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Los Angeles Lakers

2018 NBA Season Preview: Top questions and storylines

LeBron James looms over the 2018-19 season
LeBron James looms over the 2018-19 season (Getty Images, NBA.com illustration)

The 2018-19 NBA regular season is finally here!

As always, there are tons of major questions entering the season. Here are the top stories we're paying closest attention to right out of the gates.

Can anyone beat the Warriors?

The biggest question entering this season is the same one we all asked last season. The Warriors are perhaps the most dominant dynasty since Michael Jordan's Bulls, winning three of the last four Finals while reaching the NBA Finals each season.

They now have a chance to do something that no team has done since Bill Russell's Boston Celtics in the 1960s: reach FIVE straight NBA Finals.

The biggest question mark is DeMarcus Cousins, who signed a one-year contract with the team this summer. Although he's made the All-Star team four straight seasons, Cousins is coming off a devastating Achilles injury suffered last season.

Nobody knows if or when he'll return to form, but there's no question he's got the chance to make this team even more dominant.

Will LeBron James make the Lakers a contender?

The best player in the world was also the most talked about player in the offseason, as he agreed to a four-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, bringing an end to his second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

James has reached the NBA Finals in eight straight seasons but faces an uphill task in trying to reach a ninth straight on a young Lakers team comprised of promising, yet unproven, talent.

The Lakers have missed the playoffs five straight seasons after missing it just four times total in their first 53 seasons in Los Angeles.

Are the Rockets still the 2nd-best team in the West?

Houston came close to knocking off the Warriors in last year's Conference Finals but blew double-digit leads in Game 6 and Game 7. Superstar point guard Chris Paul didn't play in either of those games after injuring his hamstring in Game 5.

Paul and reigning MVP James Harden are back and joined by 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony, who signed with the team this offseason after a disappointing year with the Thunder.

If Houston isn't the 2nd-best team, who else could it be?

Anthony's former team in Oklahoma City could make a run after re-signing Paul George, who is coming off of perhaps the best season of his career playing next to Russell Westbrook.

The Utah Jazz have perhaps the league's best defense anchored by reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. Second-year guard Donovan Mitchell could be a breakout star in Utah after averaging 23.5 points per game in the playoffs while outplaying Westbrook in the 1st Round.

Don't discount LeBron's Lakers, Anthony Davis' Pelicans or even the Denver Nuggets, who actually had the NBA's best offense for over half of the season last year.

Who is the favorite to win the East?

With LeBron James no longer in Cleveland, it's time for another team to win the East.

The top two contenders entering the season appear to be the Raptors and Celtics, in some order.

Last 8 Eastern Conference Champions
Season Team LeBron's Team?
2017-18 Cavaliers Yes
2016-17 Cavaliers Yes
2015-16 Cavaliers Yes
2014-15 Cavaliers Yes
2013-14 Heat Yes
2012-13 Heat Yes
2011-12 Heat Yes
2010-11 Heat Yes

The Raptors traded for superstar Kawhi Leonard this offseason, who played just nine games last season due to a quad injury. If Leonard can return to form as the NBA's best two-way player, the Raptors could once again finish with the best record in the East.

The Celtics are perhaps the deepest team. All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are back healthy to join a young and talented roster that almost made the Finals without them last season. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are two of the most promising young players in the entire league.

MORE : Who will take advantage of LeBron leaving the Eastern Conference ?

Who is the best player in the East?

Before his injury in the 2017 playoffs, Kawhi Leonard had back-to-back top-3 finishes in MVP voting while also winning Defensive Player of the Year.

Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged 26.9 points and 10.0 rebounds per game last season in Milwaukee and now has a new coach in Mike Budenholzer, who is an offensive mastermind and could bring out the best in the talented 23-year-old.

Kyrie Irving looked like an MVP candidate last season before injuries ultimately derailed his season. Perhaps the most clutch player in the league, Irving has a knack for showing up big with the game on the line.

Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Victor Oladipo are All-Stars capable of taking over games. With LeBron James now in the Western Conference, the title for best player in the East is as wide open as it's been in years.

Who will win the MVP?

This is perhaps as wide open of an MVP race as we've ever had.

Harden could repeat but is likely to draw serious competition from as many as 10 different players.

LeBron James. Stephen Curry. Kevin Durant. Anthony Davis. Giannis Antetokounmpo. Kyrie Irving. Kawhi Leonard. Russell Westbrook.

Even players like Joel Embiid or Donovan Mitchell could make a run if their teams finish near the top of the conference.

The star power is at perhaps an all-time high in the NBA!

Will teams regret passing on Luka Doncic?

Despite winning EuroLeague MVP and Finals MVP in Spain last year as a teenager, Luka Doncic was not drafted first overall. Both the Suns (Deandre Ayton) and Kings (Marvin Bagley) passed on him, while the Hawks traded him to the Mavericks after selecting him third overall.

Doncic enters the league with perhaps more hype than any international prospect ever and has the chance to be a transcendent passer. In his preseason debut, Doncic scored 16 points on just seven shots.

In the annual survey of NBA general managers conducted by NBA.com, Doncic was picked as most likely to win Rookie of the Year.

Which farewell tour is worth watching?

2018-19 could be the last time we see several of the game's biggest stars in action. Both Dwyane Wade and Vince Carter have said this will be their final seasons, while it could also be the last rodeo for Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki.

How long have these guys been around?

Hawks rookie Trae Young wasn't even born yet when Carter and Nowitzki were drafted in 1998!

Will the NBA's most consistent team keep winning?

It's impossible to preview a season without giving love to the San Antonio Spurs, who enter this season with perhaps more questions than at any point over the last two decades.

Manu Ginobili retired. Tony Parker is with the Hornets. Kawhi Leonard is with the Raptors. And now Dejounte Murray is likely out for the season.

But legendary coach Gregg Popovich is back and he'll look to continue what's perhaps the most impressive streak in NBA history. The Spurs have made the playoffs in 21 straight seasons, one shy of tying the NBA record of 22 straight and over three times longer than any other active streak.

Extending that streak will fall mostly on the shoulders of DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge who will have to carry the load with a backcourt in flux.

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