For the first time in six seasons, there may be a new winner of the Western Conference.

The Golden State Warriors, winners of the conference in each of the previous five campaigns, have lost Kevin Durant to the Brooklyn Nets and Klay Thompson to injury.

The Los Angeles Lakers added Anthony Davis but didn't improve nearly as much as the Los Angeles Clippers, a team that was better than them last season and have since added Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

All we can do is guess who will win the conference this season and it could easily be an under-the-radar team like the Utah Jazz, who added Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic.

Here's what we think you can expect this season.

Team on the rise: Dallas Mavericks

Dallas improved a lot last year with Luka Doncic coming into the fold and now they will have a healthy Kristaps Porzingis. We'll have to see how it works in the long run, but this team appears to clearly be trending upward.

Team on the slide: Oklahoma City Thunder

This is obvious. Oklahoma City lost Russell Westbrook and George. A step back is inevitable. But this team has talent with Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Steven Adams, Danilo Gallinari, Dennis Schroder and Hamidou Diallo. We'll see how it works out and if the Thunder trade any of those guys to hasten their rebuild.

MVP: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

No Durant and no Thompson. That means a lot more shots for Stephen Curry. The big question is how he will fit with D'Angelo Russell, who is a lot more ball-dominant than Thompson. But if they can work well together, we could see the two-time MVP-level production from Curry again. 

Rookie of the Year: Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

An obvious candidate. Williamson has already won the Rookie of the Year Award if he can get through the season healthy - and there are doubts about that given he will miss the start of the season due to knee surgery. Williamson will be on a team without a ton of talent and on highlights every single night. That's a great recipe to win Rookie of the Year.

Stat shot: Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Jokic has averaged 18.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists each of the last two years. Only Westbrook and Oscar Robertson have done that over a three-year span.

The Nuggets might not have added as much as some of the other teams in the West (see the Houston Rockets, Clippers, Lakers), but one more year of development of Jokic and Jamal Murray, plus a healthy Michael Porter Jr, should keep this team in contention for a playoff spot.

Three storylines

1. The Rockets duo: Will Westbrook and James Harden be able to mesh together in an offense? And how will Westbrook's shooting struggles fit with Mike D'Antoni?

2. Clutch performers: Will Davis and LeBron James dominate the league like we think they can or will the duo once again struggle to stay healthy?

3. A pair reigns supreme: Is it Harden and Westbrook? James and Davis? Leonard and George? Donovan Mitchell and Conley? Doncic and Porzingis?

Predicted order of finish

1. Clippers*
2. Lakers
3. Jazz
4. Rockets
5. Nuggets
6. Warriors
7. Trail Blazers
8. Spurs
9. Mavericks
10. Kings
11. Pelicans
12. Timberwolves
13. Thunder
14. Grizzlies
15. Suns

*NBA Finals representative

For the second consecutive season, a basketball titan has fled from the Eastern Conference to Los Angeles, and Kawhi Leonard's departure from the Toronto Raptors has opened up the NBA's weaker conference.

That means a new team could rise to prominence and steal the reigning champions' spotlight.

Some franchises have had postseason success and are a step away from making an NBA Finals appearance while others are undergoing complete rebuilds.

All this will make for some exciting team and individual battles in 2019-20, and here's what we think you can expect this season.

Team on the rise: Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia came agonisingly close to defeating Toronto and advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals last year, and the Sixers made some major moves over the offseason that could help them reach the championship series. They acquired one of the players most adept at guarding Joel Embiid by adding often-underrated Al Horford to their frontcourt rotation in free agency.

Philly also added a talented wing defender in Josh Richardson, giving them even more size.

Their starters could very well be the best defensive unit in the league, and Philadelphia added another specialist coming off the bench in 2019 first-rounder Matisse Thybulle, who has averaged 4.9 steals and 2.6 blocks per 36 minutes in five preseason appearances.

