Could the NBA's Oct. 28 opening night schedule have been a little more exciting? Sure. There's no LeBron. No Rose. No Durant. But we get the Spurs raising their championship banner. Here's a look at the three games with each team's NBA title odds.
Orlando (+24000 at 5Dimes) vs. New Orleans (+13000)
This is the one game that's not on TNT for obvious reasons. The Magic won just 23 games last year and don't figure to be much better in 2014-15. They are at least a few years from being in playoff contention again as the team rebuilds post-Dwight Howard. It is a chance to see Magic rookie forward Aaron Gordon, the team's No. 4 overall draft pick out of Arizona, and point guard Elfrid Payton, the No. 10 overall pick (by the Sixers) in June's draft.
New Orleans finished 34-48 last season but has a playoff-caliber roster, even in the deep Western Conference, if the Pelicans can stay healthy. Sweet-shooting forward Ryan Anderson was limited to 22 games last year. Point guard Jrue Holiday 34. Shooting guard Eric Gordon 64. You could argue that New Orleans forward Anthony Davis is already the third-best player in the league. He averaged 20.8 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in just his second season while missing 15 games. This is a talented roster. Davis won't have to take a beating as the team's center that much this season because the Pelicans traded a 2015 protected first-round pick to Houston for center Omer Asik. He's a terrific defender and rebounder, two things that New Orleans badly needed. The Pelicans and Magic split two meetings last season, each winning fairly easily and covering at home.
Way-Too-Early NBA Pick: Pelicans are likely to be favored around 7 points. They are a vastly superior team and cover.
Dallas (+2800) vs. San Antonio (+425)
The Mavericks look like one of the most improved teams in the Western Conference. They lost point guard Jose Calderon but acquired center Tyson Chandler and, to a lesser extent, guard Raymond Felton (suspended first four games) from the Knicks in trade. Chandler isn't the guy he was when helping lead Dallas to the 2011 NBA title, but he's a major defensive upgrade. Vince Carter and Shawn Marion left as free agents, but the Mavericks still upgraded overall by stealing rising young forward Chandler Parsons from Houston. Dallas seemed to overachieve last season in winning 49 games, but this club looks better on paper as long as ageless superstar Dirk Nowitzki, who re-signed well below market value, can keep playing at a high level.
What else is there to say about the Spurs? They almost never make a big splash in free agency and they didn't this offseason other than keeping guys like Boris Diaw and Patty Mills off the market with team-friendly deals. San Antonio also made big news by hiring the first full-time female assistant coach, WNBA star Becky Hammon.
The Mavericks gave San Antonio more trouble in the 2014 playoffs than any team, taking the Spurs to a seventh game in the first round after getting soundly beaten in four regular-season games.
Way-Too-Early NBA Pick: NBA odds should favor the Spurs by 6-points. You never know how a team will react to banner night, but there is no more professional club than San Antonio. Take the Spurs even though the Mavs have covered four of their past five in San Antonio. Dallas will have a bit of an adjustment period.
Houston (+1300) vs. L.A. Lakers (+8000)
This is interesting because it will be Dwight Howard's first game against the Lakers when they had Kobe Bryant on the court. Of course Kobe was limited to just six games last season and none of those were against Houston. Bryant was the reason that Howard left L.A. for Houston as he didn't like playing with (or in the shadow of) Kobe. So that should be interesting. That's assuming Bryant does play. He's healthy now, but with his recent luck. Unless Kobe summons his 26-year-old self, the Lakers aren't going to sniff the playoffs under first-year coach Byron Scott. They lost Pau Gasol to free agency and struck out on Carmelo Anthony. So now you are looking at a starting five of Steve Nash, Kobe, Nick Young, new addition Carlos Boozer and Jordan Hill. Yikes. First-round rookie Julius Randle and Jeremy Lin will come off the bench.
The Rockets essentially gave away Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and Lin this offseason to clear cap room to sign Chris Bosh, only to be spurned by Bosh at the last minute. Houston rallied to sign Trevor Ariza, but it's hard to see how this team is as good as last year's that finished 54-28.
Way-Too-Early NBA Pick: Take L.A. and the points. Houston figures to open around 4-5 point favorite. The total will be crazy high because neither side plays defense. The Lakers beat Houston early last season but then lost the next three games all by at least 14 points. The Rockets scored 113, 134 and 145 points in those three. Kobe's return will at least generate enough excitement that the Lakers will hang close and perhaps even pull the upset.