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The 5 most intriguing teams to watch in the NBA this season...

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Being raised Jewish, the start of a new NBA season was the closest thing I ever got to a Christmas morning. And while last season was arguably one of the NBA's best since 1987-88 (the best season in NBA history), I expect this one to be just ask exciting, if not more so.

But before jumping into today's post, I have to make a quick comment about yesterday's post in which I suggested that the Nuggets adopt a "Nellie Ball" philosophy this season, throw defense out the window and let the players be their shoot-first, defense-later selves. Of all the posts I've ever authored, I don't think I've ever had more disagreement from the most loyal readers of this blog. So to that I say: fair enough, maybe I'm a total idiot on this call. Perhaps I'm just being overly pessimistic (or am I being realistic?) with my assertion that there's no way George Karl - after letting his players run wild with no coherent offensive or defensive philosophy whatsoever - will suddenly turn this undersized Nuggets team into the Western Conference's version of the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons, who went on to win an NBA title without a text book point guard and a power forward filling in at center. Remember, it was this Nuggets team that was in the top two in flagrant fouls, player ejections and player technicals last season. That is an undisciplined defensive team.

I completely agree with this blog's readers that with the athletes available on this Nuggets team they should develop a defensive philosophy and could be a great defensive team. And that by winning more boring 90-85 games rather than losing exciting 115-125 games will give them a better chance to win it all. But based on his recent track record, we have no reason to believe that Karl is the coach that can pull this off. Maybe Larry Brown was or Jeff Van Gundy is, but they're not manning the bench in Denver. And watching Karl attempt to lead this team to their first playoff series win during his tenure is one of many reasons why the Nuggets will be - in my opinion - one of the most intriguing teams to follow in the NBA this season, even if you're not a Nuggets fan.

With that said, here are the five most intriguing teams to watch in the NBA this season (excluding the Lakers and Celtics who will probably meet in the Finals again)...

5) Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers underwent an extreme makeover this summer, losing Elton Brand and Corey Maggette while picking up LA native Baron Davis and his evil twin Ricky Davis, giving up nothing for Marcus Camby, and drafting Eric Gordon. Had Jason "White Chocolate" Williams decided not to retire (he was acquired over the summer, too), the Clippers would have surpassed the Nuggets for best train wreck potential in 2008-09. If Brand had stayed put, I had the Clippers penciled in for a four-seed. Sans Brand, they'll still be competitive and could play spoiler for the 8th seed down the stretch.

4) Miami Heat
During the Beijing Olympics, Dwyane Wade looked even better than his NBA Finals MVP-self. Shawn Marion is in a contract year (and you know he'll want to get paid). Add two trouble making rookies - #2 overall pick Michael Beasley and second round steal Mario Chalmers - and a new coach into the mix, and the Heat are poised to have the biggest turnaround from 2007-08 to 2008-09. They just need to make sure Beasley and Chalmers don't room together on the road.

3) Houston Rockets
There's already talk out of Houston of Ron Artest, Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming forming the West's version of "The Big Three." Not so fast. Boston's big three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce had all carried teams to conference finals before coming together in Boston last season, whereas McGrady and Yao have never won a single playoff series. That being said, how Artest plays with fellow superstars, for a coach he loves and in a contract year will be fascinating (and not just because he's on my fantasy team).

2) Denver Nuggets
You can accuse me of being biased, but any NBA fan must admit to being excited to see how the Nuggets 2008-09 storyline plays out. On the one hand, I could see the Nuggets become the darlings of the league as the team that all the experts wrote off and then shocked the world by committing to defense like never before, making the playoffs and winning a series. On the other hand, I could just as easily see the Nuggets quit on Karl early, implode and devolve into a chaotic me-first operation...like Karl's 2001-02 Milwaukee Bucks that missed the playoffs in spite of having one of the league's more talented teams. Throw in the Allen Iverson "will he or won't he stay?" B-story and the "can Nene and K-Mart stay healthy?" C-story, and the Nuggets season is poised to be newsworthy if nothing else.

1) Portland Trailblazers
I hate picking one of our division rivals as the most intriguing team to watch this season, but its tough to argue against it. Scrubbing themselves of the Mark Warkentien/Bob Whitsitt "Jailblazer Era" (which Wark has imported to Denver), Portland GM Kevin Pritchard has assembled quite a roster filled with hard working, likable and exciting young players. They were already pretty good last season, but now they get Greg Oden, Rudy Fernandez and Jerryd Bayless? It hardly seems fair. Rest assure I'll be glued to the Blazers / Lakers matchup tonight.

Is Santa Claus here yet?!