Philadelphia could also have much more offensive upside, despite losing JJ Redick in free agency this summer. One of the team's main problems has been spacing because of Ben Simmons' reluctance to shoot the ball outside the paint, but he's shown more confidence firing from range in preseason play.

The 76ers have one of the most dominant post players in basketball in Embiid, a freakish point guard with dazzling ball skills in Simmons and room for growth. This could be the 76ers' year.

Team on the slide: Charlotte Hornets

Charlotte were respectable last season and finished ninth in the standings — just two games back from the eighth-seeded Detroit Pistons. But losing their lone All-Star Kemba Walker will do obvious damage. It is unclear what the Hornets can do to turn things around, as there are quite a few questions they need to answer.

Terry Rozier will have big shoes to fill as he steps into Charlotte's starting point guard spot. Replacing an All-NBA talent is no simple task, and Rozier will have a lot to prove as the first offensive option on a team for the first time in his pro career.

Then there's the young core. The Hornets used a first-round pick on PJ Washington in the 2019 NBA Draft, but could also start Miles Bridges at that position. Marvin Williams logged 75 starts last year while Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and a deteriorating Nicolas Batum also split time there. The jury is out on Dwayne Bacon, Malik Monk, and Devonte Graham, and every decent team in the Eastern Conference will have more consistent rotational pieces.

It's unlikely Charlotte will be able to move Batum's and Bismack Biyombo's undesirable contracts, so there's not much flexibility to acquire assets for the future. The Hornets have basically no shot at landing a big-name free agent, so they'll need to be bad enough to get some top-tier draft picks to avoid remaining a middling franchise just outside of the playoff picture.

MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Reigning MVP Antetokounmpo led his team to the best record (60-22) in basketball last year and essentially has his supporting pieces returning for 2019-20 — save for Malcolm Brogdon.

Each year, Antetokounmpo adds to his bag of tricks, and a step up from the 27.7 points and 12.5 rebounds on 57.8 per cent shooting certainly would be something.

Whether it's shooting, playmaking or handling the ball that he improves, it'll make him more dangerous. He'll continue to be a nightmare for opposing teams and will have plenty of eyes watching his development entering year seven.

Rookie of the Year: Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

Few rookies will handle the ball as much as Morant will this season, and that's reason enough to believe he has a good shot at competing for Rookie of the Year.

Morant will be Memphis' floor general and basically be handed the keys to the offense. He's done a great job so far, tallying 7.3 assists per contest in preseason while averaging only 21.9 minutes. Morant will get more playing time in the regular season and will benefit from playing alongside the athletic Brandon Clarke and Jaren Jackson. 

Stat shot: Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks

Robinson was an enigma protecting the rim from the post and the perimeter last season with his natural shot-blocking ability, and it'll be interesting to track how he follows up his rookie season with the Knicks.

He totalled 161 blocks in just 66 games and averaged 2.4 per contest. His average was the second-best mark in the NBA — behind Myles Turner — while his total of 161 was just 34 shy of what the Cleveland Cavaliers' entire team recorded last season. He's projected to be New York's starting center and could very well notch more blocks than an entire NBA franchise if he remains healthy. Imagine that.

Three storylines

1. Kyrie Irving's trial run: Irving is helping kick off the new era of Brooklyn Nets basketball, but he'll have to do it without injured co-star Kevin Durant. Can Irving thrive in a leadership role on yet another young team?

2. The Kawhi-less Raptors: Many are counting out the Raptors now that they've lost 2019 NBA Finals MVP Leonard to the Clippers. How will they respond to sceptics as the defending champs?

3. Markelle Fultz's development: The 76ers traded Fultz, but the Orlando Magic are confident he can still become a valuable contributor on an NBA team. Will he put together a complete season?

