The NBA is back, and with LeBron moving to the Lakers and Cleveland now in mourning, the big question is whether anyone can stop the Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors may be red-hot favourites to make it three NBA championships in a row and their fourth in five years, but there’s still plenty of love for the Boston Celtics and the Houston Rockets. Then, of course, there’s LeBron. And with ‘King James’ now in Los Angeles, the Eastern Conference is likely to crown a new champion as well.
The Warriors will aim to sign off on almost 50 years in Oakland with one final NBA championship at Oracle Arena, before moving into a new state-of-the-art arena across the bay in San Francisco next year. Before then, Steph Curry and co. will look to put divisional rivals the Los Angeles Lakers – and their new star man LeBron James – in their place.
The Warriors trounced the Cleveland Cavaliers 4-0 in last year’s NBA Finals, but they had a much tougher time seeing off the Houston Rockets 4-3 to win the Western Conference Finals. They’ve added free agent DeMarcus Cousins to their already star-studded roster, meaning the Warriors will boast five All-Stars from the 2018 All-Star Game.
If Steph Curry stays fit, the Warriors will be tough to topple in the Western Conference.
Starting Odds: $1.57
The Celtics came within an inch of beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, but some dire three-point-shooting from beyond the arc cost them dearly in Game 7. The Celtics lost that game 87-79 after going 7-for-39 from three-point range, and they’ll be looking to make up for that missed opportunity this year.
How they fare might depend largely on the form and fitness of the injury-riddled Kyrie Irving. The one-time Cleveland star has missed almost a hundred games over the past four years, but when he’s on the floor, he’s Boston’s most reliable attacking threat. The Celtics have re-signed popular Aussie centre Aron Baynes, after he played 81 of 82 games last year.
If Irving can combine with a fit-again Gordon Hayward, the Celtics look the likeliest to claim the Eastern Conference crown.
Starting Odds: $8.00
James Harden won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award last season, but can he win a championship ring with the Houston Rockets? They led the Western Conference Finals 3-2 over the Golden State Warriors last season, but an astonishing Game 6 – when the Warriors outscored the Rockets 64-25 in the second half – seemed to demoralise the Rockets.
They’ll pin most of their hopes on Harden once again this season, although high-profile veteran Carmelo Anthony will be expected to pull his weight on offence. Along with Chris Paul, the Rockets boast a trio with plenty of experience – but virtually all of their firepower comes from Harden. If opponents find a way to stop him, the Rockets may struggle to fire.
Harden was a one-man scoring machine last year, but if the much-travelled Anthony can step up, the Rockets should once again prove hard to beat.
Starting Odds: $9.00
LeBron James. No name has struck more fear into the heart of NBA opponents than the three-time NBA champion, and the former Cleveland and Miami star has taken his imposing brand of one-man power basketball to the Los Angeles Lakers. Having last made the playoffs in 2013, hopes are high that James is the man to lead the Lakers back to the post-season.
James isn’t the only big name at the Lakers, with four-time NBA All-Star Rajon Rondo brought in to help mentor the headline-generating Lonzo Ball. Along with Brandon Ingram, there’s plenty of potential in Luke Walton’s team, but how they meld with an incandescent talent like James may determine the success of their season.
LeBron James helped the city of Cleveland end a 52-year championship drought, but can he restore the Lakers to their former glory?
Starting Odds: $11.00
Make a note of it, America – Ben Simmons is Australian, and he’s the best young player in the NBA. While fans in Philly may sometimes have a hard time remembering that the Melbourne-born, Australian representative comes from the land down under, his opponents won’t quickly forget the fact that Simmons is the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year.
The Sixers finished last season with a 16-game regular season winning streak, but ultimately went down to arch-rivals the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. They’ll be desperate to go at least one better this year, and the Sixers will once again look to Simmons and Cameroonian star Joel Embiid to spark their season.
The 76ers transformation over the past two years has stunned the NBA, but they’ll need to make another step up in class if they’re to challenge for championship honours.
Starting Odds: $15.00
It’s a case of goodbye DeMar DeRozan, hello Kawhi Leonard in Toronto – after the Raptors bowed out in the playoffs to the Cleveland Cavaliers for the third straight season last year. That result saw long-serving head coach Dwayne Casey sacked shortly before he was named the NBA Coach of the Year, and former assistant Nick Nurse is Toronto’s new head coach.
The Raptors won a franchise-record 59 games last season, but their inability to overcome the Cavaliers in the playoffs continues to rankle. They’ll hope the addition of the highly-rated but injury-plagued Leonard – not to mention the absence of LeBron James – will help them take the next step towards the NBA Finals.
If Leonard can rediscover the form that saw him become an NBA champion with San Antonio in 2014, the Raptors may just be a dark horse to go all the way.
Starting Odds: $17.00