Derrick Rose

Derrick Rose

Derrick Rose injured again

Matt Moore breaks down Derrick Rose ankle injury Friday, putting even bigger strain on an already thin point guard rotation in Cleveland.

Derrick Rose injured again

Matt Moore breaks down Derrick Rose ankle injury Friday, putting even bigger strain on an already thin point guard rotation in Cleveland.

Derrick Rose injured again

Matt Moore breaks down Derrick Rose ankle injury Friday, putting even bigger strain on an already thin point guard rotation in Cleveland.

Derrick Rose injured again

Matt Moore breaks down Derrick Rose ankle injury Friday, putting even bigger strain on an already thin point guard rotation in Cleveland.

Derrick Rose Injures Ankle, Lue Says It 'Doesn't Look Good'

Cavaliers guard Derrick Rose left Friday's game in the 4th quarter with an ankle injury that may keep him sidelined for Saturday's game against Orlando.

Derrick Rose Injures Ankle, Lue Says It 'Doesn't Look Good'

Cavaliers guard Derrick Rose left Friday's game in the 4th quarter with an ankle injury that may keep him sidelined for Saturday's game against Orlando.

Derrick Rose Injures Ankle, Lue Says It 'Doesn't Look Good'

Cavaliers guard Derrick Rose left Friday's game in the 4th quarter with an ankle injury that may keep him sidelined for Saturday's game against Orlando.

Derrick Rose Injures Ankle, Lue Says It 'Doesn't Look Good'

Cavaliers guard Derrick Rose left Friday's game in the 4th quarter with an ankle injury that may keep him sidelined for Saturday's game against Orlando.

-FOTODELDIA- Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe (R) grabs Cleveland Cavaliers guard Derrick Rose (L) by the neck as Rose drive to the basket in the second half of the NBA basketball game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Milwaukee Bucks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, 20 October 2017. EPA/TANNEN MAURY

Derrick Rose doubtful for Saturday's game after hard foul by Greg Monroe

Derrick Rose doesn't expect many calls to go his way and was upset after Greg Monroe wasn't called for a flagrant foul on Friday.

Derrick Rose doubtful for Saturday's game after hard foul by Greg Monroe

Derrick Rose doubtful for Saturday's game after hard foul by Greg Monroe

Derrick Rose doubtful for Saturday's game after hard foul by Greg Monroe

Derrick Rose doubtful for Saturday's game after hard foul by Greg Monroe

Milwaukee Bucks' Thon Maker, right, defends against a driving Cleveland Cavaliers' Derrick Rose during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Oct. 20, 2017, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Tom Lynn)

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Derrick Rose (L) shoots on Milwaukee Bucks forward Thon Maker of Australia (R) in the first half of the NBA basketball game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Milwaukee Bucks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. EFE

Derrick Rose Leaves Game With Ankle Injury, Lue Says Injury 'Doesn't Look Good'

In news that no NBA fan wants to hear, Derrick Rose left the Cavaliers' game against the Bucks on Friday night after he rolled his left ankle.

With just over 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Rose drove to the hoop and was fouled by Bucks center Greg Monroe. Rose fell awkwardly and immediately reached for his left ankle. He left the game and did not return.

Before the injury, Rose scored 12 points in 23 minutes. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said he does not expect Rose to play on Friday against the Magic and that the injury "doesn't look good," reports The Athletic's Jason Lloyd. Jose Calderon is expected to start in Rose's place.

Rose's injury history is extensive, and his inability to remain on the court has derailed a career that was once so promising. After winning the MVP award in 2011 as a 22-year-old, Rose appeared in an average of just 46 games over the next five seasons, as knee issues have kept him from reaching the form he showed earlier in his career.

Rose spent the first seven years of his career with the Bulls before spending last season with the Knicks. He joined the Cavs this summer and was slated to be Kyrie Irving's point guard but was thrust into the starting role when Irving was traded for Isaiah Thomas, who will start once returns from a hip injury.

THM24. Milwaukee (United States), 20/10/2017.- Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe (R) grabs Cleveland Cavaliers guard Derrick Rose (L) by the neck as Rose drive to the basket in the second half of the NBA basketball game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Milwaukee Bucks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, 20 October 2017. (Baile de la Rosa, Baloncesto, Estados Unidos) EFE/EPA/TANNEN MAURY

THM10. Milwaukee (United States), 20/10/2017.- Cleveland Cavaliers guard Derrick Rose (L) shoots on Milwaukee Bucks forward Thon Maker of Australia (R) in the first half of the NBA basketball game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Milwaukee Bucks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, 20 October 2017. (Baile de la Rosa, Baloncesto, Estados Unidos) EFE/EPA/TANNEN MAURY

THM08. Milwaukee (United States), 20/10/2017.- Cleveland Cavaliers guard Derrick Rose (L) shoots on Milwaukee Bucks forward Thon Maker of Australia (R) in the first half of the NBA basketball game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Milwaukee Bucks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, 20 October 2017. (Baile de la Rosa, Baloncesto, Estados Unidos) EFE/EPA/TANNEN MAURY

THM07. Milwaukee (United States), 20/10/2017.- Cleveland Cavaliers guard Derrick Rose (R) passes around Milwaukee Bucks forward Thon Maker of Australia (L) in the first half of the NBA basketball game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Milwaukee Bucks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, 20 October 2017. (Baile de la Rosa, Baloncesto, Estados Unidos) EFE/EPA/TANNEN MAURY

THM04. Milwaukee (United States), 20/10/2017.- Cleveland Cavaliers guard Derrick Rose (R) passes the ball in front of Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo of Greece (L) in the first half of the NBA basketball game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Milwaukee Bucks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, 20 October 2017. (Baile de la Rosa, Baloncesto, Grecia, Estados Unidos) EFE/EPA/TANNEN MAURY

Cleveland Cavaliers' Derrick Rose, right, looks to pass the ball as Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Oct. 20, 2017, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Tom Lynn)

Boston Celtics' Kyrie Irving (11) looks to pass over Cleveland Cavaliers' Derrick Rose (1) in the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Boston Celtics' Kyrie Irving (11) defends against Cleveland Cavaliers' Derrick Rose (1) in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Boston Celtics' Kyrie Irving (11) drives past Cleveland Cavaliers' Kevin Love (0) and Derrick Rose (1) in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, in Cleveland. The Cavaliers won 102-99. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

10 Thoughts on NBA Opening Night Media Coverage

Ten NBA media items following the opening night of the 2017-18 season.

• When a sports television broadcaster is presented with the kind of gruesome injury Celtics forward Gordon Hayward suffered in the first quarter of Tuesday’s Cavs-Celtics game, the goal above all is to cover the injury with accuracy, reporting thoughtfulness. Last night was not an easy situation for TNT but I thought they did very well, especially the announcers laying out (not talking) after the injury.

Immediately after Hayward went down, announcer Kevin Harlan knew it was bad. Said Harlan: “Oh my goodness, Hayward came down so hard, Hayward broke his leg, Hayward has broken his leg, Hayward has broken his leg. Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. And that is how quickly a season can change.”

That was followed by analyst Reggie Miller saying soberly, “This is unbelievable.”

Both then went quiet.

Producer Jeff Randolph and director Lonnie Dale then had to make quick decisions on the images around Quicken Loans Arena and they did it very well. There were quick cuts to players and fans in disbelief, including (in order) Cavs center Tristan Thompson, Celtics wing Jaylen Brown, Cavs forward Jae Crowder, Cavs guard Derrick Rose, Boston players huddling up, LeBron James with his head down and various shots of crestfallen Cavs and Celtics players.

Then Harlan came back to say, “About as gruesome an injury as you will see in sports.” Miller’s reserved tone after the injury was also appreciated.

Randolph then showed a replay from afar, followed by a top down shot of Hayward. TNT showed the medical team taking care of Hayward but the cameras did not get too close. Viewers saw Hayward coming off court on a stretcher shaking his head and then another camera gave a brief shot of him being wheeled into the locker room. Over the next three quarters, reporter Kristen Ledlow provided updates on Hayward’s condition and possible transfer points from the arena. (The Celtics announced that Hayward fractured his left ankle.)

“In the moment, it reminded us of what happened during the NCAA Final Four a few years ago and the [Louisville] Kevin Ware injury,” Randolph said in an email after the game. “We knew it was extremely serious and we wanted to avoid any close-up shots of the injury. Collectively, along with Kevin and Lonnie, we held on doing an immediate replay and instead let the pictures tell the story by showing the emotions and reactions from the players’ perspective. When we did show a replay, we provided a look at what happened, but from the farthest possible angle. That one replay was meant to give our audience a sense of the magnitude of what had transpired and we then returned to live action.”

Well done.

• Sometimes you get lucky. Turner’s first NBA game of the season ended on a missed 3-pointer at the buzzer by Kyrie Irving with James guarding him. That gave the cameras the perfect angle to capture James and Irving embracing after the buzzer following Cleveland’s 102-99 win. Great TV.

• The NBA viewership story is an interesting one. The league’s national average audience across ABC, ESPN, NBA TV and TNT was down six percent last year during the regular season, per Sports Business Daily. TNT had its lowest regular-season average since 2007-08, with an average of 1.54 million. ABC posted its lowest regular-season viewership season (3.3 million viewers) since 2007-08. ESPN games (1.565 million average) were down five percent from the previous year (1.652 million). NBA TV was also down from 2015-16 (312,000, from 345,000). The NBA’s local TV ratings fell 14% during the 2016-17 regular season, per Sports Business Daily.

Now, there are significant and legit factors that the league can point to including a very slow start to the season because of the fervor of the Presidential Election coverage. Late-season regular games, especially in the Western Conference, did not carry as much weight as they had in previous years. This is a big year for the league when it comes to regular season ratings given the amazing offseason transactions, and especially given ESPN just ponied up $1.4 billion per year to extend the league rights through the 2024-25 season.

Now the good rating news: Star teams remain a huge draw for the league in the NBA Finals. Despite a five-game series, Warriors-Cavs II averaged 20.4 million viewers on ABC, up one percent in viewership from 2016’s seven-game finals between the same teams. It was the most-watched NBA Finals since Bulls-Jazz in 1998 (29.0 million) and the third year in a row that viewership has hit a post-Jordan high. Per Sports Media Watch, it was also the most-watched NBA Finals to last five or fewer games since Bulls-Lakers averaged 23.9 million in 1991. ESPN said the NBA Finals averaged a streaming audience of 434,000 on the WatchESPN app, up 20% from last year (363,000). On key demos, per Sports Media Watch, the NBA Finals averaged a 7.4 rating in adults 18-49, down slightly from last year (7.5) and down 3% from 2015 (7.6). The 7.4 is the sixth-highest for the NBA Finals since 1998.

• ESPN’s Doris Burke will work a full season as a national television analyst. Her first regular season assignment comes Friday with the Warriors-Pelicans at 9:30 p.m. ET. She’ll work alongside gamecaller Ryan Ruocco and reporter Israel Gutierrez. Burke will serve as an analyst for ESPN regular-season NBA telecasts as well as the NBA playoffs, making her the first woman at the national level to be assigned a full season rotation of games as an NBA game analyst. Over the last couple of years Burke has worked selected NBA games as a color commentator but now gets cemented as a regular. Burke said she will keep her role as lead ESPN NBA sideline reporter for the NBA Conference Finals and NBA Finals.

"The NBA, and more importantly, the entire sport of basketball, has always been an inclusive environment," Burke said. "To me, whether we are talking about the players, coaches, team management or anyone involved with the sport, it is about your game so to speak. Do you have the work habits and skills to be successful? I believe if the players and coaches respect my viewpoint of the game, then fans will as well. And full credit there goes to the NBA and to ESPN. They are willing to put people like me in a position to do this. It's pretty cool to have a greater role and the chance to continue to cover a sport that I love with the best players and coaches in the world."

• The only consistency with ESPN’s NBA Countdown pregame show is change. The pregame show has historically undergone musical chairs with staffers. This offseason was relatively stable. Michelle Beadle returns as a host, joined by analyst Paul Pierce (now fulltime), Jalen Rose, Chauncey Billups and Tracy McGrady. As we’ve said repeatedly—and was also the case when Sage Steele hosted, too—ESPN devalues this show by not letting it host the majority of post-game airtime during the Conference Finals and NBA Finals. We’ll see what they do this year.

• ESPN/ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy thinks that if center Joel Embiid is able to remain healthy for 70 games, the Sixers will make the playoffs. “He’s that good. He’s that dominant. He’s talented. And what I love about him is he’s got a competitive mean streak about him, too, that I think when you’re trying to break through a historic amount of losing that they’ve done, you need that one star that has a competitive streak to him.”

• TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal on Carmelo Anthony joining the Thunder: “I think at this point in Carmelo Anthony’s career he should look at teams like Golden State and San Antonio. The key ingredient there is moving the ball. Carmelo has been a guy the past 10 years where the ball comes to him and it sticks. He now has a team where he has Paul George, [Russell] Westbrook and Steven Adams at center. If things are done the right way these guys can make a lot of noise. At some point of your career, especially when you are older, you have to say, 'Do I still want to get my mine or do I want to win? How to I want to be remembered? As a winner, or a guy who put up big numbers?'”

• I’ve long been impressed with SiriusXM’s commitment to the NBA. The satellite service has live play-by-play of every game from Opening Night through The Finals, along with daily talk and analysis on SiriusXM NBA Radio (XM channel 86, Sirius channel 207). Former players and coaches on the channel include Greg Anthony, Antonio Daniels, Brendan Haywood, Eddie Johnson, Tim Legler, Rick Mahorn, Sam Mitchell and Brian Scalabrine. On-air hosts include Mark Boyle, Gerald Brown, Ric Bucher, Tom Byrne, Noah Coslov, Howie Cowart, Brian Geltzeiler, Jared Greenberg, Jonathan Hood, Frank Isola, Jason Jackson, Mitch Lawrence, Joel Meyers, Mark Morgan, Jeff Rickard, Chris Spatola and Justin Termine.

• Some excellent NBA reading:

GQ’s Mark Anthony Green interviewed LeBron James

SI’s Lee Jenkins had two sensational profiles last week: Timberwolves forward Jimmy Butler and Cavs guard Isaiah Thomas

ESPN's Zach Lowe had 32 crazy predictions

SI’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney offered 72 reasons to watch the NBA in 2017-18

Sportsnet’s Dave Zrum on the 30 NBA figures who will define the 2017-18 season

ESPN’s Jackie McMullan on how the Rockets landed Chris Paul

SB Nation's Tom Ziller's 99 NBA predictions for the season.

Five Wild Overreactions to NBA Opening Night

Editor's note: The Crossover is known for its nuanced analysis and thoughtful columns about NBA basketball. This is not one of those columns.

What a wild opening night in the NBA. Kevin Durant folded in the clutch faster than he could apologize for roasting his ex-team on Twitter. Kyrie Irving looked like the Kyrie Irving to Jaylen Brown’s LeBron James. And Nick Young and Eric Gordon put themselves firmly in the driver’s seat of the MVP race. Let’s discuss some other iron-clad truths after the season’s first two games.

The Warriors need to unleash JaVale

The Warriors are in last place in the West, and they have only themselves to blame. Without the distraction of having Draymond Green on the court in the fourth quarter, Golden State should have cruised to a win over the Rockets. But Steve Kerr chose to get cute, and left Javale McGee on the bench even while his team was bleeding points. There was no reason for McGee to play the same number of minutes as Thicc Klay Thompson. Mike Brown would have had JaVale in the game at the very least for offense-defense switches down the stretch. Instead, Ryan Anderson was allowed to roam free to the tune of three offensive rebounds.

It was shocking that McGee didn’t play in the wake of injuries to Green and Andre Iguodala. The Warriors were exposed as a thin team on Tuesday. When Golden State is reduced to playing with only three Hall-of-Famers at a time, the Dubs absolutely crumble under the pressure.

Bottom line: When the game is hanging in the balance, you want a champion on the court. McGee should have been out there.

?

Houston needs to tighten up

With Clint Capela playing a ghastly 18 minutes Tuesday night, Mike D’Antoni basically employed a seven-and-a-half man rotation against the Warriors. That’s about two-and-a-half players too many. I’m sorry, but why are NBA players posting selfies of them working out in the gym all summer if they don't have the conditioning needed to play a full 48? Did Houston really need those Chris Paul minutes last night? What did Capela even do other than some cool dunks and iffy defense? These guys will never be more fresh than for the first game of the season.

Players can rest during the extra week the NBA has graciously given them to complete the 82-game schedule. There are more than enough commercial breaks for guys to stay fresh for an entire game. Heck, with those new jersey sponsors, the entire game is basically one big commercial break now.

D’Antoni is giving his team too much trust. If he’s going to play small-ball lineups that look like something your 12-year-old sibling would dream up in a game of NBA 2K18, then D’Antoni may as well turn fatigue off and play his best five the whole way.

Nick Young has it figured out

Has Paul George ever come off the bench and given his team 23 points on 6 of 7 shooting from three? What about Carmelo Anthony? While everyone was playing checkers this offseason, the Warriors were playing a game that is still light years away from being invented. Young is obviously the most important free-agent signing of the summer. While Irving is too busy playing buddy-buddy with his old teammates, Young looks ready to take Zaza Pachulia’s spot in the starting lineup, hitting open threes and exposing his tongue with the same joie de vivre as a Miami Dolphins offensive line coach. While Irving airballed a potential game-tying shot, Young watched his team lose from the bench, resting so he could drop another 20 in Golden State’s next game. Remember Young’s unselfishness when guys like Durant, George, Anthony and Irving chuck up end-of-game misses this year. They could stand to learn a thing or two from Swaggy P.

LeBron is losing a step

When we last saw LeBron James, he had just become the first player to average a triple double for an entire NBA Finals. But the NBA is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, and the James we saw Tuesday is clearly a cut below the player we saw in the 2017 Finals. James finished with 29-16-9 against the Celtics, which is clearly not a triple double. It’s those kind of statlines that cost James Harden an MVP award last season. Are the minutes finally catching up to James? He’s played over 50,000 of them now, and it’s only going to get harder and harder for him to will himself to that last assist he needs for a triple double every night.

With James, it’s difficult to know if this is the new reality or if it’s just hard for him to move at full speed when Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade are on the court at the same time. Kendrick Perkins won’t be there to save him if this is the year everything goes south.

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Irving won the Cavs-Celtics trade

Aside from some competition from Brown, Irving got a chance to shine with the Celtics on Tuesday. When else have you ever seen Irving with the ball in his hands on the right wing with an opportunity to shoot a three and decide the game? These are the kind of scenarios Irving has been dreaming about his whole life, and finally, in Game 1 of the regular season, Irving found himself as the man with a chance to take the big shot. That’s why you play in the NBA. You want to be the player who has a chance to have the ball in their hands down the stretch of an important game. Few games are more important than your first game against the team you went to three straight Finals with. It’s early in the season, sure, but Irving’s shift to the Celtics is already paying off in ways he could have never imagined.

Five Wild Overreactions to NBA Opening Night

Editor's note: The Crossover is known for its nuanced analysis and thoughtful columns about NBA basketball. This is not one of those columns.