Prediction

1. 76ers*
2. Bucks
3. Raptors
4. Celtics
5. Heat 
6. Nets
7. Pacers
8. Magic
9. Pistons
10. Hawks
11. Bulls
12. Wizards
13. Hornets
14. Cavaliers
15. Knicks

*NBA Finals representative

Zion Williamson is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks after undergoing knee surgery on Monday, the New Orleans Pelicans have announced. 

New Orleans said the top overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft had an arthroscopic procedure to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee. 

Williamson missed last Friday's preseason finale against the New York Knicks due to "right knee soreness".

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told reporters the team believes Williamson hurt his knee earlier this month against the San Antonio Spurs.

Williamson averaged 23.3 points in four preseason games.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James is excited for the team's NBA season-opener against the Los Angeles Clippers.

James and the Lakers will open their campaign against city rivals the Clippers – led by Kawhi Leonard – in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

Three-time NBA champion James is coming off a difficult first season in LA, where a groin injury restricted him to 55 games as the Lakers missed the playoffs for the sixth successive campaign.

James – who failed to appear in the postseason for the first time since 2004-05 – cannot wait to get started against the Clippers.

"Opening night is great. It's like the first day of school," James, who averaged 27.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 8.3 assists for the Lakers after arriving from the Cleveland Cavaliers, told reporters on Sunday.

"Laying your clothes out the night before. Just that excitement of getting things back going.

"I love to play the game. I obviously had the longest lay-off of my career, so to be where I'm at physically and mentally, no matter who we opened up against. For everybody, Tuesday is a great day."

Danny Green is one of the new faces at the Lakers, whose offseason was headlined by the recruitment of All-Star Anthony Davis.

Green teamed up with Leonard last season to lead the Toronto Raptors to their maiden NBA championship before moving to the Lakers, while the latter joined the Clippers.

"Everybody's excited to get the season started, but we know we're nowhere near where we want to be at — most teams aren't," Green said. "So, even though it's regular season, these games are going to be very much like preseason games.

"We just try to get better and win as we're getting better and getting to learn each other — learn the systems, learn our identity and also how to play other teams and other team's identity.

"But we're excited from all angles: From the players, to the coaches, to staff to the fans and we're going to have some fun with it but we're not nowhere where we want to be."

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma will miss the team's NBA season opener against the Los Angeles Clippers due to injury.

A nagging foot injury means Kuzma will sit out Tuesday's season-opening clash with rivals the Clippers.

Last month, the Lakers announced that Kuzma suffered a stress reaction in his left foot while training with Team USA for the FIBA World Cup.

The Lakers initially said Kuzma would be out indefinitely during recovery, and he has ramped up his training as of late to prepare for 2019-20.

Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said: "Right now we're just talking about ramping up his activity and we’re not going to look past two days from now.

"We're going to try to increase his workload and activities this week and we'll see where we're at."

"There's still progression to be had," added Vogel. "He was very limited with what he did today, and it was all non-contact in limited duration. It's going to take some time for him to get his legs under him and build up to the point where he's playing live with contact, and then some time where we want to see him perform in that and respond well to that before we clear him to play."

Kuzma averaged 18.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game last season and is expected to be crucial to Los Angeles' success this year alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

The Utah Jazz have rewarded head coach Quin Snyder with a long-term contract extension, the NBA team announced on Sunday.

Utah and Snyder agreed to terms on a new contract that will build on the two years he has remaining on his current deal after the 52-year-old's appointment in 2014.

Snyder is in his sixth season with the Jazz and has helped Utah reach the playoffs in each of the last three years.

"I've really enjoyed working with Quin and appreciate the collaboration and innovation he's brought to our franchise," said Jazz president Steve Starks. "He is one of the most respected coaches in the NBA and we are excited to solidify his leadership of the Jazz for years to come.

"Quin has helped create and lead a special team culture on and off the court. His focus on our players' development and the day-to-day environment that he and his coaches have put in place is an excellent foundation."

The Jazz have high hopes and showed that in their moves during the offseason.

