than they have been in years. It was in the 90s, where the half court game took over, and it was rare to see teams reach 100 points. That style of boring basketball has lasted well into this decade.
In the 2000-2001 season only four teams averaged 100 or more points per game, with the Sacramento Kings leading the league with 101.7 points per game. Half of the league averaged less than 95 points per game, and three teams averaged less than 90 points per game.
This season teams are lighting up the scoreboard, which excites the fans. Eleven teams are averaging over 100 points per game. Five of those teams are averaging over 106 points per game, with the Golden State Warriors leading the league with 110.8 points per game. Only four teams average less than 95 points, with the Minnesota Timberwolves averaging a league worst 93.6 points per game.
Like the 80s, the Lakers and Celtics are on top, and it would cap off a great season for the league if the two teams met in the NBA Finals. It would revive one of the best rivalries in sports and would be the highest rated NBA Finals in years. The San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons are great teams, but nobody wants to watch their slow-paced, defensive style of basketball in the Finals.
The last time both the Lakers and Celtics were on top of their conferences in the same season was in 1987, which was the last time they met in the Finals.
The two teams are not a lock. The Celtics have to worry about the Pistons in the East, and the Lakers have to worry about pretty much everybody in the West. The Warriors, who hold the eighth seed at the moment, are only four games outside of first place. The Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks, who have been two of the top teams in the West over the past few years, are in the sixth and seventh spots.
Both the Suns and Mavs made blockbuster trades just before the trade deadline. And, both trades have blown up in their faces, as each team continues to fall in the Western standings.
When the Suns traded for Shaquille ONeal they were leading the conference, and Shaq was supposed to be the player to finally put them over the top. But through the first 10 games with Shaq, the Suns are 4-6 and their defense has been horrible, giving up an average of 110.6 points per game.
The Mavs have also dropped in the standings after their big trade. Since they traded for Jason Kidd they are 5-5 and on the verge of falling into the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoff race.
The Spurs and Lakers have been fighting over the top spot over the past couple weeks, but now the Houston Rockets have come right up on their heels. The Rockets were on a 12-game winning streak when Yao Ming was injured. It appeared that it was a wrap on their season, but they have run their winning streak up to 18 games without Ming.
The Rockets Tracy McGrady has been playing at an MVP level since Mings season-ending injury. He scored 31 points in a victory over the Mavs, and then 41 in a victory over the New Orleans Hornets.
But McGrady will not be a huge factor in the MVP race. The Lakers Kobe Bryant and the Cleveland Cavaliers LaBron James are in a battle for that award.
Bryant appeared to take the lead over James with his 52-point performance on national television in an overtime win over the Mavs just over a week ago. Bryant followed up that performance by scoring 17 of his 34 points against the Kings with less than six minutes to play in the game to rally the Lakers to victory.
James did not sit around and allow Bryant to go on a scoring rampage by himself. So far this month James has had games of 37, 50, 39, and 38 points.
James is leading the league in scoring with 30.3 points per game, and he leads the league in fourth-quarter scoring. But the MVP usually does not go to the player with the highest points per game average. Bryant led the league in scoring the last two seasons, with averages of 35.4 in 06 and 31.6 in 07, but he did not receive the MVP.
This season Bryants numbers are slightly down, but he is getting his teammates more involved. Bryant is averaging 28.3 points per game, but he is shooting the ball less, allowing his teammates more opportunities. James is putting his team on his back and doing the bulk of the work like Bryant has done in the past, but the Lakers have been a much better team with Bryant sharing the load.
Bryant has led the Lakers to the top of the Western conference, which is a lot tougher than the Eastern conference. The Lakers are fighting for the No. 1 seed, while the Cavs are barely holding onto the No. 4 seed in a weaker conference.
The deciding factor may be on the defensive end of the court, where Bryant more than likely will be named to his eighth All-Defensive team. James has not been named to the team in his career.
Bryant has had the label of the best player in the league for a few years now. At some point he has to be given the MVP.
The last five weeks of the season are shaping up to be great. The Celtics and Pistons look like they are a lock for the Eastern Conference Finals, but the West is still wide open. And Bryant and James will keep fans on the edge of their seats as they battle for the leagues MVP Award.