What a wild opening night in the NBA. Kevin Durant folded in the clutch faster than he could apologize for roasting his ex-team on Twitter. Kyrie Irving looked like the Kyrie Irving to Jaylen Brown’s LeBron James. And Nick Young and Eric Gordon put themselves firmly in the driver’s seat of the MVP race. Let’s discuss some other iron-clad truths after the season’s first two games.

The Warriors need to unleash JaVale

The Warriors are in last place in the West, and they have only themselves to blame. Without the distraction of having Draymond Green on the court in the fourth quarter, Golden State should have cruised to a win over the Rockets. But Steve Kerr chose to get cute, and left Javale McGee on the bench even while his team was bleeding points. There was no reason for McGee to play the same number of minutes as Thicc Klay Thompson. Mike Brown would have had JaVale in the game at the very least for offense-defense switches down the stretch. Instead, Ryan Anderson was allowed to roam free to the tune of three offensive rebounds.

It was shocking that McGee didn’t play in the wake of injuries to Green and Andre Iguodala. The Warriors were exposed as a thin team on Tuesday. When Golden State is reduced to playing with only three Hall-of-Famers at a time, the Dubs absolutely crumble under the pressure.

Bottom line: When the game is hanging in the balance, you want a champion on the court. McGee should have been out there.

?

Houston needs to tighten up

With Clint Capela playing a ghastly 18 minutes Tuesday night, Mike D’Antoni basically employed a seven-and-a-half man rotation against the Warriors. That’s about two-and-a-half players too many. I’m sorry, but why are NBA players posting selfies of them working out in the gym all summer if they don't have the conditioning needed to play a full 48? Did Houston really need those Chris Paul minutes last night? What did Capela even do other than some cool dunks and iffy defense? These guys will never be more fresh than for the first game of the season.

Players can rest during the extra week the NBA has graciously given them to complete the 82-game schedule. There are more than enough commercial breaks for guys to stay fresh for an entire game. Heck, with those new jersey sponsors, the entire game is basically one big commercial break now.

D’Antoni is giving his team too much trust. If he’s going to play small-ball lineups that look like something your 12-year-old sibling would dream up in a game of NBA 2K18, then D’Antoni may as well turn fatigue off and play his best five the whole way.

Nick Young has it figured out

Has Paul George ever come off the bench and given his team 23 points on 6 of 7 shooting from three? What about Carmelo Anthony? While everyone was playing checkers this offseason, the Warriors were playing a game that is still light years away from being invented. Young is obviously the most important free-agent signing of the summer. While Irving is too busy playing buddy-buddy with his old teammates, Young looks ready to take Zaza Pachulia’s spot in the starting lineup, hitting open threes and exposing his tongue with the same joie de vivre as a Miami Dolphins offensive line coach. While Irving airballed a potential game-tying shot, Young watched his team lose from the bench, resting so he could drop another 20 in Golden State’s next game. Remember Young’s unselfishness when guys like Durant, George, Anthony and Irving chuck up end-of-game misses this year. They could stand to learn a thing or two from Swaggy P.

LeBron is losing a step

When we last saw LeBron James, he had just become the first player to average a triple double for an entire NBA Finals. But the NBA is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, and the James we saw Tuesday is clearly a cut below the player we saw in the 2017 Finals. James finished with 29-16-9 against the Celtics, which is clearly not a triple double. It’s those kind of statlines that cost James Harden an MVP award last season. Are the minutes finally catching up to James? He’s played over 50,000 of them now, and it’s only going to get harder and harder for him to will himself to that last assist he needs for a triple double every night.

With James, it’s difficult to know if this is the new reality or if it’s just hard for him to move at full speed when Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade are on the court at the same time. Kendrick Perkins won’t be there to save him if this is the year everything goes south.

?

Irving won the Cavs-Celtics trade

Aside from some competition from Brown, Irving got a chance to shine with the Celtics on Tuesday. When else have you ever seen Irving with the ball in his hands on the right wing with an opportunity to shoot a three and decide the game? These are the kind of scenarios Irving has been dreaming about his whole life, and finally, in Game 1 of the regular season, Irving found himself as the man with a chance to take the big shot. That’s why you play in the NBA. You want to be the player who has a chance to have the ball in their hands down the stretch of an important game. Few games are more important than your first game against the team you went to three straight Finals with. It’s early in the season, sure, but Irving’s shift to the Celtics is already paying off in ways he could have never imagined.

Gordon Hayward's Injury Casts Dark Cloud Over NBA Opening Night

Much of the excitement for the NBA built up over an incredible summer was zapped less than six minutes into the first game of the season, as Gordon Hayward dislocated his ankle and fractured his tibia in one of the more gruesome injuries in recent memory. It was a shocking—and sickening—turn of events, as the Celtics’ best laid plans were ruined before the season’s first commercial break.

Hayward’s injury was a stark reminder of the fragility of...all of this. The NBA has been lucky that most of its best players have avoided major injuries. Steph Curry has overcome his ankle issues. Kevin Durant survived a foot scare. LeBron James has been a tank. Hayward’s injury was perfectly random, the one out of a billion happenstance on a play Hayward has likely run countless times in his life.

The injury took away what was supposed to be a revenge-filled opening game. The energy in the building and on the court was mostly gone after the injury. The Cavs just barely held on for the win, needing big plays from James down the stretch to escape with a 102–99 victory.

The injury leaves the Celtics in an uncomfortable position. Do they forge ahead with the current roster, which could result in a lost season in a year the team was supposed to contend for a title? Do they make a big move, hoping to remain in contention and make sure Kyrie Irving wants to remain for the long haul? It’s unfortunate on a night Hayward suffered a traumatic injury that these questions have to be asked, but the NBA won’t allow the Celtics to sit idle.

If there was one silver lining from Tuesday, it was the way the Celtics competed down the stretch. Marcus Smart provided his usual spark. Jayson Tatum looked like he was ready for the moment. Jaylen Brown picked up Hayward’s scoring slack and contributed 25 points. Boston looked far from left for dead, and Irving almost provided a poetic end to regulation with a three over LeBron that fell short of the rim.

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Still, Hayward’s injury casts a pall not only on what was meant to be an explosive opening night, but also a regular season that was already facing concerns about competitiveness in the Eastern Conference. Boston proved for at least one night it can compete with Cleveland, but the C’s outlook for the season remains cloudy at best.

The Cavs, by the way, looked like far from a finished product in Game 1. Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose had moments both good and bad. Kyle Korver looked borderline unplayable. But James was his spectacular self, picking up right where he left off in the 2017 Finals, nearly posting a triple double in his first game in Year 15.

Unfortunately, if there’s one image most people will remember from the 2017–18’s first game, it will be Hayward lying in pain on the floor, his leg looking more like a video game glitch than something that can occur in nature. If you need something more palatable to remember, however, Irving and James shared a nice moment immediately after the end of the game. The two shared what at that point seemed like an improbable embrace, perhaps colored by what they had both witnessed earlier in the night.

The NBA will move on. Hayward will eventually return to the court. James and Irving will probably return to rival status the next time they share the floor. And sooner rather than later, the excitement for a highly anticipated season will return as well.

Gordon Hayward's Injury Casts Dark Cloud Over NBA Opening Night

Much of the excitement for the NBA built up over an incredible summer was zapped less than six minutes into the first game of the season, as Gordon Hayward dislocated his ankle and fractured his tibia in one of the more gruesome injuries in recent memory. It was a shocking—and sickening—turn of events, as the Celtics’ best laid plans were ruined before the season’s first commercial break.

Hayward’s injury was a stark reminder of the fragility of...all of this. The NBA has been lucky that most of its best players have avoided major injuries. Steph Curry has overcome his ankle issues. Kevin Durant survived a foot scare. LeBron James has been a tank. Hayward’s injury was perfectly random, the one out of a billion happenstance on a play Hayward has likely run countless times in his life.

The injury took away what was supposed to be a revenge-filled opening game. The energy in the building and on the court was mostly gone after the injury. The Cavs just barely held on for the win, needing big plays from James down the stretch to escape with a 102–99 victory.

The injury leaves the Celtics in an uncomfortable position. Do they forge ahead with the current roster, which could result in a lost season in a year the team was supposed to contend for a title? Do they make a big move, hoping to remain in contention and make sure Kyrie Irving wants to remain for the long haul? It’s unfortunate on a night Hayward suffered a traumatic injury that these questions have to be asked, but the NBA won’t allow the Celtics to sit idle.

If there was one silver lining from Tuesday, it was the way the Celtics competed down the stretch. Marcus Smart provided his usual spark. Jayson Tatum looked like he was ready for the moment. Jaylen Brown picked up Hayward’s scoring slack and contributed 25 points. Boston looked far from left for dead, and Irving almost provided a poetic end to regulation with a three over LeBron that fell short of the rim.

?

Still, Hayward’s injury casts a pall not only on what was meant to be an explosive opening night, but also a regular season that was already facing concerns about competitiveness in the Eastern Conference. Boston proved for at least one night it can compete with Cleveland, but the C’s outlook for the season remains cloudy at best.

The Cavs, by the way, looked like far from a finished product in Game 1. Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose had moments both good and bad. Kyle Korver looked borderline unplayable. But James was his spectacular self, picking up right where he left off in the 2017 Finals, nearly posting a triple double in his first game in Year 15.

Unfortunately, if there’s one image most people will remember from the 2017–18’s first game, it will be Hayward lying in pain on the floor, his leg looking more like a video game glitch than something that can occur in nature. If you need something more palatable to remember, however, Irving and James shared a nice moment immediately after the end of the game. The two shared what at that point seemed like an improbable embrace, perhaps colored by what they had both witnessed earlier in the night.

The NBA will move on. Hayward will eventually return to the court. James and Irving will probably return to rival status the next time they share the floor. And sooner rather than later, the excitement for a highly anticipated season will return as well.

Cleveland Cavaliers' Derrick Rose (1) drives past Boston Celtics' Kyrie Irving (11) in the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, in Cleveland. The Cavaliers won 102-99. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

NBA Opening Night: Seven Storylines to Watch

The wait is over! No more listening to NBA writers drone on about national parks on their podcasts. No more waiting for Charles Barkley to forsake teams who rely on three-pointers. And no more wondering if Mike D’Antoni is going to bring back the Pringles mustache. (Unfortunately, he's not.) The 2017–18 NBA season is finally here, and opening night is filled with exciting storylines sure to result in at least one passive-aggressive Instagram post.

We know the NBA season is starting a little earlier this year, and it’s hardly feeling like fall around much of the country. So if you’re not fully ready for the start of the season—or you just a little reminder of what’s going on—here’s what to watch for on opening night. (Reminder: Cavs-Celtics tips at 8 p.m. ET followed by Warriors-Rockets at 10:30 p.m.)

1. The Kyrie Reaction

What kind of reception will Kyrie Irving get in Cleveland? Irving hit the biggest shot in Cavaliers history with his series-clinching three-pointer in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals. He destroyed much of that goodwill this summer when he a) requested a trade and then b) decided to not-so-subtly trash both the Cavs and the city of Cleveland after being sent to Boston. Cleveland, of course, has a bit of a sordid history with homecomings, like when some fans threw batteries at LeBron James in his first game at Cleveland as a member of the Heat in 2010. Irving won’t draw the anywhere near the same level of vitriol, and you have to imagine the Cavs will at least give him the obligatory tribute video. (I like when they set these videos to a OneRepublic song but maybe that’s just me.) Watching how the fans as well as Irving’s former teammates react should provide the first juicy moment of the season, non-pregame-handshake division. I’m looking forward to everyone’s reactions being dissected like the Zapruder film on Twitter.

2. Cleveland’s Crunch-Time Lineup

Instead of trying to fix their defensive issues from last season, the Cavs are leaning in to their best offensive tendencies to begin the year. Kevin Love will start at center, and Jae Crowder at forward, which means Cleveland will shoot threes early and often. Sure, Love won’t exactly protect the rim on defense, but Cleveland is betting that most nights, an offense led by LeBron James will be able to score more points than your favorite team. The issue? Starting guards Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade don’t exactly fit the 3-and-D criteria, so they may derail the Cavs’ bombs-away attack. If Boston and Cleveland are playing each other close in the fourth quarter, who the Cavs put on the court could reveal how much faith Ty Lue actually has in some of his new additions.

3. Boston’s Chemistry

If anyone can overcome an overhaul of more than two-thirds of his roster, it’s boy genius Brad Stevens. The Celtics are going to look even more new than Cleveland this season. How will Irving get along with Gordon Hayward? Who gets the ball in clutch situations? How will Jayson and Jalen hold up against elite competition? While the Cavs are moreso mixing in role players to their current system, Stevens and the Celtics will be building a bit from scratch this season. Opening night will (hopefully) be the first real test of how the new parts respond to adversity.

4. Will the Warriors Care?

Golden State has a habit of putzing around for two quarters, letting Zaza Pachulia play too much, and then turning on the jets in the third before burying opponents with ease. Will they get up for opening night? The Dubs will be hosting the revamped Rockets, who won a game at Oracle last season. Will the addition of Chris Paul give Golden State any kind of trouble? The Warriors love disrespecting opponents, and a particularly savage way to do that would be to treat opening night like a January game against the Pacers—especially when they know Paul and James Harden will be giving 110%. In an ideal scenario, the Warriors will be locked in from the opening tip but the Rockets still manage to keep things close for 48 minutes. If Golden State runs a bunch of Pachulia and Shaun Livingston post-ups for two quarters and win by 20 any way, then Houston’s high-risk offseason could already start to feel like an unworthy gamble.

5. How Fresh are Harden and Paul?

Perhaps the most important part of the Harden-Paul pairing—besides bringing together two of the best seven players in the NBA—is what it could do for each of them at the end of games. Both Paul and Harden’s most recent playoff defeats were marked by ineffectiveness down the stretch, largely because each player was carrying a ridiculous burden for their team. Now, Harden and Paul can hand the keys of the offense off to each other instead of having to create every single second of every possession. Again, this will be dependent on a close game, but keep an eye on how Harden and Paul look in the last few minutes of the fourth. If both have extra energy, both could be in a position to improve their efficiency in the clutch.

6. Stephen Curry

Remember Curry, the NBA’s first unanimous MVP? Curry’s been overshadowed by Kevin Durant since the Finals, from KD winning Finals MVP, to Steve Kerr forgetting to thank Curry at the parade, to KD getting wall-to-wall coverage (rightfully so) for his Twitter antics. Though Durant is thought of as the NBA’s biggest challenger to LeBron, Curry is still the most important player on the Warriors. I can’t state this enough: Curry’s shooting ability is the single most devastating skill in the NBA, and it’s a skill so great that it’s changed the landscape of the NBA. Opening night could be the start of Curry’s third MVP campaign, and it’s time to start having serious discussions about Curry’s legacy and where he’ll ultimately fall in the league’s pantheon of greats.

7. Dunks

Seriously. Dunks are awesome! I hope we see lots of them tonight.

NBA Opening Night: Seven Storylines to Watch

The wait is over! No more listening to NBA writers drone on about national parks on their podcasts. No more waiting for Charles Barkley to forsake teams who rely on three-pointers. And no more wondering if Mike D’Antoni is going to bring back the Pringles mustache. (Unfortunately, he's not.) The 2017–18 NBA season is finally here, and opening night is filled with exciting storylines sure to result in at least one passive-aggressive Instagram post.

We know the NBA season is starting a little earlier this year, and it’s hardly feeling like fall around much of the country. So if you’re not fully ready for the start of the season—or you just a little reminder of what’s going on—here’s what to watch for on opening night. (Reminder: Cavs-Celtics tips at 8 p.m. ET followed by Warriors-Rockets at 10:30 p.m.)

1. The Kyrie Reaction

What kind of reception will Kyrie Irving get in Cleveland? Irving hit the biggest shot in Cavaliers history with his series-clinching three-pointer in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals. He destroyed much of that goodwill this summer when he a) requested a trade and then b) decided to not-so-subtly trash both the Cavs and the city of Cleveland after being sent to Boston. Cleveland, of course, has a bit of a sordid history with homecomings, like when some fans threw batteries at LeBron James in his first game at Cleveland as a member of the Heat in 2010. Irving won’t draw the anywhere near the same level of vitriol, and you have to imagine the Cavs will at least give him the obligatory tribute video. (I like when they set these videos to a OneRepublic song but maybe that’s just me.) Watching how the fans as well as Irving’s former teammates react should provide the first juicy moment of the season, non-pregame-handshake division. I’m looking forward to everyone’s reactions being dissected like the Zapruder film on Twitter.

2. Cleveland’s Crunch-Time Lineup

Instead of trying to fix their defensive issues from last season, the Cavs are leaning in to their best offensive tendencies to begin the year. Kevin Love will start at center, and Jae Crowder at forward, which means Cleveland will shoot threes early and often. Sure, Love won’t exactly protect the rim on defense, but Cleveland is betting that most nights, an offense led by LeBron James will be able to score more points than your favorite team. The issue? Starting guards Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade don’t exactly fit the 3-and-D criteria, so they may derail the Cavs’ bombs-away attack. If Boston and Cleveland are playing each other close in the fourth quarter, who the Cavs put on the court could reveal how much faith Ty Lue actually has in some of his new additions.

3. Boston’s Chemistry

If anyone can overcome an overhaul of more than two-thirds of his roster, it’s boy genius Brad Stevens. The Celtics are going to look even more new than Cleveland this season. How will Irving get along with Gordon Hayward? Who gets the ball in clutch situations? How will Jayson and Jalen hold up against elite competition? While the Cavs are moreso mixing in role players to their current system, Stevens and the Celtics will be building a bit from scratch this season. Opening night will (hopefully) be the first real test of how the new parts respond to adversity.

4. Will the Warriors Care?

Golden State has a habit of putzing around for two quarters, letting Zaza Pachulia play too much, and then turning on the jets in the third before burying opponents with ease. Will they get up for opening night? The Dubs will be hosting the revamped Rockets, who won a game at Oracle last season. Will the addition of Chris Paul give Golden State any kind of trouble? The Warriors love disrespecting opponents, and a particularly savage way to do that would be to treat opening night like a January game against the Pacers—especially when they know Paul and James Harden will be giving 110%. In an ideal scenario, the Warriors will be locked in from the opening tip but the Rockets still manage to keep things close for 48 minutes. If Golden State runs a bunch of Pachulia and Shaun Livingston post-ups for two quarters and win by 20 any way, then Houston’s high-risk offseason could already start to feel like an unworthy gamble.

5. How Fresh are Harden and Paul?

Perhaps the most important part of the Harden-Paul pairing—besides bringing together two of the best seven players in the NBA—is what it could do for each of them at the end of games. Both Paul and Harden’s most recent playoff defeats were marked by ineffectiveness down the stretch, largely because each player was carrying a ridiculous burden for their team. Now, Harden and Paul can hand the keys of the offense off to each other instead of having to create every single second of every possession. Again, this will be dependent on a close game, but keep an eye on how Harden and Paul look in the last few minutes of the fourth. If both have extra energy, both could be in a position to improve their efficiency in the clutch.

