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70 reasons to watch the NBA this year

LeBron James and Golden State's title defense not enough? Here are 70 reasons to watch the NBA this season.

With the NBA tipping off its 70th season on Tuesday, here are 70 reasons to watch in 2015–​16, in case Golden State’s title defense and another year of LeBron James’s greatness weren't enough for you.

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

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• Previews for all 30 NBA teams | Opposing scouts break down each team

1. Kevin Durant is back. Hopefully, the return of the 2014 MVP lifts an injury curse that touched far too many superstars in 2014–15. Durant’s comeback from three foot surgeries might be the league’s most intriguing storyline. He’s got a new coach in Billy Donovan, a new-look supporting cast, and an expiring contract that will make him the league’s most coveted free agent come July (assuming LeBron James avoids a third Decision). More importantly, MJ and LBJ both won their first NBA titles during their age-27 seasons. Can KD, who turned 27 in September, keep pace?

• Previews: Atlantic | Central | Southeast | Northwest | Pacific | Southwest

2. The Warriors’ effect. Nothing busts myths like a championship, and Golden State’s title run helped put to bed a bunch of “conventional wisdom” that looked increasingly backwards in recent years. Can fast-paced teams adjust to the slower pace of the playoffs and win a title? Can three-point teams without a low-post scorer win a title? Can small ball defenses hold up well enough to win a title? Yes, yes, and yes—now watch as everyone rushes to copy the Warriors’ new modern formula. “Pace and space” will continue to sweep the league in 2015–16, from Chicago to Indiana to Washington and more. Whether anyone can beat Golden State at its own game remains to be seen, but the imitators should help shape a smarter and more entertaining basketball product.

• 
Chris Mannix: Can Warriors find a way to repeat in 2015-16?

3. Is this Kobe Bryant’s last stand? There are 35 small images on the cover of the Lakers’ media guide, and all 35 depict Kobe Bryant. The mosaic serves as a tribute to his career and a reminder that, at 37, this season could be it. The future Hall of Famer is entering his 20th campaign and the final year of his current contract. After three consecutive season-ending injuries, his future grew even cloudier when his preseason was cut short by a leg injury. Although he has yet to definitively indicate that this will be his last NBA season, Bryant has reached the point where every turnaround jumper and fist pump must be cherished. 

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4. Anthony Davis at full speed. What terrors will be unleashed when a frighteningly athletic, tremendously skilled big man is amped up by a fast-paced offense?

5. A deep, varied MVP race that’s already amazing. For the last four years, the preseason MVP discussion mostly boiled down to, “LeBron James or Kevin Durant?” James won in 2012 and 2013, Durant won in 2014, and the binary nature of the race exploded last season when both players, models of consistency and good health for years, finally missed enough time to open the door for other contenders. A number of excellent candidates came racing through to stake their claims: Stephen Curry (the 2015 MVP), James Harden (the 2015 “Players’ Choice” MVP), Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul. 

Reinventing the New Orleans Pelicans

With James and Durant back, that makes seven strong MVP candidates—eight if you want to add Blake Griffin to the mix. Is it impossible to imagine John Wall, Jimmy Butler or Kyle Lowry catching fire, leading their teams to the East’s No. 1 seed, and forcing themselves into the MVP talk? Not impossible, no. Could Kawhi Leonard sneak into the mix if San Antonio tops 60 wins? Maybe. Can Paul George lead the new-look Pacers back into the playoffs, reassert himself as one of the league’s top two-way guys and generate some “reward his amazing comeback” talk? Perhaps. Suddenly, that same, old two-man race has ballooned into a field of more than a dozen. The best part: the vast majority of these candidates are under-30, setting up compelling conversations that should continue for at least the next five years. 

6. John Wall at full throttle. Some of the sweetest music from the preseason has drifted in from Wizards camp, where coach Randy Wittman is pledging to play faster while emphasizing the three-point shot. Washington’s shot selection has been a long-standing annoyance, but the fact that the Wizards’ offense didn’t make full use of John Wall’s exceptional speed and open-floor ability was the real watchability killer. “The shape I was in last season wouldn’t have had me in shape for the system we’re running now,” Wall said in October, before Washington posted a league-best 112.3 points per game during the exhibition season. A totally green lit Wall, surrounded by players like Bradley Beal and Otto Porter who can get up and down, should be a sight to behold.

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7. LeBron James, back for more. LeBron James’s sensational 2015 postseason was one for the ages: he averaged 30.1 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.5 assists while leading a broken-down Cavaliers team to within two wins of a title without either of his All-Star sidekicks. As a reminder, James’s eye-popping playoff lines included: 27/8/14, 38/12/6, 30/9/11, 37/18/13, 44/8/6, 39/16/11, 40/12/8, 40/14/11 and 32/18/9. 

The man was on a different planet, and he surely understands that all of those feats, as remarkable as they were, still lead to the same, aggravating questions that he’s faced for most of his entire career: What’s your next trick, and can you win a ring this time? James—at 31, with more than 43,000 total minutes under his belt, and with memories of his one-man postseason mastery still fresh—also faces a third, slightly darker question this time around: Will your body let you do that (all of it) again? Doubt James at your own risk.​

8. A deeper, richer Heat. When LeBron James left in 2014, Miami faced an unavoidable question: What happens during the 15 to 20 games every season that Dwyane Wade can’t play in due to injury? A disappointing 2014–15 season didn’t produce an answer—at least not until Duke’s Justise Winslow fell into Pat Riley’s lap during the draft. Now, Erik Spoelstra can turn his attention to developing the Heat’s next potential star whenever Wade’s knees require maintenance. Winslow’s arrival, plus the returns of Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts and the additions of Gerald Green and Amar’e Stoudemire, should help Miami hold up better in the standings this time around.

9. Zach LaVine’s Slam Dunk Contest defense. After putting together one of the best all-around Slam Dunk Co