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Monday, Dec. 26, 2011

NBA back in action as season finally arrives

AP

NEW YORK — Finally, the conversation changes.

News photo
Up for grabs: Clippers forward Blake Griffin jumps for a rebound as Lakers center Andrew Bynum looks on during a preseason game. The NBA's regular season begins Christmas Day. AP

It's time for the NBA to ditch the dollars and nonsense of the lockout for the alleys and oops in Lob City, the new nickname for the suddenly exciting Los Angeles Clippers.

For months, all the talk was about lockouts, salary caps and mediation. Now there are games that count as a new season begins Christmas Day.

For all practical purposes, Clippers fans have been locked out of competitive basketball for the better part of three decades. Now they get entertainment of the highest order — watching Blake Griffin throw down lob passes from Chris Paul.

The 2011-12 season, shortened to 66 games, debuts Sunday when five marquee games will be played from morning deep into the night. This marks a first step for the league as it looks to bury a damaging offseason marred by a five-month labor dispute and several stars trying to force their way out of town.

The day begins with Boston and New York and then goes to an NBA Finals rematch with Miami at Dallas. Next up is Chicago at the Lakers, followed by the small-market special — Orlando at Oklahoma City — before CP3 makes his regular-season debut as a Clipper at Golden State.

"The lockout was hectic for everybody," Timberwolves forward Michael Beasley said. "We were bored! Now we feel like we've got a purpose in life. We can do what we do best."

It's time for Derek Fisher to be seen in Lakers gold, not Brooks Brothers gray.

It's time for postgame news conferences with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, not post-meeting sessions with David Stern and Adam Silver.

It's time for Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks to defend their title on the court, not for Jeffrey Kessler and the players' union to defend their decision to disband in the courts.

"I don't even want to talk about the lockout any more, man!" Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant said. "It was just so frustrating to go through that and everything that went on, us meeting and not meeting and not coming to an agreement and fans getting upset with us. It was tough. But I'm glad we got through it."

It didn't look so good for a while. Once the dispute was finally settled, a whole new drama broke out with Paul and Dwight Howard looking for trades out of New Orleans and Orlando.

Howard eventually softened his stance, but his future is still the focus in Orlando.

"I don't think our situation is going to go away," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "But I think it'll be a lot more focused on the games than there has been (focus) on the lockout."

The Lakers thought they had a deal for Paul, but Stern, acting as the owner of the Hornets, nixed that, and another crisis was born. The Clippers swooped in at the end, seizing some of the spotlight from Kobe and the Lakers for the first time since, well, ever.

"Hey, that's got to be driving Kobe," Lakers Hall of Famer Magic Johnson said. "That should drive (Pau) Gasol and (Andrew) Bynum and those guys and Derek Fisher to say, 'Hey, no way I'm going to let them take over L.A.' "

The Timberwolves are also flying high after finishing their second game against the Bucks with a 12-0 run to finish the preseason 2-0, while in Orlando, James and Quentin Richardson were seen trading shoulder blocks all the way down the floor in Miami's preseason finale.

The Heat are hoping for another run at the title. James, Wade and Chris Bosh had the whole league against them after a presumptuous welcome ceremony on South Beach. But the spotlight hasn't been quite as bright while everyone has been looking toward the Clippers and Magic, where Howard's wishes seem to change by the day.

"It's good to see other guys around the league get that attention," Wade said. "I think they got enough of us last year. It's good to see other teams, other franchises, get that spotlight for a while. Hope they enjoy it."



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