6. Stephen Curry

Remember Curry, the NBA’s first unanimous MVP? Curry’s been overshadowed by Kevin Durant since the Finals, from KD winning Finals MVP, to Steve Kerr forgetting to thank Curry at the parade, to KD getting wall-to-wall coverage (rightfully so) for his Twitter antics. Though Durant is thought of as the NBA’s biggest challenger to LeBron, Curry is still the most important player on the Warriors. I can’t state this enough: Curry’s shooting ability is the single most devastating skill in the NBA, and it’s a skill so great that it’s changed the landscape of the NBA. Opening night could be the start of Curry’s third MVP campaign, and it’s time to start having serious discussions about Curry’s legacy and where he’ll ultimately fall in the league’s pantheon of greats.

7. Dunks

Seriously. Dunks are awesome! I hope we see lots of them tonight.

72 Reasons to Watch the 2017-18 NBA Season

With the NBA tipping off its 72nd season on Tuesday, here are 72 reasons to watch in 2017–?18, in case a budding Warriors dynasty, a LeBron James contract year, and a compelling new pack of superstar-laden challengers wasn’t enough for you.

(As always, a hat tip to veteran NBA writer Steve Aschburner for the inspiration.)

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1. The NBA’s offensive boom shows no signs of abating. Last season, the average NBA team scored 105.6 PPG, the highest mark since 1991 and well, well above the 96.3 PPG that teams averaged just five years ago. The pace-and-space phenomenon has trickled out in all sorts of ways: three-point shooting records, 50-point games, triple-doubles galore, super small lineups, and more. While some voices lament the Warriors’ dominance, remember that their influence has made for a far more entertaining and electric product. — Ben Golliver

2. Kyrie Irving, out from LeBron James’s shadow and straight into the Boston fishbowl. It’s never quite clear if Mr. Very Much Woke knows exactly what he is doing or if he has no clue what he’s getting into. Either way, his split from Cleveland intensifies an already lively rivalry and sets up the new-look Celtics as perhaps the league’s most intriguing team. — BG

3. Kevin Durant’s run at the throne. There’s no use waiting around for LeBron’s decline, but with every passing year, Durant inches closer. The NBA could have a new top player by season’s end. — Rob Mahoney

4. The Warriors’ understanding that their place in society extends beyond the court. Even before the season started, Golden State had already expertly maneuvered through a tricky dilemma concerning its White House visit and come out loudly in favor of its basic core values of decency and mutual respect. There seems to be a clear organizational alignment—from ownership to Steve Kerr and on to the players—that the Warriors will participate in and help drive the conversation when politics and sports intersect. There’s no telling how many flare-ups and controversies will arise this season, but NBA commissioner Adam Silver is lucky that his league’s flagship franchise looks ready to rise to this moment. — BG

5. Gregg Popovich’s willingness to thoughtfully consider current events and to unleash biting commentary on the powers that be. As the NBA heads straight for a political minefield that has consumed the NFL, Pop’s blunt, fearless and fair-minded talk provides genuine support to a group of players that has already gone back and forth with the commander-in-chief. — BG

6. A superstar turn for Karl-Anthony Towns. There are still some i’s to be dotted and t’s to be crossed, but no young player in the league is better equipped to break through. — RM

7. The Lonzo Ball Effect. Sure, the hype currently exceeds the reality around the Lakers’ No. 2 pick, but Ball’s passing ability and pace command clearly set him apart from most one-and-done rookies. He’s bound to struggle with turnovers and his shooting will likely prove to be inconsistent, but Ball may well prove to have a bigger stylistic impact on his team than any teenager since... LeBron James. — BG

8. The undeniable flair of Miloš Teodosi?. In all seriousness: it would be a worthy investment of your time to watch every assist Teodosi? throws this year. Every. Single. One. — RM

9. Some long overdue diversity in the broadcast booth. Doris Burke, queen of the NBA, will become the league’s first full-time national TV analyst this season. Sarah Kustok (YES) and Kara Lawson (NBC Sports Washington) will join Stephanie Ready (Fox Sports Southeast) and Ann Myers Drysdale (Fox Sports Arizona) as regular color analysts on the team broadcast scene. Ros Gold-Onwude’s move to Turner Sports is just icing on the cake. — RM

10. Another round in an endless cycle of history-making for LeBron James. The four-time MVP will almost certainly become the youngest player to reach 30,000 points during his age-33 season, eclipsing Lakers legend Kobe Bryant (34 years, 104 days). He needs just 1,213 points to hit the threshold and has easily surpassed that total during each of his 14 seasons. James also has a good shot at becoming the 11th player (and first forward) to reach 8,000 career assists. — BG

11. New blood on Christmas. The league office decided to bet big on two up-and-comers for its annual holiday quintuple-header, adding Philadelphia and Minnesota to the mix this season. This year will potentially mark Christmas Day debuts for four No. 1 picks and a No. 3 pick: Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. — BG

12. The NBA’s reformed schedule, which starts a week earlier, totally eliminates the dreaded “four games in five nights” stretches. It ensures that marquee nationally-televised games don’t fall on back-to-backs. Last season, multiple high-profile showdowns were sabotaged by the strategic resting of star players. The new schedule framework should significantly reduce those major letdowns. — BG

13. Golden State and Cleveland look destined to become the first pair of teams to face each other in four straight Finals, but it’s difficult to overstate how different the Cavaliers will look this season. LeBron James is the only Cleveland starter from the 2017 Finals to open the season in a similar role; Kyrie Irving is gone, Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith have been demoted, and Kevin Love has shifted positions. Two other key reserves who played Finals minutes—Deron Williams and Richard Jefferson—are out too.

James’s overhauled cast features a long list of notable newcomers—Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose and Jeff Green—that will likely spend most of the season gelling. Bottom line: Don’t assume that the 2018 Finals would mirror the 2017 Finals just because it features the same two franchises. — BG

14. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, picking up their bromance right where they left off. Peanut butter and jelly might somehow be an undersell. — RM

15. The baby Raptors. With much of last year’s reserves gone, it’s time for Toronto’s deep store of up-and-comers to do their part. Hold on to your butts. — RM

16. An MVP field so deep and clustered that the “Teammates will split votes” truism no longer applies. With six possible candidates now crunched onto three of the West’s top teams, compelling friendly-fire debates are bound to emerge. Steph or KD? Harden or CP? Russ or PG-13? Voters better start stretching now in preparation for the mental gymnastics that will be required to weigh superteam stars against solo acts like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. — BG

17. A chance for Rudy Gay to rework a reputation that went from “Promising lottery talent” to “Advanced stats pariah” to “Perennial loser” in the blink of an eye, without stopping on anything resembling glory or postseason impact. San Antonio is the ideal place to fade gracefully, but Gay is still young enough at 31 to be more than a hanger-on. — BG

18. Stiffer penalties for the slide-under closeout. Unfortunately, one of the dirtiest basketball acts—moving under a defenseless shooter while he’s off the ground—was the turning point of the long-awaited Western Conference finals showdown between the Spurs and Warriors. The NBA responded swiftly and smartly to Kawhi Leonard’s ankle injury with rule changes that enable referees to assess flagrant or technical fouls for undercutting a shooter. — BG

19. The West’s ongoing arms race. Houston and Oklahoma City both made big deals this summer for the sake of challenging Golden State. Don’t expect either to sit quietly the rest of the way—not with active traders at the helm in both front offices and a fascinating buyout season ahead. — RM

20. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s dark horse candidacy for MVP. Go ahead and pencil in a spot on your ballot for the basketball anomaly no one knows how to stop and few know how to score on. — RM

21. ‘Fear the Deer’ nights in Milwaukee. Alternate jerseys are a nice touch, but there’s something special to the pageantry of pairing a fresh look with its own alternate court design. — RM

22. Russell Westbrook’s latest reinvention. After playing 1B to Kevin Durant for years and then playing 1A, 1B, 1C and 1D without Durant last season, the 2017 MVP gets perhaps his best setup to date. This year, he’ll be The Man and he’ll have real help in the form of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Will he thrive in the best of both worlds? Or, will his domineering style leave Thunder fans, and potentially his new star teammates, wanting? — BG

23. A fearsome, flexible Thunder defense … and Carmelo Anthony. The prospect of working around Paul George and Andre Roberson on the perimeter is daunting. Outfoxing Steven Adams in rotation is no small feat. OKC has the personnel to match up with almost any offense in the league, if only it can find somewhere to put Melo. — RM

24. The very real chance that a bunch of Summer League heroes—Kyle Kuzma, Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, and John Collins—will log meaningful minutes right out of the gate. Instant gratification. — BG

25. Frenetic rookie big man Jordan Bell emerging immediately as a garbage time All-Star in Golden State. Switch the channel during a blowout at your own risk. — BG

26. Dragan Bender, healthy again and free of expectations after a forgettable rookie year. Still a teenager, the 2016 lottery pick gets a second chance to make a first impression for a Suns organization that badly needs him to deliver on the pre-draft hype as soon as possible. — BG

27. The off chance that, during another late-season losing streak, Devin Booker puts his mind to chasing a new career high. — BG

28. George Hill’s new dual life in Sacramento: starting point guard by day and De’Aaron Fox’s driver’s ed instructor by night. The sooner the lightning-quick rookie is ready to take the keys the better for the Kings’ long-term outlook. In the meantime, the unselfish Hill is the right guy to hold down the fort and set up a successful transition. — BG

29. Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons aren’t the only rookie ballhandlers injecting new life into once-proud franchises. Meet Dennis Smith Jr., the high-flying and basket-attacking lottery pick who brings much-needed athleticism to the aging and fading Mavericks. Could he sneak into the Rookie of the Year conversation? — BG

30. Love a good comeback story? Then look no further than the Grizzlies, who have somehow collected Chandler Parsons (a $94 million man who barely saw the court last year due to injuries), Wayne Selden (a highly-touted high school prospect who went undrafted), Tyreke Evans (a former Rookie of the Year who has played just 65 games combined over the last two seasons), Ben McLemore (the latest Kings cast-off to get a badly-needed fresh start), and Mario Chalmers (a two-time champ in Miami who is back after missing last season entirely) on the same roster. How many careers can Mike Conley and Marc Gasol resurrect at once? — BG

31. A trigger-happier Mike Conley. The world is a better place when Money Mike comes around every ball screen ready to let loose. — RM

32. David Fizdale’s next bit of rousing press conference oratory. Ready the t-shirt presses. — RM

33. The playground-style All-Star draft. While the NBA should have gone further to improve the quality of its All-Star Game by allowing fans, players and media members to vote for the 24 best players regardless of conference, their compromise solution will still be fun. Rather than have the East face the West, top vote-getters like LeBron James and Stephen Curry will get to select their teammates from a pool of All-Stars. Will James and Curry pick their teammates? Their former teammates? Will they pick each other’s rivals to spite each other? Which top star will be unfairly snubbed? And who will be the last player selected? All of those questions should make for great theater, jumpstarting an event that has felt increasingly pointless and one-sided over the last five years. ?— BG ?

34. Thanks to a major westward movement of talent, the first-time All-Star and snub conversations are both extra spicy this year. In the East, Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Bradley Beal and Goran Dragic could all make their first appearances. In the West, potential first-timers Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic and C.J. McCollum could all have trouble sneaking in. — BG

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35. Every glorious (and anxious) minute of Joel Embiid. — RM

36. Ben Simmons and the nightly mismatches he creates. The 2016 No. 1 pick is a point guard in a power forward’s body playing for a Philadelphia team that might just be creative enough to use him as a small–ball center at times. What’s the best way for opponents to handle that walking, talking, no-look passing, dunking predicament? And what line-up benefits can the Sixers extract while building around such a unique commodity? — BG

37. Brett Brown, finally stepping out of the darkness. Philadelphia made a brilliant hire in Brown, whose cheer buoyed the franchise through years of losing. The man has earned a core as promising as this one. — RM

38. The warm reception for Zach Randolph’s first game back in Memphis. All heart. — RM

39. A new, inverted sort of two-man game between Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris. — RM

40. The ongoing tension between the Nuggets and their rising expectations. With the justified hope of a playoff berth—the first in five years—comes the pressure to measure up. — RM

41. One more chance for the Rudy Gobert/Derrick Favors frontcourt pairing. The best-case: Utah finally has its two franchise bigs healthy and their shared size, skill and commanding presence stands as a nightly nightmare for opponents in a San Antonio-like manner. The worst-case: The NBA’s downsizing trend has passed this duo by, and Favors is reduced to a smaller role or, given his expiring contract, turned into a midseason trade chip. It would be a shame if these two never truly sustained their high-level ceiling. — BG

42. The strange, ongoing subplot between the Mavericks and Nerlens Noel. Oh, how quickly a promising trade can sour. A presumed building block center will wind up coming off the bench for a lottery team while playing on an qualifying offer. — RM

43. An ever-improving and constantly overlooked Anthony Davis. The transcendent four-time All-Star is quite possibly the only thing standing between New Orleans and a total shake-up, not to mention a DeMarcus Cousins trade. — BG

44. Houston’s push for smaller and stranger lineup combinations. When the Warriors are the elephant in the room, why not try P.J. Tucker at center? — RM

45. Double the lobs for Clint Capela, who should make a killing as a DeAndre Jordan Starter Kit. — RM

46. Brooklyn should be marginally more interesting thanks to the arrival of D’Angelo Russell, but the biggest story about their success (or lack thereof) once again concerns their pick. Thanks to the Kyrie Irving blockbuster, Cleveland now owns the rights to Brooklyn’s first-round pick in June’s draft, which will almost certainly fall in the lottery. How will the Nets’ early play influence the Cavaliers’ willingness to trade the piece in a midseason deal? If Brooklyn starts fast and the pick’s value drops, does Cleveland pull the trigger? Or, if Brooklyn struggles out of the gate, does Cleveland find itself weighing juicier offers? No matter how it plays out, the also-ran Nets should once again wind up playing a major role, tangentially, in shaping the East’s power balance at the top. — BG

47. Omri Casspi, at long last, on a contender. A great team player joins the greatest team going. — RM

48. Ricky Rubio, feeling the love. How freeing it is to play for a team that isn’t trying to trade you at every opportunity. — RM

49. The Jazz, uptempo. The slowest team in the league last year played nearly 10 possessions faster in the preseason. What might that mean for a team built around its deliberate execution? — RM

50. Portland’s scoring brought to perfect balance. One might think the skill sets of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are too similar for high efficiency. The Blazer offense—with its churning fluidity and many misdirections—begs to differ. — RM

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51. The search for the right lineups in Boston, featuring every wacky possibility imaginable. The Celtics’ roster is stocked with tantilizing possibilities and led by a coach creative enough to try them all. — RM

52. The Caris LeVert experience. LeVert is too erratic to be destined for any one fate, but he’s the rare net for whom great things seem possible. — RM

53. Myles Turner, on an island. We’ve seen what the upstart 21-year-old forward can do while Paul George, Jeff Teague, and Monta Ellis control the ball. Now we see Turner left to his own devices. — RM

54. The Great Dwight Howard versus Cody Zeller debate. Yes, this one is for the basketball nerds, but there’s good reason to track how this unfolds. On one hand, there’s the aging former Defensive Player of the Year and All-Star with an established relationship with his new coach and questions about his mobility, free-throw shooting, offensive effectiveness and personality. On the other hand, there’s the relatively anonymous up-and-coming advanced stats darling who fits more naturally with Charlotte’s other pieces. How will coach Steve Clifford handle his two centers? And how will Howard handle himself if his role starts to shrink? — BG

55. The genuine surprise of watching John Wall. To see Wall rev up in the open court is to have no idea what comes next. — RM

56. Washington knocking on the door of the East’s upper tier … and yelling loud enough to let everyone in the neighborhood know. — RM

57. Contract Year Jusuf Nurkic. Everything is lined up for the Bosnian Beast in Portland: He’s in good shape, he has a starting role, he can count on major minutes, and he plays with trustworthy guards that make a point to keep him involved. Sounds like a great formula for a major payday. — BG

58. All the ways that James Harden and Chris Paul will make each other’s lives easier. Tension can be riveting, but at the heart of Houston’s superstar pairing is the creative spirit of two fantastic playmakers. Their instincts won’t be competing so much as compounding. — RM

59. The Magic's new starting lineup will finally move Aaron Gordon to the four. If Orlando is going to make noise at any point in the near future, the 22-year-old former lottery pick must play a central role. Saving him from life at the three, where he started last season, was an absolute must. — BG ?

60. Patrick Beverley, amped beyond reason for some random game in March. — RM

61. After two tumultuous seasons in Chicago, Fred Hoiberg finally has the kind of roster that can put his system into action. The “three alphas” are gone, and with them the red tape of accommodating three ill-fitting veterans. — RM

62. The never-bashful, always-aggravating Dennis Schroder has been entrusted to be The Man with a real, live NBA franchise. Fasten your seatbelts. — BG

63. Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker and Chicago’s Zach LaVine—a pair of 22-year-olds with burgeoning potential—are slated to return from devastating season-ending injuries. Both the Bucks and Bulls will welcome back their former lottery picks with open arms and as many minutes as their surgically-repaired knees can handle. — BG

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64. The Heat, working from a clean slate. Think of what they might accomplish without an 11–30 start hanging around their necks. — RM

65. Justise Winslow, back in the mix. One of the league’s most precocious young wings rejoins the Heat rotation just after the team learned to live (and win) without him. Whether there’s really a place for Winslow in Miami depends on the lengths the Heat are willing to go to work around his wobbly jumper. — RM

66. Nike’s sleek new jersey design, which dumps the gimmicks that held back prior Adidas models. The alternate looks still need some fine-tuning and reimagining, but the overall product is a big and noticeable improvement that helps compensate for the long-dreaded addition of sponsor logos. — BG

67. The moment that the depth of the Knicks’ futility truly sinks in for Kristaps Porzingis. New York executed the first steps of a teardown this summer, parting ways with Phil Jackson, Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose in a matter of months and leaving Porzingis as the last man standing. How will the budding star handle what is sure to be a dreadful dead-end of a season? Will the inevitable adversity bring the best out of his game and/or reveal a new ferocity? The stage is his. — BG

68. The Avery Bradley test case. For years, Bradley looked like a model of transferability, a quality 3-and-D whose comfort playing without the ball made him an ideal backcourt partner for virtually any high-usage lead scorer. An offseason trade from Boston to Detroit will test that hypothesis, as Bradley must now run alongside the polarizing Reggie Jackson. If the pairing works, the Pistons become infinitely more relevant. If not, Bradley becomes a fascinating target for contenders at the trade deadline or as a free agent next summer. — BG

69. The last year of completely shameless tanking. Back in September, the NBA’s Board of Governors voted to tweak the draft lottery odds so that the three worst teams would have the same chance to receive the top pick in the draft. In other words, the league was trying to cut down on teams resting players and playing marginal talents in hopes of accumulating losses in a race to the absolute bottom. The new system, however, doesn’t kick in until the 2019 NBA draft. In other words, Atlanta, Chicago, Indiana, Phoenix, Sacramento and others will all get one final shot at marginally improving their chances at landing a franchise player through aggressive tanking. Let the games begin. — BG

70. Cutthroat competition for the West’s bottom four playoff spots. In all likelihood, three of the Clippers, Jazz, Grizzlies, Blazers, Nuggets, Pelicans, and Timberwolves will miss the postseason cut, likely with serious implications. The Western Conference is not for the faint of heart. — RM

71. The building of a dynasty in real time. These Warriors are quite possibly the greatest team of all time. In all the madness of the season—the moves, the squabbles, the dramatic flourishes, and the lingering questions—don’t let the magnitude of that standing go unappreciated. — RM

72. Manu Ginobili decided not to retire! — BG

72 Reasons to Watch the 2017-18 NBA Season

With the NBA tipping off its 72nd season on Tuesday, here are 72 reasons to watch in 2017–?18, in case a budding Warriors dynasty, a LeBron James contract year, and a compelling new pack of superstar-laden challengers wasn’t enough for you.

