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What to look for in NBA this season

Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant, from left, will be teaming up for the Lakers this season.

Mark J. Terrill/AP

Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant, from left, will be teaming up for the Lakers this season.

With the NBA season about to tip off, Gary Washburn examines some of the hot topics around the league:

FACES IN NEW PLACES

1. Dwight Howard, Lakers: He finally got his long-desired trade but to the Lakers, not to the Brooklyn Nets, the question is whether Howard can respond to the pressure of playing for a team expected to win now or else. Howard is coming off back surgery but should be the exact injection of youth and athleticism the Lakers need.

2. Steve Nash, Lakers: Nash agreed to come to Los Angeles for one final spot at an NBA title. The two-time MVP became the league’s best distributor in Phoenix and at 38, there is a concern whether he can continue to play at a high level despite all the weapons around him. Nash should respond to the occasion.

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3. Ray Allen, Heat: As we all know, Ray left the Celtics to sign with the despised Miami Heat and will come off the bench, the same role he told the Celtics he would not accept. The Heat were looking for another shooter and veteran presence and Allen will fill in perfectly in that role. You just wonder whether he could have done the same thing here.

TOP ROOKIES

1. Anthony Davis, Hornets: He expected to play for the Hornets’ summer league entry but ended up replacing Blake Griffin on the US Olympic Team and improved immensely playing with future Hall of Famers. Davis is going to be fun to watch as he develops into a defensive force, and the Hornets will be better.

2. Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers: The Portland rookie has been given the point guard duties and he should wow fans with his speed and talent. He was underrated coming out of Weber State, but he has garnered attention already and the Blazers will be improved.

3. Jared Sullinger, Celtics: There will be other rookies who start, but that’s generally out of necessity. Sullinger will likely start because of his talent and quick adjustment to the NBA game. He fell to 21st overall because of apparent back issues, but Sullinger has played in every preseason game.

POTENTIAL BUSTS WITH NEW TEAMS

1. Andrew Bynum, 76ers: He has not participate in a minute of training camp because of knee problems and now the 76ers say they won’t play him until he’s pain free. That would be months. He will be depended on to be the 76ers primary threat in the paint and his desire to fulfill his potential has been questioned constantly. What will Philly fans say?

2. Jeremy Lin, Rockets: Is he really an $8 million-per-year player or just a tool to put butts in seats for home games? Lin will no longer carry the upstart label with the Rockets and will be relied upon to lead a young team. That’s a big responsibility for someone who played just 35 meaningful games in his NBA career.

3. Brandon Roy, Timberwolves: Through no fault of his own, Roy may not make it because of knees that forced him to retire from the Portland Trail Blazers two years ago. He signed a two-year deal with the Timberwolves, his knees feeling rejuvenated. But then again, Roy hasn’t endured the pounding of an NBA season and he’ll have to prove he can play at a high level.

WORST SCHEDULE STRETCHES

1. Denver’s 14 games and five road trips in 24 days: This is a doozy, the Nuggets began a five-game road trip on Dec. 5 to Atlanta, Indiana, New York, Detroit and Minnesota, return home for one game and then go to Sacramento, return for one more, then Portland, return for one more and then at the Clippers, return for one more and then at Dallas and at Memphis.

2. Brooklyn’s eight-game road trip that covers four time zones: The Nets better save their energy for late March because they hit the road for 16 days to Detroit, Dallas, L.A. Clippers, Phoenix, Portland, Denver, Utah and then finish four days later in Cleveland. That is a brutal stretch.

3. Portland’s seven-game zig-zag trip in November and December: You can call this a simply East Coast trip for the Blazers if you want, but this is insane. The Blazers begin at Brooklyn, Detroit the next night, and then back to Washington, north to Boston, west to Cleveland, east to Charlotte and west to Indiana. Seriously.

COACHES ON THE HOT SEAT

1. Vinny Del Negro: The Clippers underachieved last season, losing to the Spurs in the second round of the playoffs. And if this year’s club, with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, failed to get off to a positive start or are barely making the playoffs, Del Negro could be dumped for a more experienced, high-profile coach.

2. Alvin Gentry: The Suns have been stuck the past few years with aging players and a lack of talent. Now the team is rebuilding and Gentry is in charge of leading the Suns back to respectability. If they struggle or the youngsters don’t develop, he could be gone.

3. Scott Skiles: The Bucks held onto him for one last season, which happens to be the final season of his contract. If his hard-charging style doesn’t result in a rapid start, he could be the first coach to go during the season. The Bucks have disappointed the past two seasons.

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