news: Basketball

Hoops and stars

Only a fringe sport in terms of popularity back in England, basketball enjoys a much higher standing in Portugal and the United States. America’s NBA, the game’s national league featuring some of the best paid sportsmen in the world, took to the field for the 2005/06 season last weekend.

New rules demand that the professionals must wear suits and ties before and after matches, while Hurricane Katrina has forced the New Orleans Hornets to play their home games in Oklahoma and Baton Rouge.

The most important pre-season transfers have seen Kwane Brown move to the LA Lakers, veteran Gary Payton join Miami Heat, and Michael Finley sign on for the San Antonio Spurs. Australian centre Andrew Bogut, 20, is with the Milwaukee Bucks and the New York Knicks have reinforced themselves with Eddy Curry and Antonio Davis under new coach Larry Brown. Another important coaching appointment concerns Phil Jackson, who returned to the Lakers with whom he won three titles between 2001 and 2003, after a year’s sabbatical.

Going into the new season as favourites are defending champions the San Antonio Spurs and runners-up Miami Heat. Possible outsiders capable of challenging the big two are the Lakers, the Indian Pacers and the Cleveland Cavaliers led by new sensation Le Bron James.

The opening encounters saw the Spurs continue where they left off, Tony Parker leading the Texans to convincing wins over Denver and Le Bron James’ Cavaliers. Shaquille O’Neal injured himself in Miami Heat’s first game 102-105 defeat against the Pacers, but his team recovered to beat Memphis 97-78. The Pacers, inspired by Ron Artest, went on to make it two out of two with a 90-78 triumph over Orlando. The LA Lakers had Kobe Bryan to thank for a narrow 99-97 victory over Denver, while the Detroit Pistons got off to a great start with two wins, as did the LA Clippers.