70 reasons to watch the NBA this year
The NBA season tips off Tuesday night and, after 128 days without meaningful hoops, it's about time.
In honor of the league's 69th season, here's a look at 70 reasons to watch in 2014-15, in case Cleveland's new-look "Big Three" and San Antonio's title defense weren't enough for you. Why 70? Because 69 just isn't a number that you can use on Internet. (As always, a hat tip to veteran NBA writer Steve Aschburner for the inspiration.)
1. Kevin Love makes his postseason debut.
All those cold winter nights, 20/20 performances, and bitter barbs about contract negotiations will finally pay off with games that truly matter.
2. Russell Westbrook at full blast.
Life without Kevin Durant has its perks, at least for curious basketball fans.
3. Scott Brooks fully exposed.
One of the league's most polarizing coaches will go under the microscope during Durant's absence. Does his reputation receive a boost or take a hit?
4. The beautiful passing of Golden State's best lineups.
5. The first time Kerr draws up an out-of-timeout play that ends with a role player hitting a game-winner.
That is sure to produce a sweet and knowing smile from the old specialist.
6. Raptors fans packing Maple Leaf Square again.
No fan base rolls deeper.
7. The night-to-night intrigue of Derrick Rose.
One of the league's most explosive guards is made somehow more captivating by his shaky knees. Here's hoping for a healthy season from Rose, who will surely draw gasps from onlookers with every bump and hard fall.
8. Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol exchanging sheepish glances after making two passes too many on the same possession.
9. All business between the Bulls and Cavaliers.
It's too early for vitriol, making it all the more fitting for these titans to focus on the actual basketball. These are perfect foils: Perhaps the NBA's best offense and best defense, pitted against one another for supremacy within their conference and division.
10. Jason Kidd's laboratory.
The Brooklyn Kidd proved willing to experiment with strategy and rotation, largely to his team's benefit. That quality seems to have traveled with him to Milwaukee. Already Giannis Antetokounmpo has taken an unexpected turn at point guard, and in due time Kidd will be free to tinker with a versatile roster in a low-stakes environment.
11. Kobe Bryant, pushing toward the edge.
The probability of teammate homicide is high.
12. Kobe Bryant, pushing past Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list.
Barring injury, the Black Mamba will slither past MJ for the No. 3 spot all-time, with the milestone likely taking place sometime in December. A lifetime of dedication and nearly two years of excruciating recovery will produce a day in the sun.
13. The NBA's much-ballyhooed replay command center.
Teased for years, it's finally a real thing. A flat screen wonderland designed with the sole intention of making NBA games more efficient and eliminating refereeing errors? Thank you, thank you, thank you.
14. The Hornets are back.
And they brought great new jerseys and Hugo with them.
15. A Michael Jordan-owned team might actually win a playoff series.
Hopefully the humidor has kept his victory cigar fresh after all these years.
16. The brewing chemistry between Ricky Rubio and Thaddeus Young.
One is a playmaker able to access passing lanes and angles few can, the other a natural cutter with a knack for turning up with points off of broken plays. Both, coincidentally, are defensive pests that turn opponents over with incredible frequency. They'll get along swimmingly.
17. Adam Silver.
18. Stan! Van! Gundy!
How did we ever manage to survive two full seasons without SVG in our lives? Enjoy a chuckle by remembering back to that time, in 2011, when he accused former commissioner David Stern of suppressing dissent, prompting Stern to fire back, on the record, that a "fraying" Van Gundy was guilty of "aberrant behavior."
19. Unforeseen development.
Last season, DeMar DeRozan matured in almost every facet of his game without any dramatic change to his role. Who follows this year?
20. The long-awaited rookie season of Nerlens Noel.
Philadelphia knew what it was getting into with drafting Noel in 2013 and was willing to wait out a season of rehabilitation for the promise of a potential star. Noel doesn't have an NBA-worthy offensive game just yet, but he should immediately challenge the league's best defensive bigs in terms of both steals and blocked shots.
21. Byron Scott's offense, given that he fears the three-pointer as cavemen feared fire.
The line between "throwback" and "troglodytic" has officially been crossed.
22. Some new version of Chris Bosh that is neither the dominant 2009-10 model nor the perfect complement of 2013-14.
Miami will need more from Bosh in its new construction, though to what degree he can deliver -- and in what style -- remains to be seen.
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23. LeBron James' first chalk toss.
Those five words got your heart pumping.
24. A vengeful Chris Paul.
Rarely does such a talented, intelligent player fall flat on his face with the season on the line. Paul was already wearing a chip on his shoulder due to a lack of postseason success. His uncharacteristic meltdown in the conference semifinals against the Thunder turned that chip into a boulder.
