JORDAN (STILL) RULES: Even at 33, Michael Jordan makes defending champion Chicago an automatic pick to win its fifth NBA title this decade. When questioned about whether he might be on the down slide, Jordan bristled and said, "I still don't see anybody playing me straight up."
AGING BULLS: Already the oldest team in the league, the Bulls became longer in the tooth by signing center Robert Parish, 43, as a backup.
THE X FACTOR: Last season renegade forward Dennis Rodman was relatively well behaved. Can he go two years in a row without creating a major disruption?
THE LAST TANGO FACTOR: The Bulls won't match their record 72 regular-season wins of 995-96, but they'll repeat as champs if Jordan stays healthy. Their motivation? It may be the final run together for these Bulls—especially if coach Phil Jackson leaves after the season, as he has hinted.
POINT AND COUNTERPOINT: With Mark Jackson traded to Denver, the Pacers' point guard duties will be shared by former Nugget Jalen Rose (who will also log some time at shooting guard and small forward) and untried second-year man Travis Best. Their job will be to get the ball to All-Star shooting guard Reggie Miller and to center Rik Smits when he returns from off-season surgery on his feet.
THE (MC)KEY: To equal or improve on last season's 52-30 record, the Pacers need another player to score more—such as sometimes explosive small forward Derrick McKey.
NOW OR NEVER? If the Pacers don't make a serious run at the title, general manager Donnie Walsh will have to retool.