MIAMI (AP) Happy new NBA season.
It starts Tuesday night in Cleveland, where the champion Cavaliers will raise a banner and the visiting New York Knicks will see if Derrick Rose can help them start rising back to the upper echelon of the league.
Also this week: Dwyane Wade makes his official debut in Chicago after 13 seasons in Miami, life after the retirements of Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan begins, and Golden State takes a team that won a record 73 games last season - plus led Cleveland 3-1 in the NBA Finals before falling - and adds Kevin Durant to the mix.
So without further ado, to start off our weekly look at the NBA, three AP basketball writers offer up their predictions for the coming season:
Jon Krawczynski : Golden State. I wish I had more guts, but there is just too much firepower there.
Brian Mahoney : Golden State. Can't make a much better case for anyone else.
Tim Reynolds : Cleveland. LeBron James' chasedown block in Game 7 is yet another reminder that he's the best player alive.
Krawczynski: Chris Paul. Kevin Durant and Steph Curry will split the Warrior vote and LeBron will be all about playoffs, so the door is open for CP3.
Mahoney: James Harden. Numbers will be sensational and Rockets will be improved.
Reynolds: LeBron James. He averages 25, 7 and 7 and makes it look too easy. Besides, he's still owed a trophy from 2011.
EAST RUNNER-UP (SINCE CLEVELAND WILL WIN, RIGHT?)
Krawczynski: Boston. Al Horford and coach Brad Stevens are perfect together.
Mahoney: Boston. Same as every year: whoever faces LeBron in the conference finals.
Reynolds: Toronto. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will be even better this year.
WEST RUNNER-UP (SINCE GOLDEN STATE WILL WIN, RIGHT?)
Krawczynski: Los Angeles Clippers. They're desperate for another run, enough to push past San Antonio.
Mahoney: Clippers. Youth gets them past the Spurs for the right to lose to the Warriors.
Reynolds: San Antonio. I thought about the Clippers, Utah and Portland here as well, but the Spurs still command respect.
Krawczynski: Minnesota. Young legs plus coach Tom Thibodeau's intensity will fuel a playoff push.
Mahoney: New York. Derrick Rose has to stay healthy sometime. And Olympic years seem to agree with Carmelo Anthony.
Reynolds: Utah. Coach Quin Snyder is underrated, the Jazz are sneaky deep and can defend. Good combination.
Krawczynski: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota. First Team All-NBA, here he comes.
Mahoney: D'Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers. Bryant's final year in L.A. was wrong time, wrong place, wrong coach for the rookie. Now he'll flourish.
Reynolds: Damian Lillard, Portland. Disclaimer: He's already broken out, but he's the pick here because people will finally notice this year.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Here's some of the games to keep an eye on this week:
- New York at Cleveland, Tuesday: Ring night for the Cavaliers, the NBA's season opener, next door to Game 1 of the World Series.
- San Antonio at Golden State, Tuesday: The Kevin Durant debut for the Warriors, and the only time these clubs will meet until March 11.
- Miami at Orlando, Wednesday: The post-Dwyane Wade era starts for Miami, and the Magic will honor Pride nightclub victims and survivors.
- Houston at L.A. Lakers, Wednesday: Luke Walton makes his sort-of debut as a head coach, as the Lakers begin anew without Kobe Bryant.
- Minnesota at Sacramento, Saturday: A first-week big-man showdown - the Wolves' Karl-Anthony Towns and the Kings' DeMarcus Cousins.
- Dirk Nowitzki enters 509 points shy of being the fifth 30,000-point scorer in NBA history.
- If the Celtics win 15 more games than the Lakers, they would take over as the NBA's all-time wins leader. The Lakers have 3,235 wins coming into this season, the Celtics 3,221.
- Stephen Curry has a chance to be the fourth back-to-back-to-back MVP in NBA history, joining Bill Russell (1961-63), Wilt Chamberlain (1966-68) and Larry Bird (1984-86). Since Bird pulled off the three-peat, five other players - Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, Steve Nash and LeBron James (twice in his case) - have won two straight but saw their reigns end there.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Just like when last season ended, the Spurs have the NBA's active career blocked-shot leader. In April, it was Tim Duncan (3,020). Now it's Pau Gasol (1,777).
Follow AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ByTimReynolds