25. Jeff Hornacek's first double-double.
How long will Phoenix's coach be able to resist playing a lineup that includes both Dragic brothers and the Morris Twins?
26. Joe Johnson, still as smooth as ever.
His offensive game -- built on post ups, floaters and the ability to manufacture space on a whim -- has aged gracefully.
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27. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's new jumper.
28. More history from Tim Duncan.
San Antonio's living legend delivers more goosebumps than R.L. Stine. Take a moment to appreciate the fact that Duncan came back for more. Five titles and a possible "perfect exit" still didn't satisfy his competitive desire.
29. Jamal Crawford dancing with the ball.
No matter how you feel about the particulars of Crawford's game, he handles the ball in a way that warrants consistent awe. Tune in with remote in hand, ready to rewind the DVR.
30. Damian Lillard pushing back against his ceiling... again.
His soaring stock will eventually plateau, but not yet. New heights are in store for Portland's third-year point guard, who will look to build off his 2013 Rookie of the Year award and 2014 Shot of the Year title.
31. The end-to-end dashes of John Wall.
He's not the 31st-best when it comes to fast breaks.
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32. The "Best Backcourt" conversation needs settling.
Watching budding stars get their legs and stake their claims is a cherished offseason ritual that pales in comparison to the head-to-head match-ups that serve as fact-checkers. We're looking at you: Bradley Beal, John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Oh, and we're expecting Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to put an end to the debate.
33. Jose Calderon in the role he was born to play.
A pinpoint passer with great decision-making skills and little ability to attack off the dribble makes for a perfect fit in the triangle offense.
34. Derek Fisher's suit game.
Coaches love preaching "control what you can control." In Fisher's case, fixing the Knicks' defensive woes is a tall order. Making a run at the "best-dressed" title in his rookie year, however, is well within reach.
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35. Kyrie Irving, playing with others.
To this point the 22-year-old standout has done his best work as a solo act, if by some sense of necessity. That won't be an option now that LeBron James and Kevin Love suit up alongside him, pulling an isolated star into team focus.
36. Dion Waiters' emergence as the NBA's most polarizing player.
Give it two months. It's coming.
37. The adventures of Tony Wroten.
Moderate your Sixers viewing for your sanity's sake, but do take time to enjoy one of the NBA's most audacious young guards:
38. Manu Ginobili.
Every one of his games is a delight.
39. J.E. Skeets from "The Starters" making his All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game debut.
This is the year, right? Right?!
40. The dirty work.
Someone has to set hard screens, grapple for rebounds and take fouls when necessary. Omer Asik, Amir Johnson, Steven Adams, Tony Allen, Andrew Bogut, Taj Gibson, Zaza Pachulia, Quincy Acy and so many more are thrilled to oblige.
41. The "third-best player in the NBA" discussion is officially open.
The collective and continued rise of Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis and Kevin Love threatens Chris Paul's stranglehold on the "Best player not named LeBron James or Kevin Durant" title for the first time in years.
42. Greg Monroe's season under the qualifying offer.
Rare is the player who takes his restricted free agency into his own hands by playing out a one-year qualifying offer. Monroe took the plunge, though, and has until next summer to showcase his value and avoid major injury.
43. A mulligan for Roy Hibbert.
It took but a few months for Hibbert's reputation to fall to shambles, despite his continued value as one of the NBA's most feared rim protectors. A season of stronger scoring and rebounding would go a long way toward rebuilding Hibbert's overall credibility.
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44. The perpetual layup line run against the Lakers, soundtracked by the yelling of Carlos Boozer.
The STAPLES Center should be a highlight factory in the worst way possible.
45. Gordon Hayward, brought up to speed in Quin Snyder's uptempo offense.
Freedom comes to those who run.
46. Zach Lowe on television.
47. LaMarcus Aldridge bludgeoning opponents with the mid-range jumper.
Only so skilled a craftsman as this could make such a reliable living off of such difficult shots.
48. David Blatt's engineering of Cleveland's defensive interior.
Star-studded though the Cavs may be, it will still take some minor genius to create a high-functioning defense with Anderson Varejao's medical records, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson running the back line.
49. Denver's three-headed monster at center.
Coach Brian Shaw has encouraged Timofey Mozgov to shoot three-pointers, JaVale McGee is as wacky as the NBA gets and Bosnian rookie Jusuf Nurkic's intriguing preseason came out of absolutely nowhere. How does this one get sorted out?
50. An important reminder that Al Horford is an awesome basketball player.
It's been awhile since Horford, having missed time in the last two seasons with pectoral injuries, was a regular NBA fixture. Long enough, it seems, for some NBA fans to forget just how terrific he is on the court.