(As always, a hat tip to veteran NBA writer Steve Aschburner for the inspiration.)

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1. The NBA’s offensive boom shows no signs of abating. Last season, the average NBA team scored 105.6 PPG, the highest mark since 1991 and well, well above the 96.3 PPG that teams averaged just five years ago. The pace-and-space phenomenon has trickled out in all sorts of ways: three-point shooting records, 50-point games, triple-doubles galore, super small lineups, and more. While some voices lament the Warriors’ dominance, remember that their influence has made for a far more entertaining and electric product. — Ben Golliver

2. Kyrie Irving, out from LeBron James’s shadow and straight into the Boston fishbowl. It’s never quite clear if Mr. Very Much Woke knows exactly what he is doing or if he has no clue what he’s getting into. Either way, his split from Cleveland intensifies an already lively rivalry and sets up the new-look Celtics as perhaps the league’s most intriguing team. — BG

3. Kevin Durant’s run at the throne. There’s no use waiting around for LeBron’s decline, but with every passing year, Durant inches closer. The NBA could have a new top player by season’s end. — Rob Mahoney

4. The Warriors’ understanding that their place in society extends beyond the court. Even before the season started, Golden State had already expertly maneuvered through a tricky dilemma concerning its White House visit and come out loudly in favor of its basic core values of decency and mutual respect. There seems to be a clear organizational alignment—from ownership to Steve Kerr and on to the players—that the Warriors will participate in and help drive the conversation when politics and sports intersect. There’s no telling how many flare-ups and controversies will arise this season, but NBA commissioner Adam Silver is lucky that his league’s flagship franchise looks ready to rise to this moment. — BG

5. Gregg Popovich’s willingness to thoughtfully consider current events and to unleash biting commentary on the powers that be. As the NBA heads straight for a political minefield that has consumed the NFL, Pop’s blunt, fearless and fair-minded talk provides genuine support to a group of players that has already gone back and forth with the commander-in-chief. — BG

6. A superstar turn for Karl-Anthony Towns. There are still some i’s to be dotted and t’s to be crossed, but no young player in the league is better equipped to break through. — RM

7. The Lonzo Ball Effect. Sure, the hype currently exceeds the reality around the Lakers’ No. 2 pick, but Ball’s passing ability and pace command clearly set him apart from most one-and-done rookies. He’s bound to struggle with turnovers and his shooting will likely prove to be inconsistent, but Ball may well prove to have a bigger stylistic impact on his team than any teenager since... LeBron James. — BG

8. The undeniable flair of Miloš Teodosi?. In all seriousness: it would be a worthy investment of your time to watch every assist Teodosi? throws this year. Every. Single. One. — RM

9. Some long overdue diversity in the broadcast booth. Doris Burke, queen of the NBA, will become the league’s first full-time national TV analyst this season. Sarah Kustok (YES) and Kara Lawson (NBC Sports Washington) will join Stephanie Ready (Fox Sports Southeast) and Ann Myers Drysdale (Fox Sports Arizona) as regular color analysts on the team broadcast scene. Ros Gold-Onwude’s move to Turner Sports is just icing on the cake. — RM

10. Another round in an endless cycle of history-making for LeBron James. The four-time MVP will almost certainly become the youngest player to reach 30,000 points during his age-33 season, eclipsing Lakers legend Kobe Bryant (34 years, 104 days). He needs just 1,213 points to hit the threshold and has easily surpassed that total during each of his 14 seasons. James also has a good shot at becoming the 11th player (and first forward) to reach 8,000 career assists. — BG

11. New blood on Christmas. The league office decided to bet big on two up-and-comers for its annual holiday quintuple-header, adding Philadelphia and Minnesota to the mix this season. This year will potentially mark Christmas Day debuts for four No. 1 picks and a No. 3 pick: Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. — BG

12. The NBA’s reformed schedule, which starts a week earlier, totally eliminates the dreaded “four games in five nights” stretches. It ensures that marquee nationally-televised games don’t fall on back-to-backs. Last season, multiple high-profile showdowns were sabotaged by the strategic resting of star players. The new schedule framework should significantly reduce those major letdowns. — BG

13. Golden State and Cleveland look destined to become the first pair of teams to face each other in four straight Finals, but it’s difficult to overstate how different the Cavaliers will look this season. LeBron James is the only Cleveland starter from the 2017 Finals to open the season in a similar role; Kyrie Irving is gone, Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith have been demoted, and Kevin Love has shifted positions. Two other key reserves who played Finals minutes—Deron Williams and Richard Jefferson—are out too.

James’s overhauled cast features a long list of notable newcomers—Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose and Jeff Green—that will likely spend most of the season gelling. Bottom line: Don’t assume that the 2018 Finals would mirror the 2017 Finals just because it features the same two franchises. — BG

14. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, picking up their bromance right where they left off. Peanut butter and jelly might somehow be an undersell. — RM

15. The baby Raptors. With much of last year’s reserves gone, it’s time for Toronto’s deep store of up-and-comers to do their part. Hold on to your butts. — RM

16. An MVP field so deep and clustered that the “Teammates will split votes” truism no longer applies. With six possible candidates now crunched onto three of the West’s top teams, compelling friendly-fire debates are bound to emerge. Steph or KD? Harden or CP? Russ or PG-13? Voters better start stretching now in preparation for the mental gymnastics that will be required to weigh superteam stars against solo acts like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. — BG

17. A chance for Rudy Gay to rework a reputation that went from “Promising lottery talent” to “Advanced stats pariah” to “Perennial loser” in the blink of an eye, without stopping on anything resembling glory or postseason impact. San Antonio is the ideal place to fade gracefully, but Gay is still young enough at 31 to be more than a hanger-on. — BG

18. Stiffer penalties for the slide-under closeout. Unfortunately, one of the dirtiest basketball acts—moving under a defenseless shooter while he’s off the ground—was the turning point of the long-awaited Western Conference finals showdown between the Spurs and Warriors. The NBA responded swiftly and smartly to Kawhi Leonard’s ankle injury with rule changes that enable referees to assess flagrant or technical fouls for undercutting a shooter. — BG

19. The West’s ongoing arms race. Houston and Oklahoma City both made big deals this summer for the sake of challenging Golden State. Don’t expect either to sit quietly the rest of the way—not with active traders at the helm in both front offices and a fascinating buyout season ahead. — RM

20. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s dark horse candidacy for MVP. Go ahead and pencil in a spot on your ballot for the basketball anomaly no one knows how to stop and few know how to score on. — RM

21. ‘Fear the Deer’ nights in Milwaukee. Alternate jerseys are a nice touch, but there’s something special to the pageantry of pairing a fresh look with its own alternate court design. — RM

22. Russell Westbrook’s latest reinvention. After playing 1B to Kevin Durant for years and then playing 1A, 1B, 1C and 1D without Durant last season, the 2017 MVP gets perhaps his best setup to date. This year, he’ll be The Man and he’ll have real help in the form of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Will he thrive in the best of both worlds? Or, will his domineering style leave Thunder fans, and potentially his new star teammates, wanting? — BG

23. A fearsome, flexible Thunder defense … and Carmelo Anthony. The prospect of working around Paul George and Andre Roberson on the perimeter is daunting. Outfoxing Steven Adams in rotation is no small feat. OKC has the personnel to match up with almost any offense in the league, if only it can find somewhere to put Melo. — RM

24. The very real chance that a bunch of Summer League heroes—Kyle Kuzma, Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, and John Collins—will log meaningful minutes right out of the gate. Instant gratification. — BG

25. Frenetic rookie big man Jordan Bell emerging immediately as a garbage time All-Star in Golden State. Switch the channel during a blowout at your own risk. — BG

26. Dragan Bender, healthy again and free of expectations after a forgettable rookie year. Still a teenager, the 2016 lottery pick gets a second chance to make a first impression for a Suns organization that badly needs him to deliver on the pre-draft hype as soon as possible. — BG

27. The off chance that, during another late-season losing streak, Devin Booker puts his mind to chasing a new career high. — BG

28. George Hill’s new dual life in Sacramento: starting point guard by day and De’Aaron Fox’s driver’s ed instructor by night. The sooner the lightning-quick rookie is ready to take the keys the better for the Kings’ long-term outlook. In the meantime, the unselfish Hill is the right guy to hold down the fort and set up a successful transition. — BG

29. Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons aren’t the only rookie ballhandlers injecting new life into once-proud franchises. Meet Dennis Smith Jr., the high-flying and basket-attacking lottery pick who brings much-needed athleticism to the aging and fading Mavericks. Could he sneak into the Rookie of the Year conversation? — BG

30. Love a good comeback story? Then look no further than the Grizzlies, who have somehow collected Chandler Parsons (a $94 million man who barely saw the court last year due to injuries), Wayne Selden (a highly-touted high school prospect who went undrafted), Tyreke Evans (a former Rookie of the Year who has played just 65 games combined over the last two seasons), Ben McLemore (the latest Kings cast-off to get a badly-needed fresh start), and Mario Chalmers (a two-time champ in Miami who is back after missing last season entirely) on the same roster. How many careers can Mike Conley and Marc Gasol resurrect at once? — BG

31. A trigger-happier Mike Conley. The world is a better place when Money Mike comes around every ball screen ready to let loose. — RM

32. David Fizdale’s next bit of rousing press conference oratory. Ready the t-shirt presses. — RM

33. The playground-style All-Star draft. While the NBA should have gone further to improve the quality of its All-Star Game by allowing fans, players and media members to vote for the 24 best players regardless of conference, their compromise solution will still be fun. Rather than have the East face the West, top vote-getters like LeBron James and Stephen Curry will get to select their teammates from a pool of All-Stars. Will James and Curry pick their teammates? Their former teammates? Will they pick each other’s rivals to spite each other? Which top star will be unfairly snubbed? And who will be the last player selected? All of those questions should make for great theater, jumpstarting an event that has felt increasingly pointless and one-sided over the last five years. ?— BG ?

34. Thanks to a major westward movement of talent, the first-time All-Star and snub conversations are both extra spicy this year. In the East, Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Bradley Beal and Goran Dragic could all make their first appearances. In the West, potential first-timers Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic and C.J. McCollum could all have trouble sneaking in. — BG

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35. Every glorious (and anxious) minute of Joel Embiid. — RM

36. Ben Simmons and the nightly mismatches he creates. The 2016 No. 1 pick is a point guard in a power forward’s body playing for a Philadelphia team that might just be creative enough to use him as a small–ball center at times. What’s the best way for opponents to handle that walking, talking, no-look passing, dunking predicament? And what line-up benefits can the Sixers extract while building around such a unique commodity? — BG

37. Brett Brown, finally stepping out of the darkness. Philadelphia made a brilliant hire in Brown, whose cheer buoyed the franchise through years of losing. The man has earned a core as promising as this one. — RM

38. The warm reception for Zach Randolph’s first game back in Memphis. All heart. — RM

39. A new, inverted sort of two-man game between Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris. — RM

40. The ongoing tension between the Nuggets and their rising expectations. With the justified hope of a playoff berth—the first in five years—comes the pressure to measure up. — RM

41. One more chance for the Rudy Gobert/Derrick Favors frontcourt pairing. The best-case: Utah finally has its two franchise bigs healthy and their shared size, skill and commanding presence stands as a nightly nightmare for opponents in a San Antonio-like manner. The worst-case: The NBA’s downsizing trend has passed this duo by, and Favors is reduced to a smaller role or, given his expiring contract, turned into a midseason trade chip. It would be a shame if these two never truly sustained their high-level ceiling. — BG

42. The strange, ongoing subplot between the Mavericks and Nerlens Noel. Oh, how quickly a promising trade can sour. A presumed building block center will wind up coming off the bench for a lottery team while playing on an qualifying offer. — RM

43. An ever-improving and constantly overlooked Anthony Davis. The transcendent four-time All-Star is quite possibly the only thing standing between New Orleans and a total shake-up, not to mention a DeMarcus Cousins trade. — BG

44. Houston’s push for smaller and stranger lineup combinations. When the Warriors are the elephant in the room, why not try P.J. Tucker at center? — RM

45. Double the lobs for Clint Capela, who should make a killing as a DeAndre Jordan Starter Kit. — RM

46. Brooklyn should be marginally more interesting thanks to the arrival of D’Angelo Russell, but the biggest story about their success (or lack thereof) once again concerns their pick. Thanks to the Kyrie Irving blockbuster, Cleveland now owns the rights to Brooklyn’s first-round pick in June’s draft, which will almost certainly fall in the lottery. How will the Nets’ early play influence the Cavaliers’ willingness to trade the piece in a midseason deal? If Brooklyn starts fast and the pick’s value drops, does Cleveland pull the trigger? Or, if Brooklyn struggles out of the gate, does Cleveland find itself weighing juicier offers? No matter how it plays out, the also-ran Nets should once again wind up playing a major role, tangentially, in shaping the East’s power balance at the top. — BG

47. Omri Casspi, at long last, on a contender. A great team player joins the greatest team going. — RM

48. Ricky Rubio, feeling the love. How freeing it is to play for a team that isn’t trying to trade you at every opportunity. — RM

49. The Jazz, uptempo. The slowest team in the league last year played nearly 10 possessions faster in the preseason. What might that mean for a team built around its deliberate execution? — RM

50. Portland’s scoring brought to perfect balance. One might think the skill sets of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are too similar for high efficiency. The Blazer offense—with its churning fluidity and many misdirections—begs to differ. — RM

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51. The search for the right lineups in Boston, featuring every wacky possibility imaginable. The Celtics’ roster is stocked with tantilizing possibilities and led by a coach creative enough to try them all. — RM

52. The Caris LeVert experience. LeVert is too erratic to be destined for any one fate, but he’s the rare net for whom great things seem possible. — RM

53. Myles Turner, on an island. We’ve seen what the upstart 21-year-old forward can do while Paul George, Jeff Teague, and Monta Ellis control the ball. Now we see Turner left to his own devices. — RM

54. The Great Dwight Howard versus Cody Zeller debate. Yes, this one is for the basketball nerds, but there’s good reason to track how this unfolds. On one hand, there’s the aging former Defensive Player of the Year and All-Star with an established relationship with his new coach and questions about his mobility, free-throw shooting, offensive effectiveness and personality. On the other hand, there’s the relatively anonymous up-and-coming advanced stats darling who fits more naturally with Charlotte’s other pieces. How will coach Steve Clifford handle his two centers? And how will Howard handle himself if his role starts to shrink? — BG

55. The genuine surprise of watching John Wall. To see Wall rev up in the open court is to have no idea what comes next. — RM

56. Washington knocking on the door of the East’s upper tier … and yelling loud enough to let everyone in the neighborhood know. — RM

57. Contract Year Jusuf Nurkic. Everything is lined up for the Bosnian Beast in Portland: He’s in good shape, he has a starting role, he can count on major minutes, and he plays with trustworthy guards that make a point to keep him involved. Sounds like a great formula for a major payday. — BG

58. All the ways that James Harden and Chris Paul will make each other’s lives easier. Tension can be riveting, but at the heart of Houston’s superstar pairing is the creative spirit of two fantastic playmakers. Their instincts won’t be competing so much as compounding. — RM

59. The Magic's new starting lineup will finally move Aaron Gordon to the four. If Orlando is going to make noise at any point in the near future, the 22-year-old former lottery pick must play a central role. Saving him from life at the three, where he started last season, was an absolute must. — BG ?

60. Patrick Beverley, amped beyond reason for some random game in March. — RM

61. After two tumultuous seasons in Chicago, Fred Hoiberg finally has the kind of roster that can put his system into action. The “three alphas” are gone, and with them the red tape of accommodating three ill-fitting veterans. — RM

62. The never-bashful, always-aggravating Dennis Schroder has been entrusted to be The Man with a real, live NBA franchise. Fasten your seatbelts. — BG

63. Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker and Chicago’s Zach LaVine—a pair of 22-year-olds with burgeoning potential—are slated to return from devastating season-ending injuries. Both the Bucks and Bulls will welcome back their former lottery picks with open arms and as many minutes as their surgically-repaired knees can handle. — BG

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64. The Heat, working from a clean slate. Think of what they might accomplish without an 11–30 start hanging around their necks. — RM

65. Justise Winslow, back in the mix. One of the league’s most precocious young wings rejoins the Heat rotation just after the team learned to live (and win) without him. Whether there’s really a place for Winslow in Miami depends on the lengths the Heat are willing to go to work around his wobbly jumper. — RM

66. Nike’s sleek new jersey design, which dumps the gimmicks that held back prior Adidas models. The alternate looks still need some fine-tuning and reimagining, but the overall product is a big and noticeable improvement that helps compensate for the long-dreaded addition of sponsor logos. — BG

67. The moment that the depth of the Knicks’ futility truly sinks in for Kristaps Porzingis. New York executed the first steps of a teardown this summer, parting ways with Phil Jackson, Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose in a matter of months and leaving Porzingis as the last man standing. How will the budding star handle what is sure to be a dreadful dead-end of a season? Will the inevitable adversity bring the best out of his game and/or reveal a new ferocity? The stage is his. — BG

68. The Avery Bradley test case. For years, Bradley looked like a model of transferability, a quality 3-and-D whose comfort playing without the ball made him an ideal backcourt partner for virtually any high-usage lead scorer. An offseason trade from Boston to Detroit will test that hypothesis, as Bradley must now run alongside the polarizing Reggie Jackson. If the pairing works, the Pistons become infinitely more relevant. If not, Bradley becomes a fascinating target for contenders at the trade deadline or as a free agent next summer. — BG

69. The last year of completely shameless tanking. Back in September, the NBA’s Board of Governors voted to tweak the draft lottery odds so that the three worst teams would have the same chance to receive the top pick in the draft. In other words, the league was trying to cut down on teams resting players and playing marginal talents in hopes of accumulating losses in a race to the absolute bottom. The new system, however, doesn’t kick in until the 2019 NBA draft. In other words, Atlanta, Chicago, Indiana, Phoenix, Sacramento and others will all get one final shot at marginally improving their chances at landing a franchise player through aggressive tanking. Let the games begin. — BG

70. Cutthroat competition for the West’s bottom four playoff spots. In all likelihood, three of the Clippers, Jazz, Grizzlies, Blazers, Nuggets, Pelicans, and Timberwolves will miss the postseason cut, likely with serious implications. The Western Conference is not for the faint of heart. — RM

71. The building of a dynasty in real time. These Warriors are quite possibly the greatest team of all time. In all the madness of the season—the moves, the squabbles, the dramatic flourishes, and the lingering questions—don’t let the magnitude of that standing go unappreciated. — RM

72. Manu Ginobili decided not to retire! — BG

72 Reasons to Watch the 2017-18 NBA Season

With the NBA tipping off its 72nd season on Tuesday, here are 72 reasons to watch in 2017–?18, in case a budding Warriors dynasty, a LeBron James contract year, and a compelling new pack of superstar-laden challengers wasn’t enough for you.

