Tony Dejak/Associated Press
Once the full slate drops, it will be time to pore over all 1,230 matchups as buzz continues to build for one of the most anticipated seasons in recent memory following an offseason full of blockbuster moves.
Here’s a look at when and where you can catch the drop, as well as a few storylines to track with the start of a new campaign two months away.
Date: Friday, August 10
Time: 4 p.m. ET
TV: NBA TV
How Will LeBron’s Move to LA Shake Up Western Conference Power Structure?
Tony Dejak/Associated Press
LeBron James is a Los Angeles Laker.
That probably still doesn’t sound quite right unless you bleed purple and gold, but it’s true.
And now that LeBron is officially set to lace up his kicks for the NBA’s most iconic franchise, the Lakers are primed for a major leap up the Western Conference standings after finishing 35-47 a season ago.
The question is, can L.A. realistically compete for a Western Conference title and hang with the likes of the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets?
James’ tenure with the Cleveland Cavaliers—and specifically the 2017-18 season—suggests they can. After all, he carried a supporting cast featuring Kevin Love, Jeff Green, JR Smith, Kyle Korver, George Hill and Jordan Clarkson to the Finals just a few months ago.
Replace that group with a more upside-laden cast that includes Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart—not to mention veterans Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee—and a Western Conference title isn’t out of the question.
“I don’t feel like this is even a rebuilding year for us,” James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols. “We have an opportunity to do something that a lot of people don’t think we can do. And we love the notion of, ‘it’s another rebuilding year and we don’t have enough.’ So that will motivate the guys that we have anyway.”
Then again, the West is an entirely different animal compared to the East.
Not only are the Rockets and Warriors entrenched as the West’s powerhouses, but star-studded groups in Oklahoma City, Portland, Utah and New Orleans will assuredly challenge L.A. in the standings.
But with James, anything is possible. And if he continues to churn out historic numbers in new surroundings, the Lakers could make a deep postseason run as they eye their first playoff berth since 2013.
The East Prepares to Crown a New Champion
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LeBron’s move to Los Angeles wasn’t just good news for the Lakers; it was also a boon for Eastern Conference title hopefuls who needed James to bolt so they could have a more direct path to the Finals.
So who’s the new top dog in the East?
Well, for the time being, it has to be the Boston Celtics.
Brad Stevens’ squad won 55 games last season, and it made a run to the Eastern Conference Finals with Kyrie Irving (knee) and Gordon Hayward (ankle) both sidelined.
Bring those two back into the mix, along with the continued development of young centerpieces Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and Boston could run away from the pack.
If they don’t, the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors will be waiting to make them pay.
Although the Sixers missed out on all of their big free-agent targets (see: James, LeBron and George, Paul), they kept their core from last season’s 52-win campaign intact. Plus, they’re entering year two of the Ben Simmons experience and could soon wield one of the league’s most intimidating guard combinations if Markelle Fultz’s work with trainer Drew Hanlen pays off.
Then there’s Toronto.
Unlike the Sixers, the Raptors underwent a major shake-up when they shipped DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a future first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
Additionally, the Raptors fired longtime head coach Dwane Casey and promoted former assistant Nick Nurse to occupy his post.
Given all those changes, the Raptors would seem to be the most unpredictable team in the East’s top tier. But with Leonard aboard and Kyle Lowry still running the show, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Raptors challenge the Celtics in a big way.
Don’t Sleep on These Teams
We’ve touched on the big players in each conference, which means it’s time to touch on the teams that could wind up generating substantial buzz despite a lack of hype entering the 2018-19 season.
The Nuggets were one win away from snaring a playoff berth last season. This year, don’t expect their postseason chances to come down to the season’s final game.
Denver has one of the NBA’s most promising young backcourts in Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, and a healthy Paul Millsap paired with a rapidly improving Nikola Jokic could vault Denver into the home-court advantage discussion come Round 1 of the playoffs.
Sprinkle in Isaiah Thomas’ arrival, and the Nuggets may soon field one of the NBA’s most potent offenses.
Don’t be surprised if the Indiana Pacers eclipse 50 wins this season.
They flirted with that mark a year ago, and the team’s ability to push the Cavaliers to seven games in the first round of the playoffs was eye-opening, to say the least.
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
With their offseason moves, could the Pacers be a 50-win team this season? https://t.co/uP1dbCsqFl
And now that the Pacers have added even more perimeter scoring (Doug McDermott), on-ball playmaking (Tyreke Evans) and shot-blocking (Kyle O’Quinn) thanks to a flurry of free-agent signings, Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner appear to have the help they need to make some real noise.
Owner Robert Pera raised some eyebrows in June when he posited the Memphis Grizzlies could win 50 games next season.
“Assuming Marc [Gasol] and Mike [Conley] come back healthy, I think we have a couple of surrounding pieces that are younger players that are going to make a positive impact,” Pera said. “We’ll get another good player in this draft. I see no reason why we can’t return to being a 50-win-plus team.”
At first glance, that may have sounded preposterous.
The Grizzlies stumbled their way to a 22-60 record last season, and they looked hapless more often than not.
But as Pera noted, it wasn’t some systemic failure. Point guard Mike Conley played a grand total of 12 games because of a heel injury, and Chandler Parsons was in the same boat with 36 appearances to his name because of recurring knee woes.
If those two can hit the hardwood at full strength this fall, Memphis could find itself staring at monster improvement in the win column. Also consider Memphis added small forward Kyle Anderson and drafted a new franchise cornerstone in Jaren Jackson Jr., and the Grizzlies’ future is suddenly looking a bit sunny.
Including the Jazz may be cheating since they won a first-round playoff series in April, but they deserve a shoutout nonetheless.
Head coach Quin Snyder has turned Utah into a well-oiled defensive machine—making his squad the exact opponent Western Conference giants want to avoid when the postseason rolls around.
On top of that, Utah’s offense still has plenty of room for improvement after finishing 15th in efficiency (106.2 points per 100 possessions).
At this point, it would be a surprise if the Jazz didn’t top 50 wins as they push toward a third straight postseason appearance.