Intro to the NBA
We give you the lowdown on the National Basketball Association
By Alex Williams. Last Updated: January 23, 2013 9:28am
LeBron James: Led the Miami Heat to the title last season
The National Basketball Association has completed its visit to London, but you can still catch the best of the action over the rest of the season on Sky Sports.
The NBA is known as the most lucrative and prestigious basketball league in the world, with the fame and fortune it offers attracting the best players from around the globe.
Once seen as exclusively North American, the league is an international community these days, with a record 84 foreign players being included on rosters at the start of the current season.
But of course the hype and fanfare, which includes the league's motto of 'Where Amazing Happens', still has a distinctly American flavour.
The NBA boasts a total of 30 teams across two conferences and six divisions. Most areas of the USA are well represented, although the geography of the league is dominated by the Northeast, Upper Midwest and West Coast heartlands. The Toronto Raptors of Canada are the only team based outside the US.
Although the origins of the league trace back to 1946, the NBA initials did not come into effect until 1949 following a merger between the Basketball Association of America and the National Basketball League.
The two most successful teams in league history are the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles (formerly Minneapolis) Lakers, who have won a total of 17 and 16 titles respectively.
Lagging quite a way behind in third place are the Chicago Bulls, who won six Michael Jordan-inspired championships in eight years during the 1990s. The reigning champions are the Miami Heat.
The Eastern and Western conferences each have eight play-off places on offer at the end of a regular season which is surely one of the most punishing in any sport.
Each team plays 82 games around the country from October to April - an average of roughly three contests each week. Despite this, player rotation is not an especially prevalent idea and franchise stars are rarely rested when fit.
The winners of each of the three divisions (decided by win-loss record) at the end of the season, along with the team with the next best record, are given the top four seeds in the conference. The next four teams in the conference are given the remaining places in the play-offs.
An eight-team knockout format is then played out in each conference, with the top seed playing the eighth seed and so on. Each tie is a best-of-seven series of matches.
The winners of the Eastern and Western conferences then advance to the NBA Finals, which is also a series of up to seven matches to determine the league champions.
The Heat entered the season as the defending NBA champions and winners of the Eastern Conference for the past two years. The 'Big Three' - incumbent guard Dwayne Wade and marquee free agent signings LeBron James and Chris Bosh - have delivered consistent success since they were brought together in 2010.
Inevitably, the 'dynasty' label will start to be applied to the current Heat team if they can repeat the success of last season. They currently boast the best record in the Eastern Conference and, should they secure a high play-off seeding, it would be hard to bet against them reaching the Finals again.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Last year's Western Conference champions and runners-up overall have made a flying start to the new season and, along with the Los Angeles Clippers, are well clear of the rest in the West.
The franchise formerly known as the Seattle Supersonics moved south in 2008, one year after they had selected Kevin Durant with the second overall pick of the NBA Draft. Since the move Durant has grown into a superstar of the sport and, at 24 years old, looks ready to lead the team to a title.
Los Angeles Clippers
The much-maligned Clippers have suddenly become one of the teams to beat in the Western Conference after riding a 17-game winning streak through December. The catalyst for the improvement was the 2011 trade for point guard Chris Paul, who along with 2009 top draft pick Blake Griffin is now the face of the franchise.
It certainly seems the Clippers have successfully completed their rebuilding job and the talent they possess is not in question, but having never even appeared in a Conference Finals in their history, there are still doubts over whether they can take the ultimate step.
San Antonio Spurs
Possibly the most consistent team in the NBA, the Spurs last failed to reach the play-offs in 1997 and have won four championships in the last 14 years.
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli might not be the flashiest trio in the league, but their effectiveness is indisputable. Although the three star players are all 30 or over, San Antonio are almost a certainty to make the post-season and will be tough competition for anyone in the play-offs.
New York Knicks
The Knicks are one of the NBA's most famous franchises but have not been crowned champions since 1973. But trades for Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler in 2011 amid a run that had seen them fail to win a play-off game for seven years gave them a new appeal.
A loss to eventual champions Miami followed in the play-offs but the expectations are high for the current season with Anthony and Chandler firmly bedded into the set-up. They come to London with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and will view this season as the perfect opportunity to end their title drought.
Los Angeles Lakers
The franchise that, along with the Boston Celtics, has the most glittering history in the NBA made a number of high-profile moves in the off-season but their campaign is in danger of descending into turmoil.
The Lakers traded for Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to add to a roster which already had a number of stars. But head coach Mike Brown was fired after just five games, with Mike D'Antoni filling the void. There has not been a notable upturn in results and the Lakers head into the second half of the season with a losing record.But as they have such quality in their ranks, any encouraging run of form will inevitably lead to them being tipped as one of the favourites to win it all.
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LeBron James (Miami Heat)
The position of NBA global icon has passed from Michael Jordan through Kobe Bryant to LeBron James. After being drafted with the top overall pick out of high school in 2003, James wasted no time in becoming one of the elite players in the league.
Although his decision to move from the Cleveland Cavaliers to Miami Heat in 2010 was viewed as controversial by some, it has already given him a championship ring. Last season saw James firmly establish himself as the league's biggest star as he won the MVP award for both the regular season and the NBA Finals. James is an athletic forward who regularly dominates the court with his all-round game.
Kobe Bryant (LA Lakers)
With the emergence of James and the Heat as the league's pre-eminent force, Bryant has taken something of a backseat in recent years, but the 34-year-old evidently still has plenty left to give.
Bryant has won a total of five NBA titles with the Lakers. The last two, in 2009 and 2010, were critical to his legacy as they were achieved without the help of rival and former team-mate Shaquille O'Neal. A 14-time All Star, Bryant is known for his prolific scoring and ability to create shots for himself, something which has seen him labelled as a 'ball hog' in certain circles.
Despite his advancing years he is leading the league in scoring this season and could yet add to his lone MVP award, a surprisingly low number for a player of his stature.
Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Although he has five full years of NBA experience, Durant is still only 24 years old and may not yet have reached the prime of his career. The 6ft 9in small forward is a scoring machine, having led the NBA in points-per-game in each of the last three seasons.
From an offensive standpoint Durant is possibly the best in the NBA and while he may not be as complete a player as Bryant or James, his incredible scoring ability will ensure he is one of the league's major stars for several years to come.
Carmelo Anthony (NY Knicks)
Anthony has a similar profile to Durant, being a small forward who can seemingly score at will but who is unlikely to stake a claim to be the best player in the league until his defence improves. Anthony was drafted in the same year as James, meaning comparisons between the two are inevitable, if a little unfair.
While James has all the hallmarks of a once-in-a-generation talent, Anthony has established himself as one of the premier players of the last decade, first with the Denver Nuggets and now with the New York Knicks. With a talented team now assembled around him in the Big Apple, Anthony may yet force some of those comparisons with James to be re-evaluated if he can get himself a couple of championship rings.
Chris Paul (LA Clippers)
Point guard is perhaps the most important position for any NBA team to fill and, with Derrick Rose sidelined with a long-term injury, Paul probably edges out Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams as the best around.
The 27-year-old has run every offence he has been involved in with brilliant efficiency. From a defensive standpoint, he has led the league in steals in three out of the past four years, while on offence he can both create and score with aplomb. The upturn in the Clippers' fortunes over the last two seasons shows just how valuable he is.