(As always, a hat tip to veteran NBA writer Steve Aschburner for the inspiration.)

?

1. The NBA’s offensive boom shows no signs of abating. Last season, the average NBA team scored 105.6 PPG, the highest mark since 1991 and well, well above the 96.3 PPG that teams averaged just five years ago. The pace-and-space phenomenon has trickled out in all sorts of ways: three-point shooting records, 50-point games, triple-doubles galore, super small lineups, and more. While some voices lament the Warriors’ dominance, remember that their influence has made for a far more entertaining and electric product. — Ben Golliver

2. Kyrie Irving, out from LeBron James’s shadow and straight into the Boston fishbowl. It’s never quite clear if Mr. Very Much Woke knows exactly what he is doing or if he has no clue what he’s getting into. Either way, his split from Cleveland intensifies an already lively rivalry and sets up the new-look Celtics as perhaps the league’s most intriguing team. — BG

3. Kevin Durant’s run at the throne. There’s no use waiting around for LeBron’s decline, but with every passing year, Durant inches closer. The NBA could have a new top player by season’s end. — Rob Mahoney

4. The Warriors’ understanding that their place in society extends beyond the court. Even before the season started, Golden State had already expertly maneuvered through a tricky dilemma concerning its White House visit and come out loudly in favor of its basic core values of decency and mutual respect. There seems to be a clear organizational alignment—from ownership to Steve Kerr and on to the players—that the Warriors will participate in and help drive the conversation when politics and sports intersect. There’s no telling how many flare-ups and controversies will arise this season, but NBA commissioner Adam Silver is lucky that his league’s flagship franchise looks ready to rise to this moment. — BG

5. Gregg Popovich’s willingness to thoughtfully consider current events and to unleash biting commentary on the powers that be. As the NBA heads straight for a political minefield that has consumed the NFL, Pop’s blunt, fearless and fair-minded talk provides genuine support to a group of players that has already gone back and forth with the commander-in-chief. — BG

6. A superstar turn for Karl-Anthony Towns. There are still some i’s to be dotted and t’s to be crossed, but no young player in the league is better equipped to break through. — RM

7. The Lonzo Ball Effect. Sure, the hype currently exceeds the reality around the Lakers’ No. 2 pick, but Ball’s passing ability and pace command clearly set him apart from most one-and-done rookies. He’s bound to struggle with turnovers and his shooting will likely prove to be inconsistent, but Ball may well prove to have a bigger stylistic impact on his team than any teenager since... LeBron James. — BG

8. The undeniable flair of Miloš Teodosi?. In all seriousness: it would be a worthy investment of your time to watch every assist Teodosi? throws this year. Every. Single. One. — RM

9. Some long overdue diversity in the broadcast booth. Doris Burke, queen of the NBA, will become the league’s first full-time national TV analyst this season. Sarah Kustok (YES) and Kara Lawson (NBC Sports Washington) will join Stephanie Ready (Fox Sports Southeast) and Ann Myers Drysdale (Fox Sports Arizona) as regular color analysts on the team broadcast scene. Ros Gold-Onwude’s move to Turner Sports is just icing on the cake. — RM

10. Another round in an endless cycle of history-making for LeBron James. The four-time MVP will almost certainly become the youngest player to reach 30,000 points during his age-33 season, eclipsing Lakers legend Kobe Bryant (34 years, 104 days). He needs just 1,213 points to hit the threshold and has easily surpassed that total during each of his 14 seasons. James also has a good shot at becoming the 11th player (and first forward) to reach 8,000 career assists. — BG

11. New blood on Christmas. The league office decided to bet big on two up-and-comers for its annual holiday quintuple-header, adding Philadelphia and Minnesota to the mix this season. This year will potentially mark Christmas Day debuts for four No. 1 picks and a No. 3 pick: Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. — BG

12. The NBA’s reformed schedule, which starts a week earlier, totally eliminates the dreaded “four games in five nights” stretches. It ensures that marquee nationally-televised games don’t fall on back-to-backs. Last season, multiple high-profile showdowns were sabotaged by the strategic resting of star players. The new schedule framework should significantly reduce those major letdowns. — BG

13. Golden State and Cleveland look destined to become the first pair of teams to face each other in four straight Finals, but it’s difficult to overstate how different the Cavaliers will look this season. LeBron James is the only Cleveland starter from the 2017 Finals to open the season in a similar role; Kyrie Irving is gone, Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith have been demoted, and Kevin Love has shifted positions. Two other key reserves who played Finals minutes—Deron Williams and Richard Jefferson—are out too.

James’s overhauled cast features a long list of notable newcomers—Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose and Jeff Green—that will likely spend most of the season gelling. Bottom line: Don’t assume that the 2018 Finals would mirror the 2017 Finals just because it features the same two franchises. — BG

14. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, picking up their bromance right where they left off. Peanut butter and jelly might somehow be an undersell. — RM

15. The baby Raptors. With much of last year’s reserves gone, it’s time for Toronto’s deep store of up-and-comers to do their part. Hold on to your butts. — RM

16. An MVP field so deep and clustered that the “Teammates will split votes” truism no longer applies. With six possible candidates now crunched onto three of the West’s top teams, compelling friendly-fire debates are bound to emerge. Steph or KD? Harden or CP? Russ or PG-13? Voters better start stretching now in preparation for the mental gymnastics that will be required to weigh superteam stars against solo acts like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. — BG

17. A chance for Rudy Gay to rework a reputation that went from “Promising lottery talent” to “Advanced stats pariah” to “Perennial loser” in the blink of an eye, without stopping on anything resembling glory or postseason impact. San Antonio is the ideal place to fade gracefully, but Gay is still young enough at 31 to be more than a hanger-on. — BG

18. Stiffer penalties for the slide-under closeout. Unfortunately, one of the dirtiest basketball acts—moving under a defenseless shooter while he’s off the ground—was the turning point of the long-awaited Western Conference finals showdown between the Spurs and Warriors. The NBA responded swiftly and smartly to Kawhi Leonard’s ankle injury with rule changes that enable referees to assess flagrant or technical fouls for undercutting a shooter. — BG

19. The West’s ongoing arms race. Houston and Oklahoma City both made big deals this summer for the sake of challenging Golden State. Don’t expect either to sit quietly the rest of the way—not with active traders at the helm in both front offices and a fascinating buyout season ahead. — RM

20. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s dark horse candidacy for MVP. Go ahead and pencil in a spot on your ballot for the basketball anomaly no one knows how to stop and few know how to score on. — RM

21. ‘Fear the Deer’ nights in Milwaukee. Alternate jerseys are a nice touch, but there’s something special to the pageantry of pairing a fresh look with its own alternate court design. — RM

22. Russell Westbrook’s latest reinvention. After playing 1B to Kevin Durant for years and then playing 1A, 1B, 1C and 1D without Durant last season, the 2017 MVP gets perhaps his best setup to date. This year, he’ll be The Man and he’ll have real help in the form of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Will he thrive in the best of both worlds? Or, will his domineering style leave Thunder fans, and potentially his new star teammates, wanting? — BG

23. A fearsome, flexible Thunder defense … and Carmelo Anthony. The prospect of working around Paul George and Andre Roberson on the perimeter is daunting. Outfoxing Steven Adams in rotation is no small feat. OKC has the personnel to match up with almost any offense in the league, if only it can find somewhere to put Melo. — RM

24. The very real chance that a bunch of Summer League heroes—Kyle Kuzma, Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, and John Collins—will log meaningful minutes right out of the gate. Instant gratification. — BG

25. Frenetic rookie big man Jordan Bell emerging immediately as a garbage time All-Star in Golden State. Switch the channel during a blowout at your own risk. — BG

26. Dragan Bender, healthy again and free of expectations after a forgettable rookie year. Still a teenager, the 2016 lottery pick gets a second chance to make a first impression for a Suns organization that badly needs him to deliver on the pre-draft hype as soon as possible. — BG

27. The off chance that, during another late-season losing streak, Devin Booker puts his mind to chasing a new career high. — BG

28. George Hill’s new dual life in Sacramento: starting point guard by day and De’Aaron Fox’s driver’s ed instructor by night. The sooner the lightning-quick rookie is ready to take the keys the better for the Kings’ long-term outlook. In the meantime, the unselfish Hill is the right guy to hold down the fort and set up a successful transition. — BG

29. Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons aren’t the only rookie ballhandlers injecting new life into once-proud franchises. Meet Dennis Smith Jr., the high-flying and basket-attacking lottery pick who brings much-needed athleticism to the aging and fading Mavericks. Could he sneak into the Rookie of the Year conversation? — BG

30. Love a good comeback story? Then look no further than the Grizzlies, who have somehow collected Chandler Parsons (a $94 million man who barely saw the court last year due to injuries), Wayne Selden (a highly-touted high school prospect who went undrafted), Tyreke Evans (a former Rookie of the Year who has played just 65 games combined over the last two seasons), Ben McLemore (the latest Kings cast-off to get a badly-needed fresh start), and Mario Chalmers (a two-time champ in Miami who is back after missing last season entirely) on the same roster. How many careers can Mike Conley and Marc Gasol resurrect at once? — BG

31. A trigger-happier Mike Conley. The world is a better place when Money Mike comes around every ball screen ready to let loose. — RM

32. David Fizdale’s next bit of rousing press conference oratory. Ready the t-shirt presses. — RM

33. The playground-style All-Star draft. While the NBA should have gone further to improve the quality of its All-Star Game by allowing fans, players and media members to vote for the 24 best players regardless of conference, their compromise solution will still be fun. Rather than have the East face the West, top vote-getters like LeBron James and Stephen Curry will get to select their teammates from a pool of All-Stars. Will James and Curry pick their teammates? Their former teammates? Will they pick each other’s rivals to spite each other? Which top star will be unfairly snubbed? And who will be the last player selected? All of those questions should make for great theater, jumpstarting an event that has felt increasingly pointless and one-sided over the last five years. ?— BG ?

34. Thanks to a major westward movement of talent, the first-time All-Star and snub conversations are both extra spicy this year. In the East, Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Bradley Beal and Goran Dragic could all make their first appearances. In the West, potential first-timers Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic and C.J. McCollum could all have trouble sneaking in. — BG

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35. Every glorious (and anxious) minute of Joel Embiid. — RM

36. Ben Simmons and the nightly mismatches he creates. The 2016 No. 1 pick is a point guard in a power forward’s body playing for a Philadelphia team that might just be creative enough to use him as a small–ball center at times. What’s the best way for opponents to handle that walking, talking, no-look passing, dunking predicament? And what line-up benefits can the Sixers extract while building around such a unique commodity? — BG

37. Brett Brown, finally stepping out of the darkness. Philadelphia made a brilliant hire in Brown, whose cheer buoyed the franchise through years of losing. The man has earned a core as promising as this one. — RM

38. The warm reception for Zach Randolph’s first game back in Memphis. All heart. — RM

39. A new, inverted sort of two-man game between Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris. — RM

40. The ongoing tension between the Nuggets and their rising expectations. With the justified hope of a playoff berth—the first in five years—comes the pressure to measure up. — RM

41. One more chance for the Rudy Gobert/Derrick Favors frontcourt pairing. The best-case: Utah finally has its two franchise bigs healthy and their shared size, skill and commanding presence stands as a nightly nightmare for opponents in a San Antonio-like manner. The worst-case: The NBA’s downsizing trend has passed this duo by, and Favors is reduced to a smaller role or, given his expiring contract, turned into a midseason trade chip. It would be a shame if these two never truly sustained their high-level ceiling. — BG

42. The strange, ongoing subplot between the Mavericks and Nerlens Noel. Oh, how quickly a promising trade can sour. A presumed building block center will wind up coming off the bench for a lottery team while playing on an qualifying offer. — RM

43. An ever-improving and constantly overlooked Anthony Davis. The transcendent four-time All-Star is quite possibly the only thing standing between New Orleans and a total shake-up, not to mention a DeMarcus Cousins trade. — BG

44. Houston’s push for smaller and stranger lineup combinations. When the Warriors are the elephant in the room, why not try P.J. Tucker at center? — RM

45. Double the lobs for Clint Capela, who should make a killing as a DeAndre Jordan Starter Kit. — RM

46. Brooklyn should be marginally more interesting thanks to the arrival of D’Angelo Russell, but the biggest story about their success (or lack thereof) once again concerns their pick. Thanks to the Kyrie Irving blockbuster, Cleveland now owns the rights to Brooklyn’s first-round pick in June’s draft, which will almost certainly fall in the lottery. How will the Nets’ early play influence the Cavaliers’ willingness to trade the piece in a midseason deal? If Brooklyn starts fast and the pick’s value drops, does Cleveland pull the trigger? Or, if Brooklyn struggles out of the gate, does Cleveland find itself weighing juicier offers? No matter how it plays out, the also-ran Nets should once again wind up playing a major role, tangentially, in shaping the East’s power balance at the top. — BG

47. Omri Casspi, at long last, on a contender. A great team player joins the greatest team going. — RM

48. Ricky Rubio, feeling the love. How freeing it is to play for a team that isn’t trying to trade you at every opportunity. — RM

49. The Jazz, uptempo. The slowest team in the league last year played nearly 10 possessions faster in the preseason. What might that mean for a team built around its deliberate execution? — RM

50. Portland’s scoring brought to perfect balance. One might think the skill sets of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are too similar for high efficiency. The Blazer offense—with its churning fluidity and many misdirections—begs to differ. — RM

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51. The search for the right lineups in Boston, featuring every wacky possibility imaginable. The Celtics’ roster is stocked with tantilizing possibilities and led by a coach creative enough to try them all. — RM

52. The Caris LeVert experience. LeVert is too erratic to be destined for any one fate, but he’s the rare net for whom great things seem possible. — RM

53. Myles Turner, on an island. We’ve seen what the upstart 21-year-old forward can do while Paul George, Jeff Teague, and Monta Ellis control the ball. Now we see Turner left to his own devices. — RM

54. The Great Dwight Howard versus Cody Zeller debate. Yes, this one is for the basketball nerds, but there’s good reason to track how this unfolds. On one hand, there’s the aging former Defensive Player of the Year and All-Star with an established relationship with his new coach and questions about his mobility, free-throw shooting, offensive effectiveness and personality. On the other hand, there’s the relatively anonymous up-and-coming advanced stats darling who fits more naturally with Charlotte’s other pieces. How will coach Steve Clifford handle his two centers? And how will Howard handle himself if his role starts to shrink? — BG

55. The genuine surprise of watching John Wall. To see Wall rev up in the open court is to have no idea what comes next. — RM

56. Washington knocking on the door of the East’s upper tier … and yelling loud enough to let everyone in the neighborhood know. — RM

57. Contract Year Jusuf Nurkic. Everything is lined up for the Bosnian Beast in Portland: He’s in good shape, he has a starting role, he can count on major minutes, and he plays with trustworthy guards that make a point to keep him involved. Sounds like a great formula for a major payday. — BG

58. All the ways that James Harden and Chris Paul will make each other’s lives easier. Tension can be riveting, but at the heart of Houston’s superstar pairing is the creative spirit of two fantastic playmakers. Their instincts won’t be competing so much as compounding. — RM

59. The Magic's new starting lineup will finally move Aaron Gordon to the four. If Orlando is going to make noise at any point in the near future, the 22-year-old former lottery pick must play a central role. Saving him from life at the three, where he started last season, was an absolute must. — BG ?

60. Patrick Beverley, amped beyond reason for some random game in March. — RM

61. After two tumultuous seasons in Chicago, Fred Hoiberg finally has the kind of roster that can put his system into action. The “three alphas” are gone, and with them the red tape of accommodating three ill-fitting veterans. — RM

62. The never-bashful, always-aggravating Dennis Schroder has been entrusted to be The Man with a real, live NBA franchise. Fasten your seatbelts. — BG

63. Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker and Chicago’s Zach LaVine—a pair of 22-year-olds with burgeoning potential—are slated to return from devastating season-ending injuries. Both the Bucks and Bulls will welcome back their former lottery picks with open arms and as many minutes as their surgically-repaired knees can handle. — BG

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64. The Heat, working from a clean slate. Think of what they might accomplish without an 11–30 start hanging around their necks. — RM

65. Justise Winslow, back in the mix. One of the league’s most precocious young wings rejoins the Heat rotation just after the team learned to live (and win) without him. Whether there’s really a place for Winslow in Miami depends on the lengths the Heat are willing to go to work around his wobbly jumper. — RM

66. Nike’s sleek new jersey design, which dumps the gimmicks that held back prior Adidas models. The alternate looks still need some fine-tuning and reimagining, but the overall product is a big and noticeable improvement that helps compensate for the long-dreaded addition of sponsor logos. — BG

67. The moment that the depth of the Knicks’ futility truly sinks in for Kristaps Porzingis. New York executed the first steps of a teardown this summer, parting ways with Phil Jackson, Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose in a matter of months and leaving Porzingis as the last man standing. How will the budding star handle what is sure to be a dreadful dead-end of a season? Will the inevitable adversity bring the best out of his game and/or reveal a new ferocity? The stage is his. — BG

68. The Avery Bradley test case. For years, Bradley looked like a model of transferability, a quality 3-and-D whose comfort playing without the ball made him an ideal backcourt partner for virtually any high-usage lead scorer. An offseason trade from Boston to Detroit will test that hypothesis, as Bradley must now run alongside the polarizing Reggie Jackson. If the pairing works, the Pistons become infinitely more relevant. If not, Bradley becomes a fascinating target for contenders at the trade deadline or as a free agent next summer. — BG

69. The last year of completely shameless tanking. Back in September, the NBA’s Board of Governors voted to tweak the draft lottery odds so that the three worst teams would have the same chance to receive the top pick in the draft. In other words, the league was trying to cut down on teams resting players and playing marginal talents in hopes of accumulating losses in a race to the absolute bottom. The new system, however, doesn’t kick in until the 2019 NBA draft. In other words, Atlanta, Chicago, Indiana, Phoenix, Sacramento and others will all get one final shot at marginally improving their chances at landing a franchise player through aggressive tanking. Let the games begin. — BG

70. Cutthroat competition for the West’s bottom four playoff spots. In all likelihood, three of the Clippers, Jazz, Grizzlies, Blazers, Nuggets, Pelicans, and Timberwolves will miss the postseason cut, likely with serious implications. The Western Conference is not for the faint of heart. — RM

71. The building of a dynasty in real time. These Warriors are quite possibly the greatest team of all time. In all the madness of the season—the moves, the squabbles, the dramatic flourishes, and the lingering questions—don’t let the magnitude of that standing go unappreciated. — RM

72. Manu Ginobili decided not to retire! — BG

72 Reasons to Watch the 2017-18 NBA Season

With the NBA tipping off its 72nd season on Tuesday, here are 72 reasons to watch in 2017–?18, in case a budding Warriors dynasty, a LeBron James contract year, and a compelling new pack of superstar-laden challengers wasn’t enough for you.

