The ball gets tossed up in Atlanta, Orlando and New Jersey first. Three hours later, it's a rematch of the Western Conference finals.
Tuesday night is opening night in the NBA, with 13 games scheduled. Included are national telecasts of Philadelphia at New York (8 p.m. EST, TBS) and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers at Portland (10:30 p.m. EST, TBS).
Final roster moves were made Monday as teams cut down to 12 active players.
There were a few surprises around the league:
-- Rookie free agent Stephen Jackson, who took the long road from high school to the pros, not only made the New Jersey Nets, but will be a starter.
-- Daniel Santiago, who went from Lubbock, Texas, to Puerto Rico to Varese, Italy, made the team in Phoenix and is ahead of heralded rookie Jake Tsakalidis on the depth chart.
-- The Chicago Bulls will begin the season as the youngest team in league history, with an average age of just under 23. They have five rookies on the roster -- Jamal Crawford, Khalid El-Amin, Marcus Fizer, A.J. Guyton and Dragan Tarlac -- and two more rookies, Dalibor Bagaric and Jake Voskuhl, on the injured list.
-- Joe Smith appears on no one's roster. Commissioner David Stern made the Timberwolves forward a free agent last week, although Smith's status will remain on hold until an arbitration hearing is held Thursday on whether Stern overstepped his authority in voiding Smith's previous two contracts in Minnesota.
-- Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and Tyus Edney have returned to the league, Abdul-Rauf as the backup point guard in Vancouver and Edney has the same job in Indiana.
-- There's a new Marc Jackson in the league, a rookie forward from Temple who spent the past three years in Turkey and Spain. He and Adam Keefe will back up starter Danny Fortson in Golden State. The other Mark Jackson -- that's Mark with a 'k' -- has relocated from Indiana to Toronto and led the league in assists during the preseason.
-- There is no next Michael Jordan. A rookie by that name from Penn was cut by the Boston Celtics during training camp.
Stephen Jackson took a not-so-direct route from high school to the pros, with no college in between. A high school All-American in 1996, he didn't have the grades to attend Arizona after signing a letter of intent. He enrolled for the spring semester at a community college in Kansas, but did not play, then declared for the draft in 1997 and was a second-round choice of the Suns.
He was cut during training camp, then made professional stops in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic before being cut a year ago by the Vancouver Grizzlies.
The Nets gave him a tryout, and coach Byron Scott had no idea who he was on the first day of training camp. But he was the team's leading scorer for much of the preseason and will begin the season as a starter in place of the injured Keith Van Horn.
"This is unexpected, very unexpected," Jackson said. "I have high expectations for myself, but I'm surprised, very surprised."
Santiago, a 7-foot-1 center who played in Italy the past two seasons and also was a member of the Puerto Rican national team, will begin the season as the backup center to Chris Dudley.
"What we're going to get is someone who will be more reliable to us than Oliver Miller was last year," Suns general manager Bryan Colangelo said.
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