Utah quietly had one of the better offseasons in the league after acquiring Mike Conley via trade and signed Bojan Bogdanovic in free agency, while retaining the team's pillars — Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert.

The Jazz are just one season removed from a fifth-place finish in the competitive Western Conference and arguably got better across the board ahead of 2019–20.

Utah will open up regular-season play when they host the Oklahoma City Thunder on October 23.

 

The Toronto Raptors have agreed to a four-year, $130million extension with Pascal Siakam, according to reports.

ESPN claimed the Raptors have come to terms on a max deal for Siakam, a key player in Toronto's run to a maiden NBA title last season.

Siakam had a breakout year for Toronto last season and was named the NBA's Most Improved Player for his efforts. The Cameroonian averaged 16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.

Siakam finished the NBA Finals, in which the Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors 4-2, averaging 19.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists.

Drafted by Toronto with the 27th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the New Mexico State product spent most of his rookie season in the G League where he won Finals MVP and the championship with Raptors 905.

 

Kyrie Irving acknowledged he was "conflicted" but would not divulge discussions with commissioner Adam Silver as the NBA's relationship with China remains on the agenda.

Preseason games in China - involving Irving's Brooklyn Nets - were at the centre of controversy after a since-deleted tweet from Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey supported anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.

Morey's comments overshadowed what had been expected to be a celebration of the NBA in one of their key international markets, with media duties cancelled, although the games went ahead.

LeBron James, whose Los Angeles Lakers were also involved, weighed in on his return to the United States, suggesting Morey "wasn't educated" on the matter.

And Irving was asked about the situation following the Nets' final preseason game against the Toronto Raptors at Barclays Center, where fans were pictured wearing "Stand with Hong Kong" shirts in the stands.

Questions centred on a reported behind-closed-doors meeting between Silver and the players involved in China.

"I don't know whose notes [reports are from] or who is in there that you can't really depend on to keep a conversation like that in house," Irving said. "Especially when it is about the NBA brand and the NBA players being impacted by it.

"I stand for four things, man: inner peace, freedom, equality and world peace. So, if that is being conflicted inside of me, I am definitely going to have something to say, and I left it in that room."

Irving, who scored 19 points on 7-of-17 shooting in the defeat to the Raptors, added: "I understand that Hong Kong and China is dealing with their issues, respectively.

"But there is enough oppression and stuff going on in America for me not to be involved in the community issues here as well."

Silver claimed earlier this week the Chinese government had asked the NBA to fire Morey, adding: "We said there's no chance that's happening. There's no chance we'll even discipline him."

Russell Westbrook "will be alright" after his injury scare for the Houston Rockets, while coach Mike D'Antoni was stunned by another sublime performance from James Harden.

Harden had 44 points, seven assists, five rebounds and five steals in 35 minutes as the Rockets finished their preseason campaign with a 144-133 road win over the Miami Heat.

Point guard Westbrook left Friday's game in the fourth quarter in visible pain and ran directly into the tunnel after hurting his hand, while Austin Rivers suffered with a shoulder problem.

D'Antoni explained Westbrook, who scored 16 points, had suffered a finger dislocation just two days after the same thing happened in Wednesday's game with the San Antonio Spurs, which had meant he played this one with a bandage.

The Rockets begin the NBA season at home against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.

"With Russ it was just his fingers got dislocated," said D'Antoni. "Pop them back into place and then go play, he'll be alright.

"Both of them told me they were OK, so we'll take that. Austin said he was OK, I don't know exactly what that means but it is up in his [shoulder] – he also strained that in Washington last year."

The Rockets ended the preseason with a 4-2 record and hopes for a championship challenge are high after former Oklahoma City Thunder team-mates Harden and Westbrook were reunited in the offseason.

D'Antoni was lost for words by Harden's display against the Heat. He connected with 8-of-16 three-pointers and played like it was game seven of the NBA Finals.

