The Golden State Warriors successfully went back-to-back. Now their focus will be trained squarely on becoming the first team to three-peat since the Los Angeles Lakers did it from 2000 to 2002.
That quest will begin Oct. 16, when the defending champions host the Oklahoma City Thunder—a matchup that was unveiled Wednesday before the entire schedule dropped Friday.
For the full 2018-19 schedule, be sure to check out NBA.com.
In order to become the sixth team in league history to rattle off three straight titles, the Warriors will have to survive a gauntlet in the Western Conference that includes the high-powered Houston Rockets, burgeoning Utah Jazz, an Oklahoma City Thunder squad led by Russell Westbrook and Paul George, as well as LeBron James' Los Angeles Lakers.
Golden State also figures to field stiff competition from several Eastern Conference foes like the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors.
Below, we'll provide an early—emphasis on early—guess at how the standings in each conference could shake out, complete with a rundown of the teams to watch in the months to come.
Title odds courtesy of OddsShark. Record predictions and playoff probabilities generated by author.
1. Boston Celtics (62-20), 100 percent playoff probability, +550 title odds (bet $100 to win $550)
2. Philadelphia 76ers (55-27), 100 percent playoff probability, +1600 title odds
3. Toronto Raptors (52-30), 100 percent playoff probability, +1800 title odds
4. Indiana Pacers (49-33), 100 percent playoff probability, +10000 title odds
5. Washington Wizards (47-35), 85 percent playoff probability, +10000 title odds
6. Milwaukee Bucks (46-36), 85 percent playoff probability, +10000 title odds
7. Miami Heat (44-38), 65 percent playoff probability, +30000 title odds
8. Detroit Pistons (42-40), 50 percent playoff probability, +30000 title odds
9. Chicago Bulls (41-41), 40 percent playoff probability, +30000 title odds
10. Cleveland Cavaliers (40-42), 35 percent playoff probability, +40000 title odds
11. Charlotte Hornets (38-44), 25 percent playoff probability, +30000 title odds
12. New York Knicks (32-50), 15 percent playoff probability, +20000 title odds
13. Brooklyn Nets (30-52), 5 percent playoff probability, +40000 title odds
14. Orlando Magic (25-57), 0 percent playoff probability, +40000 title odds
15. Atlanta Hawks (22-60), 0 percent playoff probability, +35000 title odds
As the title odds indicate, Boston is sitting a cut above the rest of the Eastern Conference competition—and for good reason.
The Celtics cruised past the Sixers and into their second straight Eastern Conference Finals a season ago, and they did so without Kyrie Irving (knee) and Gordon Hayward (ankle) as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown successfully shouldered significant burdens well ahead of schedule.
And now that LeBron James is suiting up for the Lakers, there's a direct path for the Celtics to qualify for their first Finals since 2010.
"I hate how everybody is like, 'Oh, LeBron's gone in the East,'" Brown added. "I know he did have a strong hold on the East for the last seven years, but he barely got us out of there this year. And our mindset was like, 'Man, he's not beating us again.'"
That group should receive a stiff test from the Sixers, who will once again look to usurp Boston's Atlantic Division crown behind the one-two punch of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. But without a big star addition in free agency, it's fair to wonder if the Sixers could struggle to get over the hump.
Speaking of star additions, the Raptors made the biggest splash of any Eastern Conference team this summer when they flipped DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs in a blockbuster deal that netted them Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard's arrival will be filled with question marks about his health and commitment to the Raptors, both in the short and long term, but a rejuvenated version of the two-time Defensive Player of the Year could realistically have Toronto in contention for the No. 1 seed.
A rung lower, the Indiana Pacers will be aiming to cross the 50-win threshold after nearly stunning the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs. And after bringing Tyreke Evans, Doug McDermott and Kyle O'Quinn into the fold, it's not hard to see them achieving that goal.
Like the Pacers, the Washington Wizards and Milwaukee Bucks will be looking to join the half-century club in the win column after falling short a year ago.
Both teams will run back fairly similar squads, but with a couple of notable exceptions.
In the nation's capital, Dwight Howard will be stationed at center as the Wizards hope for some more two-way stability alongside John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. And in Milwaukee, the biggest change is on the bench—where new head coach Mike Budenholzer will hope to provide Giannis Antetokounmpo with the schematic help he needs to finally make good on the Bucks' huge potential.
1. Golden State Warriors (66-16), 100 percent playoff probability, -175 title odds (bet $175 to win $100)
2. Houston Rockets (56-26), 100 percent playoff probability, +750 title odds
3. Utah Jazz (53-29), 95 percent playoff probability, +9000 title odds
4. Oklahoma City Thunder (51-31), 90 percent playoff probability, +4000 title odds
5. Los Angeles Lakers (48-34), 80 percent playoff probability, +700 title odds
6. San Antonio Spurs (47-35), 65 percent playoff probability, +6600 title odds
7. Denver Nuggets (47-35), 55 percent playoff probability, +10000 title odds
8. New Orleans Pelicans (46-36), 50 percent playoff probability, +12500 title odds
9. Minnesota Timberwolves (46-36), 50 percent playoff probability, +10000 title odds
10. Portland Trail Blazers (43-39), 45 percent playoff probability, +10000 title odds
11. Los Angeles Clippers (41-41), 35 percent playoff probability, +20000 title odds
12. Dallas Mavericks (36-46), 30 percent playoff probability, +14000 title odds
13. Memphis Grizzlies (31-51), 20 percent playoff probability, +50000 title odds
14. Phoenix Suns (28-54), 0 percent playoff probability, +50000 title odds
15. Sacramento Kings (25-57), 0 percent playoff probability, +40000 title odds
To be abundantly clear, the Western Conference is a crapshoot beyond the Warriors and Rockets. We saw as much last season when three games separated the No. 3-seeded Portland Trail Blazers from the No. 9-seeded Denver Nuggets.
With that in mind, it's fair to take these projections with a grain or two of salt.
However, this is one prediction we can make rather safely: The Lakers, thanks to LeBron's arrival, will generate the most buzz of any NBA team this season.
In fact, it won't be close.
Sure, the Warriors are in hot pursuit of a third straight title, with the Rockets seeking revenge after coming up a game shy of their first Finals appearance since 1995.
But at this point, those two teams are established commodities.
The Lakers, meanwhile, transformed from also-rans into contenders overnight once James joined the fray. However, there are still plenty of questions about how they'll operate during LeBron's first year in Southern California.
Specifically, those queries revolve around how the roster—which resembles something of a personnel jigsaw puzzle—will mesh given the team's odd blend of youth and experience.
On one side, L.A. is loaded with young talent in the form of Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart. On the other is a handful of veteran stopgaps like Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, Michael Beasley and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope signed to one-year deals.
How those pieces play off LeBron will be a major source of intrigue, and the unpredictability that accompanies their arrival should make the Lakers fascinating all season long.
Outside of Los Angeles, the Northwest Division will be worth watching once again.
The league's deepest division, the Northwest produced four playoff teams last season, with the Denver Nuggets—who finished one game out of the No. 8 seed—the lone exception.
This time around, though, the Nuggets look like prime candidates to break out of the Northwest cellar with a full complement of game-changers at their disposal. Chief among them will be Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, as well as a healthy Paul Millsap and double-double machine Nikola Jokic.
Elsewhere, the San Antonio Spurs can't be ignored.
Although their contending credentials took a hit when Leonard was traded, head coach Gregg Popovich will presumably roll with a starting five that consists of Dejounte Murray, DeRozan, Rudy Gay, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol.
That may not be the trendiest group on paper, but it will have the potential to play spoiler when the playoffs creep into view.