NBA COUNTDOWN: A HIGH 5

The new NBA campaign is less than two weeks away. Here’s the five most intriguing stories of the preseason so far.

The Warriors feel disrespected
Ask Gregg Popovich about the perils of re-motivating a team after they’ve won the title. The rest of the NBA just did Steve Kerr’s work for him, principally Doc Rivers with his claim that the Dubs got lucky last term.

“I apologize for us being healthy, I apologize for us playing who was in front of us,” Steph Curry said. “I apologize for all the accolades we received as a team and individually. I’m very, truly sorry, and we’ll rectify that situation this year.”

Fired up? Much.

Cleveland have questions
The Cavs aren’t just 0-5, they’re an ugly 0-5, even with LeBron James getting some sit-outs in the preseason. The spectre of Tristan Thompson’s contract holdout has loomed larger than expected with the forward seemingly intent on holding onto his own inflated value rather than signing long-term.

Kevin Love has been hobbled – again. Rotations remain fluid. When the regular season begins, David Blatt won’t be entirely sure what he has.

“I know there’s a fine line between the preparation aspect and the health aspect for the start of the season, but we’ve got a plan and we’re following it,” he told Cleveland.com. “We’re staying true to it and we’re going to continue to do so throughout the rest of the preparation period.”

Start poorly at your peril.

Kawhi’s the limit
The Spurs best offseason alteration might be giving Kawhi Leonard extra reps even with the addition of LaMarcus Aldridge. Even with San Antonio’s vets sitting out most of the prep, the 2014 Finals MVP has looked a level above last term. It’s too early to determine how Aldridge will suit a system that will likely see him take less shots and be asked to facilitate more but expect this to be Kawhi’s team now.

One other thought. After watching every one of Tony Parker’s EuroBasket games, I told a friend that there was a real chance Patty Mills will start the Spurs first playoff game next spring. I stand by that forecast.

Clipped together
Adding Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson to the Clippers roster gives Rivers even more of a chemistry experiment as he tries to glue Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan back onto the same page. Upgrading the bench in LA is key to their title hopes but you now have two guys who love the ball in their hands and who are offense-first contributors.

How they mesh will be a barometer for how the winds blow in Clipperland.

Western wave
Rivers was actually right in his analysis that you need a little luck in the Western Conference. Which is why the Mavericks run of playoff appearances in the Dirk-Cuban era is surely destined to end and why the deflowered Blazers will wilt fast.

As yet though, there’s no compelling evidence that will illuminate whether the likes of the Kings, Jazz, Suns or Timberwolves are ready to fill the vacancies created. Spots 7-12 in the West will surely be Wild.

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