51. A talented rookie crop led by Jabari Parker.
Coming off of a down year for first-year performers, Milwaukee's wise-beyond-his-years forward is set up perfectly for a season to remember. Elsewhere, point guards Marcus Smart and Elfrid Payton will get all the responsibility that they can handle, while Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon will all delight with the athleticism that could make them future All-Stars.
52. Goran Dragic making his defender look absolutely foolish.
All it takes is the slightest momentum for Dragic to shake loose in the lane and force the hand of the help.
53. A properly spaced Memphis offense.
Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Zach Randolph have done the best they could in close quarters. Yet for the first time in this era of Grizzlies basketball, all three will have the benefit of reliable support from the outside via Courtney Lee, Vince Carter, Quincy Pondexter and perhaps even Jordan Adams if Dave Joerger digs deep enough.
54. Blake Griffin doing damn near everything in the half-court.
He posts up, he initiates offense, he passes, he rebounds, he finishes and now he's shooting corner threes. This is a player of terrifying capability threatening to do new and exciting things every time he touches a basketball.
55. Houston making do after shipping off its supporting pieces.
James Harden made clear that the Rockets lost only role players this summer, but the contributions of Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik must still be accounted for. Trevor Ariza will slide in for Parsons at small forward, albeit with a more focused skill set and the contentment of a new, four-year deal. Isaiah Canaan will likely step into Lin's role as a creator off the bench, though to this point he's played all of 252 NBA minutes. Replacing Asik could prove even more difficult, as Houston has a lack of skilled natural centers beyond Dwight Howard. If the Rockets are as successful this season as expected, it will be fascinating to watch the patchwork rotation stitch itself together in real time.
56. A better Slam Dunk Contest field and format.
There are plenty of rookies with serious bounce and the event's structure has no where to go but up from last year's letdown, which ended so abruptly it was disorienting.
57. Chandler Parsons' lobs to Tyson Chandler.
Cut out Dwight Howard, insert a similarly bouncy lob target, and resume.
58. Yet another fading, floating Dirk Nowitzki jumper, eked just over the outstretched arm of a defender.
59. The point guard dogfight to make the All-Star team in the West.
Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Tony Parker, Goran Dragic. The field is so deep that even the snub's list will have its own snubs. Mike Conley??? Jrue Holiday? Ty Lawson? Ricky Rubio? You didn't even mention Jeremy Lin?
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60. Eighty-two Clippers games without Donald Sterling in attendance.
It's terrifying to think what the NBA's top offense in 2014 will be capable of now that its toxic ownership cloud has been replaced by the rambunctious, free-spending Steve Ballmer.
61. San Antonio, while pacing its stars, beats a playoff-caliber opponent with reserves alone.
A cherished annual tradition.
62. Ray Allen hasn't retired yet.
Sure, he hasn't signed with a team yet, either, but it's hard to believe that Jesus Shuttlesworth is done done. After all, LeBron James can always use an extra shooter, the Cavaliers offer a legit shot at a fourth ring for the veteran guard, and Allen finds himself just 27 three-pointers away from becoming the first player to hit 3,000 career triples.
63. Anthony Davis, on the cusp of something big.
You can feel it in the air. Davis was tremendous last NBA season and even better for Team USA over the summer. Greatness awaits, perhaps sooner rather than later.
64. DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Jonas Valanciunas and Derrick Favors all making their own strides.
This is a really good time for young bigs.
65. A week-long break surrounding All-Star Weekend in New York City with J.R. Smith's schedule totally free for party hosting duties.
What could possibly go wrong?
66. Becky Hammon making history.
San Antonio made the former WNBA star the NBA's first full-time female assistant coach this summer.
67. K.J. McDaniels, betting on himself.
The Sixers rookie turned town a deal with multiple guaranteed seasons for the ability to revisit free agency next summer. In doing so, McDaniels steered away from the contract structure that kept players like Chandler Parsons and Lance Stephenson locked in at incredible value. In doing so, McDaniels also accepts some risk that only his performance -- and health -- can resolve.
68. Charles Barkley.
Retire the Churro jokes; run everything else back. Nobody does it better.
69. The very real possibility that LeBron James will become just the fourth player in history to win five MVP awards.
He would join Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan. At age 30.
70. Kawhi Leonard.
You thought we forgot about the 23-year-old reigning Finals MVP, didn't you? Never. Last year proved that his star is bright enough to shine on the league's biggest stage, managed minutes, tough match-ups and boring interviews be damned. This year? Who knows. Leonard's meteoric rise from 2011 draft day afterthought to 2014 postseason hero is why we watch.