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This year’s NBA: Different is good

The NBA season begins Tuesday, Oct. 28 in San Antonio, home of the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. Here are three key storylines heading into the 2014-15 NBA season, as the league rests in the calm before the storm.

1. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ new look
Four years ago, the Miami Heat welcomed LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join Dwayne Wade. The trio went to four straight finals and the experiment can definitely be considered a success.

Now, Cleveland looks to replicate that success in a similar way.

LeBron, still the best player on the planet, is back home. To help him, the Cavs acquired Kevin Love, who comes off a season very similar to Bosh’s in 2009-10 averaging 26 points per game and 12 rebounds per game.

They join All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and a rookie head coach in David Blatt looking to make things work in year one.

Will it work right away? Well, look at Miami in year one. The team sputtered out of the gate losing seven of its first 15 games. The team thought it had things solved, but a veteran Dallas Mavericks’ team had other plans in the 2011 finals.

The Spurs have shown the league how important a foundation rooted in team chemistry is in order to win a title. It will be intriguing to watch as the Cavs will try to expedite its maturation process and claim a pro sports championship in Cleveland for the first time since the Browns won the Super Bowl in 1964.

2. MVP goes down
While the Chicago Bulls welcome back former MVP Derrick Rose, the Oklahoma City Thunder will have to learn to live without reigning MVP Kevin Durant for the first two months of the season.

Durant suffered a Jones Fracture, a fracture to the fifth metatarsal, the bone at the base of your pinky toe. Durant underwent successful surgery a week ago. Now, the road to recovery begins.

The question is, when Durant comes back, what condition will the Thunder be in?

Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka have the opportunity to prove their worth and carry an unfamiliar load while Durant heals. Westbrook is coming off a historic playoff run. Many feel the first eight weeks without Durant is the perfect opportunity for him to showcase his unrivaled abilities. Westbrook may also be an early candidate for this year’s MVP.

The Thunder was without Russell Westbrook for 36 games last year while he recovered from three separate knee operations. Oklahoma City went on to win 59 games and finish just a game back of the Spurs for the top seed in the playoffs. Westbrook’s play over the 20 games that Durant is slated to miss will say a lot about where the Thunder finish in April heading into the playoffs.
3. Wild Wild West
The Phoenix Suns won 48 games last season and missed the playoffs. To put it into perspective, the Toronto Raptors also won 48 games and were the number-three seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

Translation: The Western Conference is loaded.

So who’s in? Who’s out?

The Spurs, Thunder, Clippers and Warriors look like the best four teams out West. That leaves the remaining four playoff spots between six teams: Dallas, Portland, Memphis, Houston, Phoenix and New Orleans.

Barring a major injury to one of those first four teams, look for Phoenix and New Orleans to be on the outside looking in once again.
With a conference this deep, the only guarantee: no guarantees.

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