(As always, a hat tip to veteran NBA writer Steve Aschburner for the inspiration.)

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1. The NBA’s offensive boom shows no signs of abating. Last season, the average NBA team scored 105.6 PPG, the highest mark since 1991 and well, well above the 96.3 PPG that teams averaged just five years ago. The pace-and-space phenomenon has trickled out in all sorts of ways: three-point shooting records, 50-point games, triple-doubles galore, super small lineups, and more. While some voices lament the Warriors’ dominance, remember that their influence has made for a far more entertaining and electric product. — Ben Golliver

2. Kyrie Irving, out from LeBron James’s shadow and straight into the Boston fishbowl. It’s never quite clear if Mr. Very Much Woke knows exactly what he is doing or if he has no clue what he’s getting into. Either way, his split from Cleveland intensifies an already lively rivalry and sets up the new-look Celtics as perhaps the league’s most intriguing team. — BG

3. Kevin Durant’s run at the throne. There’s no use waiting around for LeBron’s decline, but with every passing year, Durant inches closer. The NBA could have a new top player by season’s end. — Rob Mahoney

4. The Warriors’ understanding that their place in society extends beyond the court. Even before the season started, Golden State had already expertly maneuvered through a tricky dilemma concerning its White House visit and come out loudly in favor of its basic core values of decency and mutual respect. There seems to be a clear organizational alignment—from ownership to Steve Kerr and on to the players—that the Warriors will participate in and help drive the conversation when politics and sports intersect. There’s no telling how many flare-ups and controversies will arise this season, but NBA commissioner Adam Silver is lucky that his league’s flagship franchise looks ready to rise to this moment. — BG

5. Gregg Popovich’s willingness to thoughtfully consider current events and to unleash biting commentary on the powers that be. As the NBA heads straight for a political minefield that has consumed the NFL, Pop’s blunt, fearless and fair-minded talk provides genuine support to a group of players that has already gone back and forth with the commander-in-chief. — BG

6. A superstar turn for Karl-Anthony Towns. There are still some i’s to be dotted and t’s to be crossed, but no young player in the league is better equipped to break through. — RM

7. The Lonzo Ball Effect. Sure, the hype currently exceeds the reality around the Lakers’ No. 2 pick, but Ball’s passing ability and pace command clearly set him apart from most one-and-done rookies. He’s bound to struggle with turnovers and his shooting will likely prove to be inconsistent, but Ball may well prove to have a bigger stylistic impact on his team than any teenager since... LeBron James. — BG

8. The undeniable flair of Miloš Teodosi?. In all seriousness: it would be a worthy investment of your time to watch every assist Teodosi? throws this year. Every. Single. One. — RM

9. Some long overdue diversity in the broadcast booth. Doris Burke, queen of the NBA, will become the league’s first full-time national TV analyst this season. Sarah Kustok (YES) and Kara Lawson (NBC Sports Washington) will join Stephanie Ready (Fox Sports Southeast) and Ann Myers Drysdale (Fox Sports Arizona) as regular color analysts on the team broadcast scene. Ros Gold-Onwude’s move to Turner Sports is just icing on the cake. — RM

10. Another round in an endless cycle of history-making for LeBron James. The four-time MVP will almost certainly become the youngest player to reach 30,000 points during his age-33 season, eclipsing Lakers legend Kobe Bryant (34 years, 104 days). He needs just 1,213 points to hit the threshold and has easily surpassed that total during each of his 14 seasons. James also has a good shot at becoming the 11th player (and first forward) to reach 8,000 career assists. — BG

11. New blood on Christmas. The league office decided to bet big on two up-and-comers for its annual holiday quintuple-header, adding Philadelphia and Minnesota to the mix this season. This year will potentially mark Christmas Day debuts for four No. 1 picks and a No. 3 pick: Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. — BG

12. The NBA’s reformed schedule, which starts a week earlier, totally eliminates the dreaded “four games in five nights” stretches. It ensures that marquee nationally-televised games don’t fall on back-to-backs. Last season, multiple high-profile showdowns were sabotaged by the strategic resting of star players. The new schedule framework should significantly reduce those major letdowns. — BG

13. Golden State and Cleveland look destined to become the first pair of teams to face each other in four straight Finals, but it’s difficult to overstate how different the Cavaliers will look this season. LeBron James is the only Cleveland starter from the 2017 Finals to open the season in a similar role; Kyrie Irving is gone, Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith have been demoted, and Kevin Love has shifted positions. Two other key reserves who played Finals minutes—Deron Williams and Richard Jefferson—are out too.

James’s overhauled cast features a long list of notable newcomers—Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose and Jeff Green—that will likely spend most of the season gelling. Bottom line: Don’t assume that the 2018 Finals would mirror the 2017 Finals just because it features the same two franchises. — BG

14. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, picking up their bromance right where they left off. Peanut butter and jelly might somehow be an undersell. — RM

15. The baby Raptors. With much of last year’s reserves gone, it’s time for Toronto’s deep store of up-and-comers to do their part. Hold on to your butts. — RM

16. An MVP field so deep and clustered that the “Teammates will split votes” truism no longer applies. With six possible candidates now crunched onto three of the West’s top teams, compelling friendly-fire debates are bound to emerge. Steph or KD? Harden or CP? Russ or PG-13? Voters better start stretching now in preparation for the mental gymnastics that will be required to weigh superteam stars against solo acts like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. — BG

17. A chance for Rudy Gay to rework a reputation that went from “Promising lottery talent” to “Advanced stats pariah” to “Perennial loser” in the blink of an eye, without stopping on anything resembling glory or postseason impact. San Antonio is the ideal place to fade gracefully, but Gay is still young enough at 31 to be more than a hanger-on. — BG

18. Stiffer penalties for the slide-under closeout. Unfortunately, one of the dirtiest basketball acts—moving under a defenseless shooter while he’s off the ground—was the turning point of the long-awaited Western Conference finals showdown between the Spurs and Warriors. The NBA responded swiftly and smartly to Kawhi Leonard’s ankle injury with rule changes that enable referees to assess flagrant or technical fouls for undercutting a shooter. — BG

19. The West’s ongoing arms race. Houston and Oklahoma City both made big deals this summer for the sake of challenging Golden State. Don’t expect either to sit quietly the rest of the way—not with active traders at the helm in both front offices and a fascinating buyout season ahead. — RM

20. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s dark horse candidacy for MVP. Go ahead and pencil in a spot on your ballot for the basketball anomaly no one knows how to stop and few know how to score on. — RM

21. ‘Fear the Deer’ nights in Milwaukee. Alternate jerseys are a nice touch, but there’s something special to the pageantry of pairing a fresh look with its own alternate court design. — RM

22. Russell Westbrook’s latest reinvention. After playing 1B to Kevin Durant for years and then playing 1A, 1B, 1C and 1D without Durant last season, the 2017 MVP gets perhaps his best setup to date. This year, he’ll be The Man and he’ll have real help in the form of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Will he thrive in the best of both worlds? Or, will his domineering style leave Thunder fans, and potentially his new star teammates, wanting? — BG

23. A fearsome, flexible Thunder defense … and Carmelo Anthony. The prospect of working around Paul George and Andre Roberson on the perimeter is daunting. Outfoxing Steven Adams in rotation is no small feat. OKC has the personnel to match up with almost any offense in the league, if only it can find somewhere to put Melo. — RM

24. The very real chance that a bunch of Summer League heroes—Kyle Kuzma, Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, and John Collins—will log meaningful minutes right out of the gate. Instant gratification. — BG

25. Frenetic rookie big man Jordan Bell emerging immediately as a garbage time All-Star in Golden State. Switch the channel during a blowout at your own risk. — BG

26. Dragan Bender, healthy again and free of expectations after a forgettable rookie year. Still a teenager, the 2016 lottery pick gets a second chance to make a first impression for a Suns organization that badly needs him to deliver on the pre-draft hype as soon as possible. — BG

27. The off chance that, during another late-season losing streak, Devin Booker puts his mind to chasing a new career high. — BG

28. George Hill’s new dual life in Sacramento: starting point guard by day and De’Aaron Fox’s driver’s ed instructor by night. The sooner the lightning-quick rookie is ready to take the keys the better for the Kings’ long-term outlook. In the meantime, the unselfish Hill is the right guy to hold down the fort and set up a successful transition. — BG

29. Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons aren’t the only rookie ballhandlers injecting new life into once-proud franchises. Meet Dennis Smith Jr., the high-flying and basket-attacking lottery pick who brings much-needed athleticism to the aging and fading Mavericks. Could he sneak into the Rookie of the Year conversation? — BG

30. Love a good comeback story? Then look no further than the Grizzlies, who have somehow collected Chandler Parsons (a $94 million man who barely saw the court last year due to injuries), Wayne Selden (a highly-touted high school prospect who went undrafted), Tyreke Evans (a former Rookie of the Year who has played just 65 games combined over the last two seasons), Ben McLemore (the latest Kings cast-off to get a badly-needed fresh start), and Mario Chalmers (a two-time champ in Miami who is back after missing last season entirely) on the same roster. How many careers can Mike Conley and Marc Gasol resurrect at once? — BG

31. A trigger-happier Mike Conley. The world is a better place when Money Mike comes around every ball screen ready to let loose. — RM

32. David Fizdale’s next bit of rousing press conference oratory. Ready the t-shirt presses. — RM

33. The playground-style All-Star draft. While the NBA should have gone further to improve the quality of its All-Star Game by allowing fans, players and media members to vote for the 24 best players regardless of conference, their compromise solution will still be fun. Rather than have the East face the West, top vote-getters like LeBron James and Stephen Curry will get to select their teammates from a pool of All-Stars. Will James and Curry pick their teammates? Their former teammates? Will they pick each other’s rivals to spite each other? Which top star will be unfairly snubbed? And who will be the last player selected? All of those questions should make for great theater, jumpstarting an event that has felt increasingly pointless and one-sided over the last five years. ?— BG ?

34. Thanks to a major westward movement of talent, the first-time All-Star and snub conversations are both extra spicy this year. In the East, Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Bradley Beal and Goran Dragic could all make their first appearances. In the West, potential first-timers Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic and C.J. McCollum could all have trouble sneaking in. — BG

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35. Every glorious (and anxious) minute of Joel Embiid. — RM

36. Ben Simmons and the nightly mismatches he creates. The 2016 No. 1 pick is a point guard in a power forward’s body playing for a Philadelphia team that might just be creative enough to use him as a small–ball center at times. What’s the best way for opponents to handle that walking, talking, no-look passing, dunking predicament? And what line-up benefits can the Sixers extract while building around such a unique commodity? — BG

37. Brett Brown, finally stepping out of the darkness. Philadelphia made a brilliant hire in Brown, whose cheer buoyed the franchise through years of losing. The man has earned a core as promising as this one. — RM

38. The warm reception for Zach Randolph’s first game back in Memphis. All heart. — RM

39. A new, inverted sort of two-man game between Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris. — RM

40. The ongoing tension between the Nuggets and their rising expectations. With the justified hope of a playoff berth—the first in five years—comes the pressure to measure up. — RM

41. One more chance for the Rudy Gobert/Derrick Favors frontcourt pairing. The best-case: Utah finally has its two franchise bigs healthy and their shared size, skill and commanding presence stands as a nightly nightmare for opponents in a San Antonio-like manner. The worst-case: The NBA’s downsizing trend has passed this duo by, and Favors is reduced to a smaller role or, given his expiring contract, turned into a midseason trade chip. It would be a shame if these two never truly sustained their high-level ceiling. — BG

42. The strange, ongoing subplot between the Mavericks and Nerlens Noel. Oh, how quickly a promising trade can sour. A presumed building block center will wind up coming off the bench for a lottery team while playing on an qualifying offer. — RM

43. An ever-improving and constantly overlooked Anthony Davis. The transcendent four-time All-Star is quite possibly the only thing standing between New Orleans and a total shake-up, not to mention a DeMarcus Cousins trade. — BG

44. Houston’s push for smaller and stranger lineup combinations. When the Warriors are the elephant in the room, why not try P.J. Tucker at center? — RM

45. Double the lobs for Clint Capela, who should make a killing as a DeAndre Jordan Starter Kit. — RM

46. Brooklyn should be marginally more interesting thanks to the arrival of D’Angelo Russell, but the biggest story about their success (or lack thereof) once again concerns their pick. Thanks to the Kyrie Irving blockbuster, Cleveland now owns the rights to Brooklyn’s first-round pick in June’s draft, which will almost certainly fall in the lottery. How will the Nets’ early play influence the Cavaliers’ willingness to trade the piece in a midseason deal? If Brooklyn starts fast and the pick’s value drops, does Cleveland pull the trigger? Or, if Brooklyn struggles out of the gate, does Cleveland find itself weighing juicier offers? No matter how it plays out, the also-ran Nets should once again wind up playing a major role, tangentially, in shaping the East’s power balance at the top. — BG

47. Omri Casspi, at long last, on a contender. A great team player joins the greatest team going. — RM

48. Ricky Rubio, feeling the love. How freeing it is to play for a team that isn’t trying to trade you at every opportunity. — RM

49. The Jazz, uptempo. The slowest team in the league last year played nearly 10 possessions faster in the preseason. What might that mean for a team built around its deliberate execution? — RM

50. Portland’s scoring brought to perfect balance. One might think the skill sets of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are too similar for high efficiency. The Blazer offense—with its churning fluidity and many misdirections—begs to differ. — RM

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51. The search for the right lineups in Boston, featuring every wacky possibility imaginable. The Celtics’ roster is stocked with tantilizing possibilities and led by a coach creative enough to try them all. — RM

52. The Caris LeVert experience. LeVert is too erratic to be destined for any one fate, but he’s the rare net for whom great things seem possible. — RM

53. Myles Turner, on an island. We’ve seen what the upstart 21-year-old forward can do while Paul George, Jeff Teague, and Monta Ellis control the ball. Now we see Turner left to his own devices. — RM

54. The Great Dwight Howard versus Cody Zeller debate. Yes, this one is for the basketball nerds, but there’s good reason to track how this unfolds. On one hand, there’s the aging former Defensive Player of the Year and All-Star with an established relationship with his new coach and questions about his mobility, free-throw shooting, offensive effectiveness and personality. On the other hand, there’s the relatively anonymous up-and-coming advanced stats darling who fits more naturally with Charlotte’s other pieces. How will coach Steve Clifford handle his two centers? And how will Howard handle himself if his role starts to shrink? — BG

55. The genuine surprise of watching John Wall. To see Wall rev up in the open court is to have no idea what comes next. — RM

56. Washington knocking on the door of the East’s upper tier … and yelling loud enough to let everyone in the neighborhood know. — RM

57. Contract Year Jusuf Nurkic. Everything is lined up for the Bosnian Beast in Portland: He’s in good shape, he has a starting role, he can count on major minutes, and he plays with trustworthy guards that make a point to keep him involved. Sounds like a great formula for a major payday. — BG

58. All the ways that James Harden and Chris Paul will make each other’s lives easier. Tension can be riveting, but at the heart of Houston’s superstar pairing is the creative spirit of two fantastic playmakers. Their instincts won’t be competing so much as compounding. — RM

59. The Magic's new starting lineup will finally move Aaron Gordon to the four. If Orlando is going to make noise at any point in the near future, the 22-year-old former lottery pick must play a central role. Saving him from life at the three, where he started last season, was an absolute must. — BG ?

60. Patrick Beverley, amped beyond reason for some random game in March. — RM

61. After two tumultuous seasons in Chicago, Fred Hoiberg finally has the kind of roster that can put his system into action. The “three alphas” are gone, and with them the red tape of accommodating three ill-fitting veterans. — RM

62. The never-bashful, always-aggravating Dennis Schroder has been entrusted to be The Man with a real, live NBA franchise. Fasten your seatbelts. — BG

63. Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker and Chicago’s Zach LaVine—a pair of 22-year-olds with burgeoning potential—are slated to return from devastating season-ending injuries. Both the Bucks and Bulls will welcome back their former lottery picks with open arms and as many minutes as their surgically-repaired knees can handle. — BG

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64. The Heat, working from a clean slate. Think of what they might accomplish without an 11–30 start hanging around their necks. — RM

65. Justise Winslow, back in the mix. One of the league’s most precocious young wings rejoins the Heat rotation just after the team learned to live (and win) without him. Whether there’s really a place for Winslow in Miami depends on the lengths the Heat are willing to go to work around his wobbly jumper. — RM

66. Nike’s sleek new jersey design, which dumps the gimmicks that held back prior Adidas models. The alternate looks still need some fine-tuning and reimagining, but the overall product is a big and noticeable improvement that helps compensate for the long-dreaded addition of sponsor logos. — BG

67. The moment that the depth of the Knicks’ futility truly sinks in for Kristaps Porzingis. New York executed the first steps of a teardown this summer, parting ways with Phil Jackson, Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose in a matter of months and leaving Porzingis as the last man standing. How will the budding star handle what is sure to be a dreadful dead-end of a season? Will the inevitable adversity bring the best out of his game and/or reveal a new ferocity? The stage is his. — BG

68. The Avery Bradley test case. For years, Bradley looked like a model of transferability, a quality 3-and-D whose comfort playing without the ball made him an ideal backcourt partner for virtually any high-usage lead scorer. An offseason trade from Boston to Detroit will test that hypothesis, as Bradley must now run alongside the polarizing Reggie Jackson. If the pairing works, the Pistons become infinitely more relevant. If not, Bradley becomes a fascinating target for contenders at the trade deadline or as a free agent next summer. — BG

69. The last year of completely shameless tanking. Back in September, the NBA’s Board of Governors voted to tweak the draft lottery odds so that the three worst teams would have the same chance to receive the top pick in the draft. In other words, the league was trying to cut down on teams resting players and playing marginal talents in hopes of accumulating losses in a race to the absolute bottom. The new system, however, doesn’t kick in until the 2019 NBA draft. In other words, Atlanta, Chicago, Indiana, Phoenix, Sacramento and others will all get one final shot at marginally improving their chances at landing a franchise player through aggressive tanking. Let the games begin. — BG

70. Cutthroat competition for the West’s bottom four playoff spots. In all likelihood, three of the Clippers, Jazz, Grizzlies, Blazers, Nuggets, Pelicans, and Timberwolves will miss the postseason cut, likely with serious implications. The Western Conference is not for the faint of heart. — RM

71. The building of a dynasty in real time. These Warriors are quite possibly the greatest team of all time. In all the madness of the season—the moves, the squabbles, the dramatic flourishes, and the lingering questions—don’t let the magnitude of that standing go unappreciated. — RM

72. Manu Ginobili decided not to retire! — BG

72 Reasons to Watch the 2017-18 NBA Season

With the NBA tipping off its 72nd season on Tuesday, here are 72 reasons to watch in 2017–?18, in case a budding Warriors dynasty, a LeBron James contract year, and a compelling new pack of superstar-laden challengers wasn’t enough for you.

