Wanna know who'll win the title?

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:28 AM ET

Winning the NBA title in dominating fashion apparently earns you the respect of one-third of your peers.

The results of the league's annual survey of its 30 general managers was released last week, and 33% of those polled picked the defending-champion Detroit Pistons to go all the way again.

Where's the R-E-S-P-E-C-T? Only 33%?

We think that's preposterous.

LEAP OF FAITH

Normally, you don't have to go out on a limb to pick the defending champs to repeat. But this season, with most pundits cuddling up to the San Antonio Spurs, opting for the Pistons qualifies as a bungee jump of prognostication.

By the way, 45% of the NBA's GMs selected the Spurs to triumph. Besides San Antonio and Detroit, three other teams received votes: The Minnesota Timberwolves (10%), the Indiana Pacers (7%) and the Miami Heat (5%).

The thing is, the Pistons clearly were the best team -- accent on the word team -- last spring, and they haven't become demonstrably weaker. The one danger point?

What if newcomer Derrick Coleman gets into holdover Rasheed Wallace's head and the two form a bad-attitude brotherhood? That's about the only thing that could make Pistons coach Larry Brown wish he were in charge of that low-maintenance Allen Iverson again.

There are only three good teams in the East: The Pistons, the Pacers and the Heat, and Miami definitely is No. 3.

The arrival of Shaquille O'Neal has everyone talkin' title in south Florida, but somewhat lost in all the hype is the reality that the Heat gave up a lot of serviceable parts to get the big guy. Unless Shaq stays completely healthy -- an unlikely proposition for a 7-foot-1, 350-pound, 32-year-old Hulk -- the depth-challenged Heat will go through some frigid periods.

Whichever Eastern team finishes first in the standings likely will emerge in the playoffs, too, since the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds will bludgeon each other in the second round.

When it's over, we believe the resilient Pistons will be left standing.

Out West, we just get the eerie sense that something relatively mysterious is going to happen for a change, and this has nothing to do with a Halloween hangover.

Only two teams -- the Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers -- have represented the West in the final over the past five seasons. Yes, the West is the stronger of the two conferences, but it's not like the wealth has been spread around very much.

The Shaq-less Lakers pretty much are out of the equation now.

In fact, they'll be life-and-death to make the playoffs, despite Kobe Bryant's individual prowess.

Because of the Lakers' implosion following their loss to the Pistons in the final last June, the Spurs have emerged as the trendy pick in the West. And, admittedly, any team with Tim Duncan on it probably should be favoured to win something. But with the Lakers no longer a threat, the Spurs could let their guard down just enough to be shocked by a lesser, but still dangerous, foe.

The T-Wolves finished first in the West last season, but that was an exercise in overachievement, the brilliance of Kevin Garnett notwithstanding. The off-season hasn't been smooth, either, with Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell openly bitching about their contracts.

Sacramento? Too heartless. Denver? Following his petulant performance at the Olympics, Carmelo Anthony is primed for a mild sophomore jinx.

YAO CAN WOW

But hey, what about the Raptors' opponent tomorrow night, the Houston Rockets?

What if 7-foot-5 Yao Ming decides in February or March that he truly is ready to start dominating all these annoying midgets around him? And what if Tracy McGrady keeps his massive ego in check and bonds with Yao to forge basketball's best 1-2 punch?

So what we're left with is Detroit defeating Houston in the 2005 NBA final.

Yeah, that works.

Keep in mind, however, that our predictions usually are about as reliable as voter registration in the United States.


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