The Warriors won again. The Cavaliers got there again. Wait, but the West got significantly better in the summer, so it’s all leading to — likely another Warriors-Cavs NBA Finals.
It’s no fun to skip to the end of the story, but in the interim, there will be plenty of plotlines and marquee games over the next six months to keep everyone’s attention. Several familiar faces are in new places and there will be some intrigue as the season unfolds.
Here’s a look at Rod Beard’s initial NBA Power Rankings:
1. Warriors (67-15): Can we just fast-forward to the playoffs? Barring significant injury, they’ll have 65-plus wins and be heavily favored for another championship. The mini-drama in the season will be some of their West marquee matchups.
2. Cavaliers (51-31): No Kyrie, no problem. Maybe. With so many new faces around LeBron James, it won’t be a seamless transition, but by the time the postseason rolls around, they’ll be ready for another rematch with the Warriors.
3. Celtics (53-29): Weaving in the new roster might take some time early in the season, but when they get going, they’ll be tough to stop. The regular season doesn’t matter; they’ll have to prove it in the postseason against the Cavs.
4. Rockets (55-27): Two point guards in James Harden and Chris Paul? But there’s still only one ball, so sharing will be essential, getting the big men involved and interested. Harden could have another MVP run waiting.
5. Thunder (47-35): Three scorers, only one ball. It’ll be interesting to see how Russell Westbrook adjusts to distributing the ball, now that he has more help with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. The bigs will make a difference.
6. Spurs (61-21): It feels weird to put the Spurs this low — and they always seem to get to 60 wins — but I have an eerie feeling about this one. Somebody has to struggle in the stacked West and it might just one of the mainstays.
7. Timberwolves (31-51): Adding Jimmy Butler was critical, but getting Jamal Crawford and Taj Gibson was just as important, to bring some veteran savvy to a young, underachieving team that will be intriguing to watch.
8. Wizards (49-33): There are other East teams besides the top two and the Wizards supplant the Raptors as the third. They still have one of the best backcourts in the league and with more experience, they’re still on the rise.
9. Bucks (42-40): With a slew of games against inferior East teams, the Bucks can load up on wins. Giannis Antetokounmpo took a big step last year, but their youth takes another leap with him this year.
10. Raptors (51-31): The neighbors to the north still have plenty to like in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, but they seem stuck in neutral and didn’t make any big moves in the offseason to improve.
11. Nuggets (40-42): Give them credit for going out and getting Paul Millsap to pair with Nikola Jokic and keeping Gary Harris for the long term. If the backcourt clicks, they’ll rise even higher.
12. Clippers (51-31): Even without Chris Paul, they’ll still be fine, but it’ll take some adjustment with Blake Griffin in a more prominent role. Their new construction is interesting, but they’ll need help in the backcourt.
13. Jazz (51-31): Even without Gordon Hayward, they have plenty of talent left, and Ricky Rubio will shake things up offensively. Rudy Gobert is in line for another breakout year and rookie Donovan Mitchell can play.
14. Blazers (41-41): Their backcourt is elite, but they’ve still been tinkering to find the right frontcourt mix to complement it. Jusuf Nurkic was a good addition but they could look to get some quality minutes from rookie Zach Collins.
15. Pelicans (34-48): The time with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins on the floor together had its ups and downs, but adding Rajon Rondo could be the missing piece, along with Jrue Holiday. Time is running short for this experiment.
16. Sixers (28-54): This has to be the Sixers’ year, doesn’t it? After all that tanking and all those injuries, the draft picks finally look like they’re going to see the floor together. They’ll make the playoffs, but how far can they go?
17. Grizzlies (43-39): Every year, it seems like the Grizzlies are right there, but with so much attrition in the West, they could take a small step back. They’re still a veteran group that knows how to get tough wins — and they’re not going to get rooked.
18. Hornets (36-46): They were somewhat a disappointment last season, but despite all their optimism in the preseason, they’ll have to overcome an injury to Nicolas Batum. The talent is all there, with Dwight Howard in the middle.
19. Heat (41-41): Coach Eric Spoelstra has managed to do more with less and squeeze as much as he can out of his lineup. The big win streak last season showed that they’ll play with anybody and pull out a win.
20. Pistons (37-45): Avery Bradley is going to shake things up on both ends of the court, but they’ll need Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond to be more like they were in 2015-16 and the young players to contribute heavily in order to make a big difference.
21. Lakers (26-56): Another high draft pick should yield another promising year for the Lakers, but getting Lonzo Ball could catapult them up — if only they were in the East. They’ll struggle some, but take a big step forward.
22. Mavericks (33-49): They’re still holding on with mostly the same roster, but adding rookie Dennis Smith could be huge for them. He answers the immediate questions at point guard and could be the choice for rookie of the year.
23. Kings (32-50): No more being the league’s laughingstock — the Kings will be legitimate, with the additions of rookies De’Aaron Fox and Harry Giles. Buddy Hield will improve and Zack Randolph, even at 36, will help.
24. Magic (29-53): It always feels like the Magic should be better, but just can’t seem to get over the hump. The talent is there, but when it all clicks is the only outstanding question. Rookie Jonathan Isaac is one to watch.
25. Suns (24-58): Devin Booker is going to get most of the attention but Josh Jackson is going to bring another playmaker that may even things out. They’ll still need at least one of their big men to be dominant, but they’re getting closer.
26. Pacers (42-40): The Paul George trade took the wind out of their fans’ sails and they’ll look to build around Myles Turner and familiar faces Victor Oladipo and Glenn Robinson III, when he gets healthy.
27. Knicks (31-51): They still have Kristaps Porzingis — barely — and paid a king’s ransom for Tim Hardaway Jr. They’ll hope they didn’t make a mistake in taking Frank Ntilikina in the draft, but there’s plenty more work to do before they’re a contender.
28. Nets (20-62): They have a nice young core with D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert and Allen Crabbe. They’ll look to add veteran help down the road, but they’re going in the right direction.
29. Hawks (43-39): The days of contending in the East are far gone, especially after Paul Millsap’s departure. The roster is a bit of a mish-mash and they’ll be tough to watch this season.
30. Bulls (41-41): They signaled their rebuild when they traded Jimmy Butler and didn’t seem to get equal value in return. It’ll be a long season, as they look to the youth movement of Zach LaVine, Justin Holiday and Lauri Markkanen.