"That's the way he's wired - he loves to play," added D'Antoni. "I couldn't take him out in the fourth quarter if I wanted to. He wanted to play and he'd play 48 minutes if he could.  

"James was ridiculous. He gets better every time. I don't know what his ceiling is but he seems to be the most improved player of the year for me, he's ridiculous."

Harden, meanwhile, was eager to get the regular season started after being asked for his initial feelings about how playing with Westbrook again had been.

"Great," the 2018 MVP said. "Now preseason is over with and we get to the real thing. It's gonna be a long season of just trying to communicate and be on the same page, not only me and Russ - our entire team. 

"This preseason was a good test for us, now we're excited for the real challenge."

Asked if this was the most powerful Rockets team since he had been with the franchise, Harden added: "Yeah, I think so."

Zion Williamson's regular season NBA debut has been put on ice due to the New Orleans Pelicans rookie's knee injury, according to reports.

The Pelicans confirmed on Thursday that Williamson, the number one overall draft pick, would miss Friday's final preseason game against the New York Knicks due to "right knee soreness".

The 19-year-old instead remained in New Orleans for further testing and evaluation.

ESPN reported on Friday that the issue was set to keep Williamson out for a number of weeks, meaning he would miss the start of the NBA season, although he was said to have avoided serious injury.

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told reporters that the team believe Williamson hurt his knee on Sunday against the San Antonio Spurs.

Gentry told ESPN the former Duke sensation remained in high spirits, though, adding: "He's not dead, guys."

Williamson featured in four preseason games prior to the Knicks game, averaging 23.3 points.

New Orleans open the 2019-20 season against defending champions the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday.

New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson will miss the team's final NBA preseason game with right knee soreness.

The Pelicans will face the New York Knicks on Friday without young star Williamson, it was announced on Thursday.

Williamson did not make the trip to New York and will remain in New Orleans to undergo further evaluation.

In four preseason games for the Pelicans this season, Williamson – the number one draft pick – has averaged 23.3 points.

The Pelicans open their regular-season campaign against defending champions the Toronto Raptors on October 22.

Veteran NBA forward Luol Deng signed with the Chicago Bulls on Thursday in order to retire as a member of the team.

A two-time All-Star from South Sudan, where he has worked to develop young basketball players, Deng was taken seventh overall by the Bulls in the 2004 NBA Draft.

"He was a role model on and off the court during his nine-plus years in Chicago, and he gave everything he had to help us win," Bulls president and COO Michael Reinsdorf said in a statement.

"I want to thank Luol for not only what he accomplished on the court for the team, but also for the leadership he demonstrated through his philanthropic efforts."

In 902 NBA games over 15 seasons with the Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers and last season with the Minnesota Timberwolves he averaged 14.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 34.3 minutes per game.

The 34-year-old averaged 15.9 points and 6.7 rebounds in 62 playoff games in seven postseasons, six with Chicago and one with Miami.

John Paxson, Bulls executive VP of basketball operations, said Deng would be remembered for "the fierce competitiveness he brought to both ends of the floor every night."

Deng ranks in the top five on the Bulls all-time list for minutes (fifth, 22,882), points (fourth, 10,286), field goals made (fifth, 3,987) and attempted (fifth, 8,675) and steals (fifth, 639).

He led the Bulls in scoring in 2011-12 (15.3 ppg) and 2012-13 (16.5 ppg).

The Bulls will honour Deng at a game to be determined later this season.

There will be a World Series game in Washington D.C. for the first time since 1933.

Two quarterbacks are heading to the bench and Jalen Ramsey has finally been dealt.

While all of that has been going on there has been some monetary proposals in the NBA.

All that and more on this week in US Sports.

 

1. Nationals earn first World Series berth

It was a historic week in Washington D.C. after the Nationals swept the St Louis Cardinals in four games to earn the first World Series berth in Nationals/Expos history.