(As always, a hat tip to veteran NBA writer Steve Aschburner for the inspiration.)

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1. The NBA’s offensive boom shows no signs of abating. Last season, the average NBA team scored 105.6 PPG, the highest mark since 1991 and well, well above the 96.3 PPG that teams averaged just five years ago. The pace-and-space phenomenon has trickled out in all sorts of ways: three-point shooting records, 50-point games, triple-doubles galore, super small lineups, and more. While some voices lament the Warriors’ dominance, remember that their influence has made for a far more entertaining and electric product. — Ben Golliver

2. Kyrie Irving, out from LeBron James’s shadow and straight into the Boston fishbowl. It’s never quite clear if Mr. Very Much Woke knows exactly what he is doing or if he has no clue what he’s getting into. Either way, his split from Cleveland intensifies an already lively rivalry and sets up the new-look Celtics as perhaps the league’s most intriguing team. — BG

3. Kevin Durant’s run at the throne. There’s no use waiting around for LeBron’s decline, but with every passing year, Durant inches closer. The NBA could have a new top player by season’s end. — Rob Mahoney

4. The Warriors’ understanding that their place in society extends beyond the court. Even before the season started, Golden State had already expertly maneuvered through a tricky dilemma concerning its White House visit and come out loudly in favor of its basic core values of decency and mutual respect. There seems to be a clear organizational alignment—from ownership to Steve Kerr and on to the players—that the Warriors will participate in and help drive the conversation when politics and sports intersect. There’s no telling how many flare-ups and controversies will arise this season, but NBA commissioner Adam Silver is lucky that his league’s flagship franchise looks ready to rise to this moment. — BG

5. Gregg Popovich’s willingness to thoughtfully consider current events and to unleash biting commentary on the powers that be. As the NBA heads straight for a political minefield that has consumed the NFL, Pop’s blunt, fearless and fair-minded talk provides genuine support to a group of players that has already gone back and forth with the commander-in-chief. — BG

6. A superstar turn for Karl-Anthony Towns. There are still some i’s to be dotted and t’s to be crossed, but no young player in the league is better equipped to break through. — RM

7. The Lonzo Ball Effect. Sure, the hype currently exceeds the reality around the Lakers’ No. 2 pick, but Ball’s passing ability and pace command clearly set him apart from most one-and-done rookies. He’s bound to struggle with turnovers and his shooting will likely prove to be inconsistent, but Ball may well prove to have a bigger stylistic impact on his team than any teenager since... LeBron James. — BG

8. The undeniable flair of Miloš Teodosi?. In all seriousness: it would be a worthy investment of your time to watch every assist Teodosi? throws this year. Every. Single. One. — RM

9. Some long overdue diversity in the broadcast booth. Doris Burke, queen of the NBA, will become the league’s first full-time national TV analyst this season. Sarah Kustok (YES) and Kara Lawson (NBC Sports Washington) will join Stephanie Ready (Fox Sports Southeast) and Ann Myers Drysdale (Fox Sports Arizona) as regular color analysts on the team broadcast scene. Ros Gold-Onwude’s move to Turner Sports is just icing on the cake. — RM

10. Another round in an endless cycle of history-making for LeBron James. The four-time MVP will almost certainly become the youngest player to reach 30,000 points during his age-33 season, eclipsing Lakers legend Kobe Bryant (34 years, 104 days). He needs just 1,213 points to hit the threshold and has easily surpassed that total during each of his 14 seasons. James also has a good shot at becoming the 11th player (and first forward) to reach 8,000 career assists. — BG

11. New blood on Christmas. The league office decided to bet big on two up-and-comers for its annual holiday quintuple-header, adding Philadelphia and Minnesota to the mix this season. This year will potentially mark Christmas Day debuts for four No. 1 picks and a No. 3 pick: Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. — BG

12. The NBA’s reformed schedule, which starts a week earlier, totally eliminates the dreaded “four games in five nights” stretches. It ensures that marquee nationally-televised games don’t fall on back-to-backs. Last season, multiple high-profile showdowns were sabotaged by the strategic resting of star players. The new schedule framework should significantly reduce those major letdowns. — BG

13. Golden State and Cleveland look destined to become the first pair of teams to face each other in four straight Finals, but it’s difficult to overstate how different the Cavaliers will look this season. LeBron James is the only Cleveland starter from the 2017 Finals to open the season in a similar role; Kyrie Irving is gone, Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith have been demoted, and Kevin Love has shifted positions. Two other key reserves who played Finals minutes—Deron Williams and Richard Jefferson—are out too.

James’s overhauled cast features a long list of notable newcomers—Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose and Jeff Green—that will likely spend most of the season gelling. Bottom line: Don’t assume that the 2018 Finals would mirror the 2017 Finals just because it features the same two franchises. — BG

14. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, picking up their bromance right where they left off. Peanut butter and jelly might somehow be an undersell. — RM

15. The baby Raptors. With much of last year’s reserves gone, it’s time for Toronto’s deep store of up-and-comers to do their part. Hold on to your butts. — RM

16. An MVP field so deep and clustered that the “Teammates will split votes” truism no longer applies. With six possible candidates now crunched onto three of the West’s top teams, compelling friendly-fire debates are bound to emerge. Steph or KD? Harden or CP? Russ or PG-13? Voters better start stretching now in preparation for the mental gymnastics that will be required to weigh superteam stars against solo acts like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. — BG

17. A chance for Rudy Gay to rework a reputation that went from “Promising lottery talent” to “Advanced stats pariah” to “Perennial loser” in the blink of an eye, without stopping on anything resembling glory or postseason impact. San Antonio is the ideal place to fade gracefully, but Gay is still young enough at 31 to be more than a hanger-on. — BG

18. Stiffer penalties for the slide-under closeout. Unfortunately, one of the dirtiest basketball acts—moving under a defenseless shooter while he’s off the ground—was the turning point of the long-awaited Western Conference finals showdown between the Spurs and Warriors. The NBA responded swiftly and smartly to Kawhi Leonard’s ankle injury with rule changes that enable referees to assess flagrant or technical fouls for undercutting a shooter. — BG

19. The West’s ongoing arms race. Houston and Oklahoma City both made big deals this summer for the sake of challenging Golden State. Don’t expect either to sit quietly the rest of the way—not with active traders at the helm in both front offices and a fascinating buyout season ahead. — RM

20. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s dark horse candidacy for MVP. Go ahead and pencil in a spot on your ballot for the basketball anomaly no one knows how to stop and few know how to score on. — RM

21. ‘Fear the Deer’ nights in Milwaukee. Alternate jerseys are a nice touch, but there’s something special to the pageantry of pairing a fresh look with its own alternate court design. — RM

22. Russell Westbrook’s latest reinvention. After playing 1B to Kevin Durant for years and then playing 1A, 1B, 1C and 1D without Durant last season, the 2017 MVP gets perhaps his best setup to date. This year, he’ll be The Man and he’ll have real help in the form of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Will he thrive in the best of both worlds? Or, will his domineering style leave Thunder fans, and potentially his new star teammates, wanting? — BG

23. A fearsome, flexible Thunder defense … and Carmelo Anthony. The prospect of working around Paul George and Andre Roberson on the perimeter is daunting. Outfoxing Steven Adams in rotation is no small feat. OKC has the personnel to match up with almost any offense in the league, if only it can find somewhere to put Melo. — RM

24. The very real chance that a bunch of Summer League heroes—Kyle Kuzma, Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, and John Collins—will log meaningful minutes right out of the gate. Instant gratification. — BG

25. Frenetic rookie big man Jordan Bell emerging immediately as a garbage time All-Star in Golden State. Switch the channel during a blowout at your own risk. — BG

26. Dragan Bender, healthy again and free of expectations after a forgettable rookie year. Still a teenager, the 2016 lottery pick gets a second chance to make a first impression for a Suns organization that badly needs him to deliver on the pre-draft hype as soon as possible. — BG

27. The off chance that, during another late-season losing streak, Devin Booker puts his mind to chasing a new career high. — BG

28. George Hill’s new dual life in Sacramento: starting point guard by day and De’Aaron Fox’s driver’s ed instructor by night. The sooner the lightning-quick rookie is ready to take the keys the better for the Kings’ long-term outlook. In the meantime, the unselfish Hill is the right guy to hold down the fort and set up a successful transition. — BG

29. Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons aren’t the only rookie ballhandlers injecting new life into once-proud franchises. Meet Dennis Smith Jr., the high-flying and basket-attacking lottery pick who brings much-needed athleticism to the aging and fading Mavericks. Could he sneak into the Rookie of the Year conversation? — BG

30. Love a good comeback story? Then look no further than the Grizzlies, who have somehow collected Chandler Parsons (a $94 million man who barely saw the court last year due to injuries), Wayne Selden (a highly-touted high school prospect who went undrafted), Tyreke Evans (a former Rookie of the Year who has played just 65 games combined over the last two seasons), Ben McLemore (the latest Kings cast-off to get a badly-needed fresh start), and Mario Chalmers (a two-time champ in Miami who is back after missing last season entirely) on the same roster. How many careers can Mike Conley and Marc Gasol resurrect at once? — BG

31. A trigger-happier Mike Conley. The world is a better place when Money Mike comes around every ball screen ready to let loose. — RM

32. David Fizdale’s next bit of rousing press conference oratory. Ready the t-shirt presses. — RM

33. The playground-style All-Star draft. While the NBA should have gone further to improve the quality of its All-Star Game by allowing fans, players and media members to vote for the 24 best players regardless of conference, their compromise solution will still be fun. Rather than have the East face the West, top vote-getters like LeBron James and Stephen Curry will get to select their teammates from a pool of All-Stars. Will James and Curry pick their teammates? Their former teammates? Will they pick each other’s rivals to spite each other? Which top star will be unfairly snubbed? And who will be the last player selected? All of those questions should make for great theater, jumpstarting an event that has felt increasingly pointless and one-sided over the last five years. ?— BG ?

34. Thanks to a major westward movement of talent, the first-time All-Star and snub conversations are both extra spicy this year. In the East, Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Bradley Beal and Goran Dragic could all make their first appearances. In the West, potential first-timers Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic and C.J. McCollum could all have trouble sneaking in. — BG

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35. Every glorious (and anxious) minute of Joel Embiid. — RM

36. Ben Simmons and the nightly mismatches he creates. The 2016 No. 1 pick is a point guard in a power forward’s body playing for a Philadelphia team that might just be creative enough to use him as a small–ball center at times. What’s the best way for opponents to handle that walking, talking, no-look passing, dunking predicament? And what line-up benefits can the Sixers extract while building around such a unique commodity? — BG

37. Brett Brown, finally stepping out of the darkness. Philadelphia made a brilliant hire in Brown, whose cheer buoyed the franchise through years of losing. The man has earned a core as promising as this one. — RM

38. The warm reception for Zach Randolph’s first game back in Memphis. All heart. — RM

39. A new, inverted sort of two-man game between Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris. — RM

40. The ongoing tension between the Nuggets and their rising expectations. With the justified hope of a playoff berth—the first in five years—comes the pressure to measure up. — RM

41. One more chance for the Rudy Gobert/Derrick Favors frontcourt pairing. The best-case: Utah finally has its two franchise bigs healthy and their shared size, skill and commanding presence stands as a nightly nightmare for opponents in a San Antonio-like manner. The worst-case: The NBA’s downsizing trend has passed this duo by, and Favors is reduced to a smaller role or, given his expiring contract, turned into a midseason trade chip. It would be a shame if these two never truly sustained their high-level ceiling. — BG

42. The strange, ongoing subplot between the Mavericks and Nerlens Noel. Oh, how quickly a promising trade can sour. A presumed building block center will wind up coming off the bench for a lottery team while playing on an qualifying offer. — RM

43. An ever-improving and constantly overlooked Anthony Davis. The transcendent four-time All-Star is quite possibly the only thing standing between New Orleans and a total shake-up, not to mention a DeMarcus Cousins trade. — BG

44. Houston’s push for smaller and stranger lineup combinations. When the Warriors are the elephant in the room, why not try P.J. Tucker at center? — RM

45. Double the lobs for Clint Capela, who should make a killing as a DeAndre Jordan Starter Kit. — RM

46. Brooklyn should be marginally more interesting thanks to the arrival of D’Angelo Russell, but the biggest story about their success (or lack thereof) once again concerns their pick. Thanks to the Kyrie Irving blockbuster, Cleveland now owns the rights to Brooklyn’s first-round pick in June’s draft, which will almost certainly fall in the lottery. How will the Nets’ early play influence the Cavaliers’ willingness to trade the piece in a midseason deal? If Brooklyn starts fast and the pick’s value drops, does Cleveland pull the trigger? Or, if Brooklyn struggles out of the gate, does Cleveland find itself weighing juicier offers? No matter how it plays out, the also-ran Nets should once again wind up playing a major role, tangentially, in shaping the East’s power balance at the top. — BG

47. Omri Casspi, at long last, on a contender. A great team player joins the greatest team going. — RM

48. Ricky Rubio, feeling the love. How freeing it is to play for a team that isn’t trying to trade you at every opportunity. — RM

49. The Jazz, uptempo. The slowest team in the league last year played nearly 10 possessions faster in the preseason. What might that mean for a team built around its deliberate execution? — RM

50. Portland’s scoring brought to perfect balance. One might think the skill sets of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are too similar for high efficiency. The Blazer offense—with its churning fluidity and many misdirections—begs to differ. — RM

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51. The search for the right lineups in Boston, featuring every wacky possibility imaginable. The Celtics’ roster is stocked with tantilizing possibilities and led by a coach creative enough to try them all. — RM

52. The Caris LeVert experience. LeVert is too erratic to be destined for any one fate, but he’s the rare net for whom great things seem possible. — RM

53. Myles Turner, on an island. We’ve seen what the upstart 21-year-old forward can do while Paul George, Jeff Teague, and Monta Ellis control the ball. Now we see Turner left to his own devices. — RM

54. The Great Dwight Howard versus Cody Zeller debate. Yes, this one is for the basketball nerds, but there’s good reason to track how this unfolds. On one hand, there’s the aging former Defensive Player of the Year and All-Star with an established relationship with his new coach and questions about his mobility, free-throw shooting, offensive effectiveness and personality. On the other hand, there’s the relatively anonymous up-and-coming advanced stats darling who fits more naturally with Charlotte’s other pieces. How will coach Steve Clifford handle his two centers? And how will Howard handle himself if his role starts to shrink? — BG

55. The genuine surprise of watching John Wall. To see Wall rev up in the open court is to have no idea what comes next. — RM

56. Washington knocking on the door of the East’s upper tier … and yelling loud enough to let everyone in the neighborhood know. — RM

57. Contract Year Jusuf Nurkic. Everything is lined up for the Bosnian Beast in Portland: He’s in good shape, he has a starting role, he can count on major minutes, and he plays with trustworthy guards that make a point to keep him involved. Sounds like a great formula for a major payday. — BG

58. All the ways that James Harden and Chris Paul will make each other’s lives easier. Tension can be riveting, but at the heart of Houston’s superstar pairing is the creative spirit of two fantastic playmakers. Their instincts won’t be competing so much as compounding. — RM

59. The Magic's new starting lineup will finally move Aaron Gordon to the four. If Orlando is going to make noise at any point in the near future, the 22-year-old former lottery pick must play a central role. Saving him from life at the three, where he started last season, was an absolute must. — BG ?

60. Patrick Beverley, amped beyond reason for some random game in March. — RM

61. After two tumultuous seasons in Chicago, Fred Hoiberg finally has the kind of roster that can put his system into action. The “three alphas” are gone, and with them the red tape of accommodating three ill-fitting veterans. — RM

62. The never-bashful, always-aggravating Dennis Schroder has been entrusted to be The Man with a real, live NBA franchise. Fasten your seatbelts. — BG

63. Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker and Chicago’s Zach LaVine—a pair of 22-year-olds with burgeoning potential—are slated to return from devastating season-ending injuries. Both the Bucks and Bulls will welcome back their former lottery picks with open arms and as many minutes as their surgically-repaired knees can handle. — BG

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64. The Heat, working from a clean slate. Think of what they might accomplish without an 11–30 start hanging around their necks. — RM

65. Justise Winslow, back in the mix. One of the league’s most precocious young wings rejoins the Heat rotation just after the team learned to live (and win) without him. Whether there’s really a place for Winslow in Miami depends on the lengths the Heat are willing to go to work around his wobbly jumper. — RM

66. Nike’s sleek new jersey design, which dumps the gimmicks that held back prior Adidas models. The alternate looks still need some fine-tuning and reimagining, but the overall product is a big and noticeable improvement that helps compensate for the long-dreaded addition of sponsor logos. — BG

67. The moment that the depth of the Knicks’ futility truly sinks in for Kristaps Porzingis. New York executed the first steps of a teardown this summer, parting ways with Phil Jackson, Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose in a matter of months and leaving Porzingis as the last man standing. How will the budding star handle what is sure to be a dreadful dead-end of a season? Will the inevitable adversity bring the best out of his game and/or reveal a new ferocity? The stage is his. — BG

68. The Avery Bradley test case. For years, Bradley looked like a model of transferability, a quality 3-and-D whose comfort playing without the ball made him an ideal backcourt partner for virtually any high-usage lead scorer. An offseason trade from Boston to Detroit will test that hypothesis, as Bradley must now run alongside the polarizing Reggie Jackson. If the pairing works, the Pistons become infinitely more relevant. If not, Bradley becomes a fascinating target for contenders at the trade deadline or as a free agent next summer. — BG

69. The last year of completely shameless tanking. Back in September, the NBA’s Board of Governors voted to tweak the draft lottery odds so that the three worst teams would have the same chance to receive the top pick in the draft. In other words, the league was trying to cut down on teams resting players and playing marginal talents in hopes of accumulating losses in a race to the absolute bottom. The new system, however, doesn’t kick in until the 2019 NBA draft. In other words, Atlanta, Chicago, Indiana, Phoenix, Sacramento and others will all get one final shot at marginally improving their chances at landing a franchise player through aggressive tanking. Let the games begin. — BG

70. Cutthroat competition for the West’s bottom four playoff spots. In all likelihood, three of the Clippers, Jazz, Grizzlies, Blazers, Nuggets, Pelicans, and Timberwolves will miss the postseason cut, likely with serious implications. The Western Conference is not for the faint of heart. — RM

71. The building of a dynasty in real time. These Warriors are quite possibly the greatest team of all time. In all the madness of the season—the moves, the squabbles, the dramatic flourishes, and the lingering questions—don’t let the magnitude of that standing go unappreciated. — RM

72. Manu Ginobili decided not to retire! — BG

72 Reasons to Watch the 2017-18 NBA Season

With the NBA tipping off its 72nd season on Tuesday, here are 72 reasons to watch in 2017–?18, in case a budding Warriors dynasty, a LeBron James contract year, and a compelling new pack of superstar-laden challengers wasn’t enough for you.

