Devon O’Neil: It’s wide open on the hardwood this year |

Devon O’Neil: It’s wide open on the hardwood this year

It has taken an eight-game winning streak by the defending NBA champion Spurs to give the Lakers company atop the Western Conference standings, but the story isn’t who is on top right now, it’s that so many teams are in the race.

For the past decade or so, the best basketball in the league has been played in the west. Detroit has been the east’s most consistent challenger to its other-conference rivals, winning it all four years ago, and Miami, of course, rode Wade and Shaq to the title two years later. But the west has been the superior conference overall.

It’s no coincidence. Yet while the elite contenders tend to hail from the west, it’s remained a small group that has revolved around San Antonio. This year, however, you’ve got four behemoths so closely matched they’d be a tough group to handicap.

The Lakers, with Kobe Bryant scoring (27.8 points per game) and willing them, now have Pao Gasol, a tall, versatile complement; the Mavs got Jason Kidd (but gave up depth that will be more visible come playoff time); the Hornets and Jazz are young, athletic and full of belief in their teams; and the Spurs, of course, are still the defending champs.

None of which is to neglect three teams in the east fully capable of winning the title themselves: Boston, still the NBA’s best team record-wise (46-12); the Pistons (43-16, second best in the league); and Cleveland, which ranks second in its division but makes this column based on the superhuman factor in LeBron James.

People wonder what happened to the NBA after Michael, Magic and Larry left. The plots weren’t as engaging. If you like wide-open basketball, that is no longer the case. …

The parity also extends to the college level this winter. I think we’re going to enter the NCAA tournament with 15-20 teams legitimately talented enough to win the national title. …

For me this is the argument that never gets old. The better player between Kobe Bryant and LeBron James? I’ve been surprised by how many people say Bryant. He’s probably the MVP this season, only because Kevin Garnett has such talent around him in Boston, but is he a better player than James? I’d vote no. …

Gotta love NASCAR, reason 63: After Carl Edwards won Sunday’s race to pad his lead in the Sprint Cup standings, his crew chief, Bob Osborne, was asked how he managed to keep his cool in light of a controversial call on a tire that broke free. “I wanted to go ballistic and yell and scream and kick and punch and do whatever I had to do to get my way,” he said. “But I kept a level head and NASCAR reviewed it.”

(Edwards’ win was later called into question when postrace inspectors found that his oil tank lid was not tightened correctly.) …

I’m not sure why New England let Randy Moss roam around the NFL when he said all along he wanted to re-sign with the Patriots. Seems silly; unlike New England. …

In parting, a funny trend story caught legs at the NFL combine this year, the same time live TV coverage of the event graduated it to another level. Some of the experts started talking about how silly it is that so much is made of a few physical tests ” which have been shown to be horrible predictors of NFL promise.

It’s encouraging to see such topics take hold in the media. Gives the rational world hope.

” Breckenridge resident Devon O’Neil’s $0.02 column runs on Tuesdays. He can be reached at

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