Dallas, San Antonio and Utah are improved, Phoenix and Portland are coming off surprise playoff showings, and Laker Coach Pat Riley is gone.
It’s a new season in the National Basketball Assn.
In tonight’s openers, it will be Phoenix vs. Utah at Tokyo in the first regular-season NBA game outside North America; Sacramento playing the Clippers at the Sports Arena, Orlando at Atlanta, Cleveland at Boston, New York at Charlotte, New Jersey at Indiana, Washington at Miami, Milwaukee at Detroit, Philadelphia at Chicago, Dallas at Minnesota, Golden State at Denver and Houston at Portland.
On Saturday, the Lakers are at San Antonio and Houston is at Seattle.
The Phoenix-Utah games in Tokyo tonight and Saturday represent a first for any major professional sports league.
Teams from the NBA, NFL, NHL and major league baseball have participated in tournament and exhibition games overseas.
“We have observed a tremendous growth of interest in basketball and the NBA in Japan, and we are delighted to be able to bring these games directly to the Japanese fans,” NBA Commissioner David Stern said.
The Suns, who became the first Western Conference team since 1986 to defeat the Lakers in the playoffs, won 54 games last season and finished 7-1 in the preseason.
“We’ve improved the last two years and we want to improve some more this year,” Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons said.
The Jazz, winners of 55 games last season, added high-scoring guard Jeff Malone to go with all-stars Karl Malone and John Stockton.
Detroit, looking to become the first team in 24 years to win three championships in a row, might open its season with Mark Aguirre replacing Dennis Rodman in the starting lineup. Rodman played only in the last two exhibitions because of tendinitis in his left ankle.