LeBron James has carried his teams to five consecutive NBA Finals and six of the last nine. But his 2-4 record haunts him, particularly losing the last two years.

"They get worse and worse every single time," James said. "Every year that you lose in the Finals, it gets worse and worse to get over."

The Cavaliers brought back their key guys -- Iman Shumpert, J.R Smith, Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova -- and added some reliable veterans [Richard Jefferson, Mo Williams]. They're the odds-on favorite to return to the Finals.

James could erase the painful memory of losing to the Warriors last season and claim his third championship if Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are healthy and playing with him this time.

The Bulls, Hawks and Heat -- if everything breaks right -- could challenge Cleveland in the East.

No Garden of Eden

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Many questions face the Knicks again. How patient will everyone, including Carmelo Anthony, be if they aren't a playoff contender? Will rookie Kristaps Porzingis develop quickly and make an impact or will it be a slow process? Can Derek Fisher survive another bad season? Will Phil Jackson's rebuilding blueprint pan out or be panned? Stay tuned.

Feel the Heat

Miami could be formidable and a tough out in the playoffs, depending on the team's health. The Heat's starters are Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside. The reserves include Mario Chalmers, Gerald Green, Amar'e Stoudemire, Chris Andersen, Udonis Haslem, Josh McRoberts and rookie Justise Winslow. The good news is that Bosh is back after his season ended abruptly because of blood clots in his lungs.

By George

Pacers forward Paul George is at full strength after missing most of last season with a broken leg, but he still is getting used to life without David West and Roy Hibbert and life at a new position. With the league trend of playing small, George will be "a stretch four" -- a power forward who can open up the floor with his shooting and create matchup problems.

NBA videos

Changes in Chicago

Hard-driving Tom Thibodeau, who got the most out of his players, was fired and replaced by Fred Hoiberg as Bulls coach. The former Iowa State coach inherited a good team and seems poised to make changes. Hoiberg may bring former NBA Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah off the bench and start second-year forward Nikola Mirotic. Hoiberg reportedly likes the pairing of Noah and Taj Gibson better than Noah and Pau Gasol.