NBA die-hards, prepare for some late nights

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James drives against Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry during Game 1 of last year's NBA Finals in Oakland, Calif., on May 31. With James moving to the Los Angeles Lakers, the balance of power in the NBA is shifting even further west.

    Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James drives against Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry during Game 1 of last year's NBA Finals in Oakland, Calif., on May 31. With James moving to the Los Angeles Lakers, the balance of power in the NBA is shifting even further west. AP File photo

 
 
Updated 10/15/2018 6:14 PM

A good sponsor for the NBA this season would be a manufacturer of alarm clocks.

It's all about late-night entertainment now, with Golden State carrying on as the dominant superteam and the East's biggest star, LeBron James, jumping to the Los Angeles Lakers.

 

Maybe the league should sponsor "Get to work late" events for the true die-hard fans. Or free coffee for anyone who snaps a photo of themselves watching the fourth quarter of a Pacific time zone game on TNT.

For years, it seemed inevitable that the East would eventually catch up and create a more reasonable balance of power between the conferences. But things might be worse then ever now.

How many teams from the Eastern Conference would make the playoffs if they shifted to the West? Boston for sure, Philadelphia and Toronto, most likely. After that, who knows?

But for all the imbalance and lack of competitiveness at the top, the NBA remains as popular as ever. The Warriors haven't done anything to diminish interest in the league. ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy talked about that topic on a preseason teleconference.

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"For me it's amazing to me how viewership of TV and all of that has been so great when the Lakers have been bad for a while, the Knicks have struggled, the Nets have really struggled, and Chicago over the last couple years has been in a downturn," Van Gundy said. "To me it's been, it's fascinating how the NBA popularity is still growing."

Outside of LeBron changing teams, not much has happened to change the balance of power in the NBA.

Golden State remains a heavy favorite and might be even tougher when DeMarcus Cousins returns from a torn Achilles sometime in the second half of the season. Cousins received almost no interest as a free agent, so he initiated a call to the champs.

"If Golden State is into it -- which they really weren't last year in the regular season and still won 58 games -- if they're into it, they're by far the best team with the best talent and will win," Van Gundy said.

Houston came close to knocking off the Warriors, leading 3-2 in the Western Conference finals before losing Chris Paul to an injury. The Rockets are back with Carmelo Anthony in tow, but lost a couple of important role players.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Paul George decided to stay in Oklahoma City and make a long-term partnership with Russell Westbrook. Whether the Thunder can finally make another playoff run remains to be seen. OKC has lost in the first round twice since Kevin Durant departed for Golden State.

The rest of the West is filled with close competition. Denver finished 10 games above .500 last year and missed out on the playoffs, but were just three games behind No. 3 seed Portland. Expect more of the same.

In the East, Boston could emerge as serious competition for Golden State in the Finals. The Celtics reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals without Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward and now both of those players are back.

Toronto will be interesting with Kawhi Leonard on board. Leonard played in just nine games last season, asked out of San Antonio and wanted to go home to Los Angeles, but was sent to Canada instead.

Philadelphia might have the most promising young roster with Joel Embiid and a pair of No. 1 overall picks in Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. Most of the Eastern Conference features teams trying to make rebuilding progress, including the Bulls.

More drama is in store for next summer, when America waits to see if a "Space Jam" remake starring James was a good idea, and the Lakers try to entice Durant with the cap space they've been saving.

Instead of Players' Tribune, maybe Durant should televise his free-agent decision at 11:30 p.m. Eastern time. NBA fans should be used to late nights by then.

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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