New NBA Season Raises New Questions

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AS the National Basketball Association completes the second week of its 47th season, here are some questions - and possible answers:

Can the Chicago Bulls become `three-peat' champions?

Probably not, given history. Only the old Minneapolis Lakers (1952-54) and the Boston Celtics (1959-66) have ever won back-to-back-to-back titles or better. On the other hand, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen are in their prime, and it all may depend on how hungry they are, especially after what must seem like two years of nonstop basketball.

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Are the Phoenix Suns the team to beat?

Quite possibly. The Suns have added Olympic Dream Teamer Charles Barkley, who was acquired in a bold, 3-for-1 trade designed to bring the team its first championship - a great way to celebrate being in a new home, the America West Arena, in the franchise's 25th anniversary season. Barkley had grown intensely frustrated in Philadelphia and should benefit from the change. As if he needed another forum for his loose-cannon pronouncements, Sir Charles now has his own pre-game show.

What possessed Chuck Daly to take the New Jersey coaching job?

The job spells trouble for just about everyone who's held it, and after coaching the Detroit Pistons to two titles and the Dream Team to an Olympic gold, Daly hardly has to prove himself. But last season the Nets reached the playoffs for the first time since 1986, so even with some young malcontents, Daly must see an opportunity to catch a team on the rise - and collect $4 million over three years doing it.

Has anybody seen Christian Laettner?

Last year's College Player of the Year could become the Waldo of the NBA now that he's a rookie center toiling for the league's most woebegone team, the Minnesota Timberwolves (15-67 last season). Although he led Duke University to back-to-back college championships (a rarity) and was the only collegian on the US Olympic Team, Laettner was not the top, or even the second, player drafted. Louisiana State's 7 ft. 1 in. Shaquille O'Neal, who was made the No. 1 overall pick by the Orlando Magic, is the rooki e burdened with the greatest expectations. Orlando should exhibit marked improvement with Shaq, but don't order any championship banners just yet.

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