(As always, a hat tip to veteran NBA writer Steve Aschburner for the inspiration.)

?

1. The NBA’s offensive boom shows no signs of abating. Last season, the average NBA team scored 105.6 PPG, the highest mark since 1991 and well, well above the 96.3 PPG that teams averaged just five years ago. The pace-and-space phenomenon has trickled out in all sorts of ways: three-point shooting records, 50-point games, triple-doubles galore, super small lineups, and more. While some voices lament the Warriors’ dominance, remember that their influence has made for a far more entertaining and electric product. — Ben Golliver

2. Kyrie Irving, out from LeBron James’s shadow and straight into the Boston fishbowl. It’s never quite clear if Mr. Very Much Woke knows exactly what he is doing or if he has no clue what he’s getting into. Either way, his split from Cleveland intensifies an already lively rivalry and sets up the new-look Celtics as perhaps the league’s most intriguing team. — BG

3. Kevin Durant’s run at the throne. There’s no use waiting around for LeBron’s decline, but with every passing year, Durant inches closer. The NBA could have a new top player by season’s end. — Rob Mahoney

4. The Warriors’ understanding that their place in society extends beyond the court. Even before the season started, Golden State had already expertly maneuvered through a tricky dilemma concerning its White House visit and come out loudly in favor of its basic core values of decency and mutual respect. There seems to be a clear organizational alignment—from ownership to Steve Kerr and on to the players—that the Warriors will participate in and help drive the conversation when politics and sports intersect. There’s no telling how many flare-ups and controversies will arise this season, but NBA commissioner Adam Silver is lucky that his league’s flagship franchise looks ready to rise to this moment. — BG

5. Gregg Popovich’s willingness to thoughtfully consider current events and to unleash biting commentary on the powers that be. As the NBA heads straight for a political minefield that has consumed the NFL, Pop’s blunt, fearless and fair-minded talk provides genuine support to a group of players that has already gone back and forth with the commander-in-chief. — BG

6. A superstar turn for Karl-Anthony Towns. There are still some i’s to be dotted and t’s to be crossed, but no young player in the league is better equipped to break through. — RM

7. The Lonzo Ball Effect. Sure, the hype currently exceeds the reality around the Lakers’ No. 2 pick, but Ball’s passing ability and pace command clearly set him apart from most one-and-done rookies. He’s bound to struggle with turnovers and his shooting will likely prove to be inconsistent, but Ball may well prove to have a bigger stylistic impact on his team than any teenager since... LeBron James. — BG

8. The undeniable flair of Miloš Teodosi?. In all seriousness: it would be a worthy investment of your time to watch every assist Teodosi? throws this year. Every. Single. One. — RM

9. Some long overdue diversity in the broadcast booth. Doris Burke, queen of the NBA, will become the league’s first full-time national TV analyst this season. Sarah Kustok (YES) and Kara Lawson (NBC Sports Washington) will join Stephanie Ready (Fox Sports Southeast) and Ann Myers Drysdale (Fox Sports Arizona) as regular color analysts on the team broadcast scene. Ros Gold-Onwude’s move to Turner Sports is just icing on the cake. — RM

10. Another round in an endless cycle of history-making for LeBron James. The four-time MVP will almost certainly become the youngest player to reach 30,000 points during his age-33 season, eclipsing Lakers legend Kobe Bryant (34 years, 104 days). He needs just 1,213 points to hit the threshold and has easily surpassed that total during each of his 14 seasons. James also has a good shot at becoming the 11th player (and first forward) to reach 8,000 career assists. — BG

11. New blood on Christmas. The league office decided to bet big on two up-and-comers for its annual holiday quintuple-header, adding Philadelphia and Minnesota to the mix this season. This year will potentially mark Christmas Day debuts for four No. 1 picks and a No. 3 pick: Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. — BG

12. The NBA’s reformed schedule, which starts a week earlier, totally eliminates the dreaded “four games in five nights” stretches. It ensures that marquee nationally-televised games don’t fall on back-to-backs. Last season, multiple high-profile showdowns were sabotaged by the strategic resting of star players. The new schedule framework should significantly reduce those major letdowns. — BG

13. Golden State and Cleveland look destined to become the first pair of teams to face each other in four straight Finals, but it’s difficult to overstate how different the Cavaliers will look this season. LeBron James is the only Cleveland starter from the 2017 Finals to open the season in a similar role; Kyrie Irving is gone, Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith have been demoted, and Kevin Love has shifted positions. Two other key reserves who played Finals minutes—Deron Williams and Richard Jefferson—are out too.

James’s overhauled cast features a long list of notable newcomers—Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose and Jeff Green—that will likely spend most of the season gelling. Bottom line: Don’t assume that the 2018 Finals would mirror the 2017 Finals just because it features the same two franchises. — BG

14. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, picking up their bromance right where they left off. Peanut butter and jelly might somehow be an undersell. — RM

15. The baby Raptors. With much of last year’s reserves gone, it’s time for Toronto’s deep store of up-and-comers to do their part. Hold on to your butts. — RM

16. An MVP field so deep and clustered that the “Teammates will split votes” truism no longer applies. With six possible candidates now crunched onto three of the West’s top teams, compelling friendly-fire debates are bound to emerge. Steph or KD? Harden or CP? Russ or PG-13? Voters better start stretching now in preparation for the mental gymnastics that will be required to weigh superteam stars against solo acts like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. — BG

17. A chance for Rudy Gay to rework a reputation that went from “Promising lottery talent” to “Advanced stats pariah” to “Perennial loser” in the blink of an eye, without stopping on anything resembling glory or postseason impact. San Antonio is the ideal place to fade gracefully, but Gay is still young enough at 31 to be more than a hanger-on. — BG

18. Stiffer penalties for the slide-under closeout. Unfortunately, one of the dirtiest basketball acts—moving under a defenseless shooter while he’s off the ground—was the turning point of the long-awaited Western Conference finals showdown between the Spurs and Warriors. The NBA responded swiftly and smartly to Kawhi Leonard’s ankle injury with rule changes that enable referees to assess flagrant or technical fouls for undercutting a shooter. — BG

19. The West’s ongoing arms race. Houston and Oklahoma City both made big deals this summer for the sake of challenging Golden State. Don’t expect either to sit quietly the rest of the way—not with active traders at the helm in both front offices and a fascinating buyout season ahead. — RM

20. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s dark horse candidacy for MVP. Go ahead and pencil in a spot on your ballot for the basketball anomaly no one knows how to stop and few know how to score on. — RM

21. ‘Fear the Deer’ nights in Milwaukee. Alternate jerseys are a nice touch, but there’s something special to the pageantry of pairing a fresh look with its own alternate court design. — RM

22. Russell Westbrook’s latest reinvention. After playing 1B to Kevin Durant for years and then playing 1A, 1B, 1C and 1D without Durant last season, the 2017 MVP gets perhaps his best setup to date. This year, he’ll be The Man and he’ll have real help in the form of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Will he thrive in the best of both worlds? Or, will his domineering style leave Thunder fans, and potentially his new star teammates, wanting? — BG

23. A fearsome, flexible Thunder defense … and Carmelo Anthony. The prospect of working around Paul George and Andre Roberson on the perimeter is daunting. Outfoxing Steven Adams in rotation is no small feat. OKC has the personnel to match up with almost any offense in the league, if only it can find somewhere to put Melo. — RM

24. The very real chance that a bunch of Summer League heroes—Kyle Kuzma, Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, and John Collins—will log meaningful minutes right out of the gate. Instant gratification. — BG

25. Frenetic rookie big man Jordan Bell emerging immediately as a garbage time All-Star in Golden State. Switch the channel during a blowout at your own risk. — BG

26. Dragan Bender, healthy again and free of expectations after a forgettable rookie year. Still a teenager, the 2016 lottery pick gets a second chance to make a first impression for a Suns organization that badly needs him to deliver on the pre-draft hype as soon as possible. — BG

27. The off chance that, during another late-season losing streak, Devin Booker puts his mind to chasing a new career high. — BG

28. George Hill’s new dual life in Sacramento: starting point guard by day and De’Aaron Fox’s driver’s ed instructor by night. The sooner the lightning-quick rookie is ready to take the keys the better for the Kings’ long-term outlook. In the meantime, the unselfish Hill is the right guy to hold down the fort and set up a successful transition. — BG

29. Lonzo Ball and Ben Simmons aren’t the only rookie ballhandlers injecting new life into once-proud franchises. Meet Dennis Smith Jr., the high-flying and basket-attacking lottery pick who brings much-needed athleticism to the aging and fading Mavericks. Could he sneak into the Rookie of the Year conversation? — BG

30. Love a good comeback story? Then look no further than the Grizzlies, who have somehow collected Chandler Parsons (a $94 million man who barely saw the court last year due to injuries), Wayne Selden (a highly-touted high school prospect who went undrafted), Tyreke Evans (a former Rookie of the Year who has played just 65 games combined over the last two seasons), Ben McLemore (the latest Kings cast-off to get a badly-needed fresh start), and Mario Chalmers (a two-time champ in Miami who is back after missing last season entirely) on the same roster. How many careers can Mike Conley and Marc Gasol resurrect at once? — BG

31. A trigger-happier Mike Conley. The world is a better place when Money Mike comes around every ball screen ready to let loose. — RM

32. David Fizdale’s next bit of rousing press conference oratory. Ready the t-shirt presses. — RM

33. The playground-style All-Star draft. While the NBA should have gone further to improve the quality of its All-Star Game by allowing fans, players and media members to vote for the 24 best players regardless of conference, their compromise solution will still be fun. Rather than have the East face the West, top vote-getters like LeBron James and Stephen Curry will get to select their teammates from a pool of All-Stars. Will James and Curry pick their teammates? Their former teammates? Will they pick each other’s rivals to spite each other? Which top star will be unfairly snubbed? And who will be the last player selected? All of those questions should make for great theater, jumpstarting an event that has felt increasingly pointless and one-sided over the last five years. ?— BG ?

34. Thanks to a major westward movement of talent, the first-time All-Star and snub conversations are both extra spicy this year. In the East, Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Bradley Beal and Goran Dragic could all make their first appearances. In the West, potential first-timers Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic and C.J. McCollum could all have trouble sneaking in. — BG

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35. Every glorious (and anxious) minute of Joel Embiid. — RM

36. Ben Simmons and the nightly mismatches he creates. The 2016 No. 1 pick is a point guard in a power forward’s body playing for a Philadelphia team that might just be creative enough to use him as a small–ball center at times. What’s the best way for opponents to handle that walking, talking, no-look passing, dunking predicament? And what line-up benefits can the Sixers extract while building around such a unique commodity? — BG

37. Brett Brown, finally stepping out of the darkness. Philadelphia made a brilliant hire in Brown, whose cheer buoyed the franchise through years of losing. The man has earned a core as promising as this one. — RM

38. The warm reception for Zach Randolph’s first game back in Memphis. All heart. — RM

39. A new, inverted sort of two-man game between Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris. — RM

40. The ongoing tension between the Nuggets and their rising expectations. With the justified hope of a playoff berth—the first in five years—comes the pressure to measure up. — RM

41. One more chance for the Rudy Gobert/Derrick Favors frontcourt pairing. The best-case: Utah finally has its two franchise bigs healthy and their shared size, skill and commanding presence stands as a nightly nightmare for opponents in a San Antonio-like manner. The worst-case: The NBA’s downsizing trend has passed this duo by, and Favors is reduced to a smaller role or, given his expiring contract, turned into a midseason trade chip. It would be a shame if these two never truly sustained their high-level ceiling. — BG

42. The strange, ongoing subplot between the Mavericks and Nerlens Noel. Oh, how quickly a promising trade can sour. A presumed building block center will wind up coming off the bench for a lottery team while playing on an qualifying offer. — RM

43. An ever-improving and constantly overlooked Anthony Davis. The transcendent four-time All-Star is quite possibly the only thing standing between New Orleans and a total shake-up, not to mention a DeMarcus Cousins trade. — BG

44. Houston’s push for smaller and stranger lineup combinations. When the Warriors are the elephant in the room, why not try P.J. Tucker at center? — RM

45. Double the lobs for Clint Capela, who should make a killing as a DeAndre Jordan Starter Kit. — RM

46. Brooklyn should be marginally more interesting thanks to the arrival of D’Angelo Russell, but the biggest story about their success (or lack thereof) once again concerns their pick. Thanks to the Kyrie Irving blockbuster, Cleveland now owns the rights to Brooklyn’s first-round pick in June’s draft, which will almost certainly fall in the lottery. How will the Nets’ early play influence the Cavaliers’ willingness to trade the piece in a midseason deal? If Brooklyn starts fast and the pick’s value drops, does Cleveland pull the trigger? Or, if Brooklyn struggles out of the gate, does Cleveland find itself weighing juicier offers? No matter how it plays out, the also-ran Nets should once again wind up playing a major role, tangentially, in shaping the East’s power balance at the top. — BG

47. Omri Casspi, at long last, on a contender. A great team player joins the greatest team going. — RM

48. Ricky Rubio, feeling the love. How freeing it is to play for a team that isn’t trying to trade you at every opportunity. — RM

49. The Jazz, uptempo. The slowest team in the league last year played nearly 10 possessions faster in the preseason. What might that mean for a team built around its deliberate execution? — RM

50. Portland’s scoring brought to perfect balance. One might think the skill sets of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are too similar for high efficiency. The Blazer offense—with its churning fluidity and many misdirections—begs to differ. — RM

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51. The search for the right lineups in Boston, featuring every wacky possibility imaginable. The Celtics’ roster is stocked with tantilizing possibilities and led by a coach creative enough to try them all. — RM

52. The Caris LeVert experience. LeVert is too erratic to be destined for any one fate, but he’s the rare net for whom great things seem possible. — RM

53. Myles Turner, on an island. We’ve seen what the upstart 21-year-old forward can do while Paul George, Jeff Teague, and Monta Ellis control the ball. Now we see Turner left to his own devices. — RM

54. The Great Dwight Howard versus Cody Zeller debate. Yes, this one is for the basketball nerds, but there’s good reason to track how this unfolds. On one hand, there’s the aging former Defensive Player of the Year and All-Star with an established relationship with his new coach and questions about his mobility, free-throw shooting, offensive effectiveness and personality. On the other hand, there’s the relatively anonymous up-and-coming advanced stats darling who fits more naturally with Charlotte’s other pieces. How will coach Steve Clifford handle his two centers? And how will Howard handle himself if his role starts to shrink? — BG

55. The genuine surprise of watching John Wall. To see Wall rev up in the open court is to have no idea what comes next. — RM

56. Washington knocking on the door of the East’s upper tier … and yelling loud enough to let everyone in the neighborhood know. — RM

57. Contract Year Jusuf Nurkic. Everything is lined up for the Bosnian Beast in Portland: He’s in good shape, he has a starting role, he can count on major minutes, and he plays with trustworthy guards that make a point to keep him involved. Sounds like a great formula for a major payday. — BG

58. All the ways that James Harden and Chris Paul will make each other’s lives easier. Tension can be riveting, but at the heart of Houston’s superstar pairing is the creative spirit of two fantastic playmakers. Their instincts won’t be competing so much as compounding. — RM

59. The Magic's new starting lineup will finally move Aaron Gordon to the four. If Orlando is going to make noise at any point in the near future, the 22-year-old former lottery pick must play a central role. Saving him from life at the three, where he started last season, was an absolute must. — BG ?

60. Patrick Beverley, amped beyond reason for some random game in March. — RM

61. After two tumultuous seasons in Chicago, Fred Hoiberg finally has the kind of roster that can put his system into action. The “three alphas” are gone, and with them the red tape of accommodating three ill-fitting veterans. — RM

62. The never-bashful, always-aggravating Dennis Schroder has been entrusted to be The Man with a real, live NBA franchise. Fasten your seatbelts. — BG

63. Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker and Chicago’s Zach LaVine—a pair of 22-year-olds with burgeoning potential—are slated to return from devastating season-ending injuries. Both the Bucks and Bulls will welcome back their former lottery picks with open arms and as many minutes as their surgically-repaired knees can handle. — BG

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64. The Heat, working from a clean slate. Think of what they might accomplish without an 11–30 start hanging around their necks. — RM

65. Justise Winslow, back in the mix. One of the league’s most precocious young wings rejoins the Heat rotation just after the team learned to live (and win) without him. Whether there’s really a place for Winslow in Miami depends on the lengths the Heat are willing to go to work around his wobbly jumper. — RM

66. Nike’s sleek new jersey design, which dumps the gimmicks that held back prior Adidas models. The alternate looks still need some fine-tuning and reimagining, but the overall product is a big and noticeable improvement that helps compensate for the long-dreaded addition of sponsor logos. — BG

67. The moment that the depth of the Knicks’ futility truly sinks in for Kristaps Porzingis. New York executed the first steps of a teardown this summer, parting ways with Phil Jackson, Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose in a matter of months and leaving Porzingis as the last man standing. How will the budding star handle what is sure to be a dreadful dead-end of a season? Will the inevitable adversity bring the best out of his game and/or reveal a new ferocity? The stage is his. — BG

68. The Avery Bradley test case. For years, Bradley looked like a model of transferability, a quality 3-and-D whose comfort playing without the ball made him an ideal backcourt partner for virtually any high-usage lead scorer. An offseason trade from Boston to Detroit will test that hypothesis, as Bradley must now run alongside the polarizing Reggie Jackson. If the pairing works, the Pistons become infinitely more relevant. If not, Bradley becomes a fascinating target for contenders at the trade deadline or as a free agent next summer. — BG

69. The last year of completely shameless tanking. Back in September, the NBA’s Board of Governors voted to tweak the draft lottery odds so that the three worst teams would have the same chance to receive the top pick in the draft. In other words, the league was trying to cut down on teams resting players and playing marginal talents in hopes of accumulating losses in a race to the absolute bottom. The new system, however, doesn’t kick in until the 2019 NBA draft. In other words, Atlanta, Chicago, Indiana, Phoenix, Sacramento and others will all get one final shot at marginally improving their chances at landing a franchise player through aggressive tanking. Let the games begin. — BG

70. Cutthroat competition for the West’s bottom four playoff spots. In all likelihood, three of the Clippers, Jazz, Grizzlies, Blazers, Nuggets, Pelicans, and Timberwolves will miss the postseason cut, likely with serious implications. The Western Conference is not for the faint of heart. — RM

71. The building of a dynasty in real time. These Warriors are quite possibly the greatest team of all time. In all the madness of the season—the moves, the squabbles, the dramatic flourishes, and the lingering questions—don’t let the magnitude of that standing go unappreciated. — RM

72. Manu Ginobili decided not to retire! — BG

Derrick Rose

Derrick Rose

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