The Nationals were the 29th team to make the Fall Classic, leaving the Seattle Mariners as the only organisation to not have been to one.

While this is a big day for this franchise, it is also one for some very loyal Washington D.C. fans as this will be the first World Series played in D.C. since 1933 when the Senators faced the Giants and lost in five games.

The Senators moved to Minnesota in 1961 and became the Twins.

 

2. Quarterbacks head to the bench

The Marcus Mariota era may be over in Tennessee, while the Josh Rosen era in Miami is at least on hold.

The Tennessee Titans announced this week that Mariota will be replaced under center by Ryan Tannehill going forward. The Miami Dolphins also announced Rosen will once again be on the bench and replaced by veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Rosen is still young having been taken in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft so he has some time to still find his way, but Mariota is bordering on being a veteran at this point, so this very well might be the end of his career as a starter.

 

3. Ramsey on the move

Ramsey finally got his wish this week as he was traded by the Jacksonville Jaguars to the Los Angeles Rams for first-round picks in 2020 and 2021 and a fourth-round pick in 2021.

This came on the heels of the Rams' trade of Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters to the Baltimore Ravens earlier in the day.

Ramsey asked to be traded by the Jaguars after a Week 2 spat with head coach Doug Marrone.

He got his wish and is thrilled to be playing for a NFL Super Bowl contender.

 

4. NBA contracts being weighed and measured

It is that time of year where players and teams figure out what they will be paid or what can be afforded, and Wednesday, several reports came out that players have been given some offers.

Pascal Siakam is weighing an extension with the Toronto Raptors, as is Bogdan Bogdanovic with the Sacramento Kings, but Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown turned down a four-year, $80million extension which came as a surprise to some.

At the same time, the Kings have apparently not offered guard Buddy Hield an extension and he may be open to a trade if they do not give him the money he is looking for.

The NBA season starts next week, but there is still plenty to be decided going forward.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) and Digicel, parent company of SportsMax, announced a multiyear expansion of its partnership that will deliver more than 200 live NBA games each season, tipping off on October 22 with the L.A. Lakers taking on the L.A. Clippers.

Extensive NBA programming will be provided to more than 30 Caribbean territories, including the Dominican Republic through Digicel, SportsMax and the SportsMax app.

Digicel, the Official Broadcast and Wireless Partner of the NBA in the region, through its subsidiary SportsMax will air over 200 regular-season and playoff NBA games, the NBA Eastern and Western Conference Finals and The Finals in the Caribbean, including the Dominican Republic, while offering preferred access to all NBA games through NBA League Pass on its Digicel Play cable system and the SportsMax app with new bundle and standalone offerings. 

“We are thrilled to extend this landmark deal with the NBA that allows Digicel, through SportsMax, to continue to be the Home of Sports in the Caribbean, delivering the NBA as part of the best line-up of sports programming to Caribbean basketball fans across cable-TV and streaming platforms,” said SportsMax President and CEO, Olly McIntosh.

“We are seeing an incredible appetite for NBA content from fans in the Caribbean, including the Dominican Republic, and we are thrilled to bring them more live games and content through this renewed partnership with Digicel,” said NBA Latin America Senior Vice President, Arnon de Mello. “We look forward to working with Digicel to continue to grow the game in the region.”

Digicel and SportsMax will also offer original NBA programming, including NBA Action, the league’s weekly show that offers the latest news, features, highlights and analysis from around the NBA, and NBA TV, the league’s 24-hour television network.  Fans will have access to select NBA TV programming, offering in-depth NBA coverage, highlights and appearances by current NBA players, coaches and legends. SportsMax’s programming will include onsite coverage from marquee NBA events.

Territories covered by the partnership include Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, French Guiana, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Montserrat, Saba, St. Barthelemy, St. Lucia, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Martin, St. Maarten, St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago, and Turks and Caicos. Stay tuned to this space for full NBA broadcast schedule.

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