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SI cover: NBA preview: King James and the Cavaliers take center stage

The NBA’s 69th season tips off next week with a flood of questions about which teams could possibly dethrone the San Antonio Spurs.
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The NBA’s 69th season tips off next week with a flood of questions about which teams could possibly dethrone the San Antonio Spurs, who dominated last season and made quick work of the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.

With every offseason the league sees an abundance of turnover in players and coaches, and this year is no different with nine new head coaches.

In the Eastern Conference, all eyes will be on Cleveland with its new Big Three of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, all of whom appear on the national cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated.

Just like Cleveland, almost every team improved in the East, setting up for what could be a particularly eventful season.

"There are questions. We want the pressure. We want the focus,” says Love, a three-time All-Star who averaged 26.1 points and 12.5 rebounds for the Wolves last season before coming to the Cavaliers. "I'm going to be a sponge. I know I can get a lot better."

The Cavaliers, who won 33 games last season, now stand as a roadblock to contenders such as the Bulls, Heat and Pacers.

The Bulls are hoping that former MVP Derrick Rose can return to form and fit nicely alongside some of the team's big offseason additions, including former Lakers center Pau Gasol and rookie Doug McDermott. With the influx of talent, Chicago could possibly find itself back on top of the East by year’s end.

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The Heat will count on veterans Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Luol Deng to pick up the slack, while the Pacers will try to pick up the pieces after losing All-Star forward Paul George to injury and all-everything guard Lance Stephenson to free agency.

The West is as loaded as ever, with nine teams winning at least 48 games last season, led by the Spurs, who are primed to make another run at the title. San Antonio, remarkably, returns every player from last season’s championship team.

The Oklahoma City Thunder, who lost in six games to the Spurs in the Western Conference finals, have issues of their own, as they will be without league MVP Kevin Durant for the first six weeks of the season after he underwent surgery to repair a foot injury.

The Los Angeles Clippers hope to take a step forward after winning a franchise-record 57 games and dealing with the turmoil surrounding former owner Donald Sterling, who was banned by the league and fined $2.5 million for making racially insensitive comments.  Now with former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer in charge of the team, and MVP candidate Blake Griffin and perennial All-Star Chris Paul running the show, the Clippers look to bring home the franchise's first championship.

For more on the NBA Preview, check out this week's Sports Illustrated (subscribe here).

Also in this issue, profiles on the art of punting in the NFL, former international basketball stars Arvydas and Domas Sabonis and a preview of the World Series between the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants. 

2014 Sports Illustrated Covers

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