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Prediction time: Lakers-Bucks in NBA Finals

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

Oct. 30
ESPN.com's 2001 NBA Preview

The NBA season is about to begin and there is lots of excitement over Michael Jordan's return. Before I make my picks for the NBA championship, let me say that while Michael the Magnificent will bring plenty of energy and draw fans (as well as ring-a-ling-ling on the league's cash registers), the Washington Wizards won just 19 games last season.

Ray Allen
Expect Ray Allen and the Bucks to elevate all the way to the NBA Finals.
I see Washington and MJ getting up to 35 wins, but a quick check of last year's standings shows that type of performance isn't good enough to make the playoffs. I will be curious to see how Jordan and the Wizards feel when they look at their record and see 8-19, 10-24, etc. I have been there as a coach, and let me tell you -- it is not fun. You ask yourself, "Why am I here?"

OK, time for my NBA picks ...

Eastern Conference: I'm going with the Milwaukee Bucks. The recent addition of veteran Anthony Mason gives Milwaukee an inside force. I know some of the team's veterans were not happy with this addition, but coach George Karl knows how to handle this club and he will do a great job.

One key is the play of superstar guard Ray Allen. He doesn't always get the publicity of others, but he can flat-out play.

Allen is multidimensional, able to shoot, run, pass and defend. He does everything well, but he doesn't get the notoriety because he doesn't get involved in controversies. In my book, Allen is already a big-time star in the league.

Western Conference: I believe it will be coach Phil Jackson and the Los Angeles Lakers winning again. Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant are tough to stop, and now the Lakers have added another veteran weapon in Mitch Richmond. Give the Lakers' front office some credit for making moves every year to make the team even better.

Richmond coming off the bench can provide some instant offense and veteran leadership. Jackson will continue to have this team motivated and prepared.

I see the San Antonio Spurs as one team that can make a run at the Lakers. I expect Tim Duncan and David Robinson to have big seasons, and the addition of veteran Steve Smith will help. Still, Los Angeles will be tough to dethrone.

In the end, I see the Lakers cutting down the nets for the third straight season.

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