Basketball fans rejoice: The NBA season is nearly upon us! In fact, it’s starting a bit earlier than usual this year, with the first game tipping off on October 17. Last year’s runner up Cleveland Cavaliers will play host to the Boston Celtics at Quicken Loans Arena. The earlier start will make room for more rest days and a much more forgiving schedule with regard to player health throughout the season.

The entire schedule appears to be geared with an eye toward health and longevity, which is no doubt welcome news to the players union and players. But it isn’t completely altruistic–the NBA has long decried the practice of sitting superstars on road games as it has a depressing effect on ticket sales while teams rest big name players.

In addition to the early start, for the first time in the NBA’s 72 year history there will be no four-in-fives (stretches where four games are played over five days). Additionally, there will be fewer back-to-back games for every team for the third consecutive season.

Other things to look forward to this season are who the top teams are expected to be. The Golden State Warriors open as overwhelming favorites to repeat with 5-11 odds, with their perennial whipping boy Cavs coming in second at 4-1. Other contenders include the San Antonio Spurs (8-1), the Celtics (10-1), and the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder rounding out the top six at 25-1.

Vying for last place at 1000-1 odds are the laughably bad Brooklyn Nets, the hilariously inept Orlando Magic, the almost pitiable Chicago Bulls, and the surprisingly unsurprising Atlanta Hawks. Sorry fellas, maybe next decade.

There are other potential contenders this season as well — though we’d be hard pressed to go against the Warriors ourselves. In the East, the Washington Wizards look poised to have a decent season following deals that keeps a well-balanced team with good chemistry intact. The Milwaukee Bucks also look hot with a ton of returning young talent and could threaten even the cream of the crop — potentially approaching 50 wins with a little luck. The Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors aren’t anything to sneeze at either — and the Philadelphia 76ers feel like a team with something to prove.

The West is a whole different story. Four of the top six teams listed above are in the West, and from there it’s a sharp drop off. The Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers, and Utah Jazz all have their eyes on the playoffs — and that’s about it. Nobody seriously believes that any of these perennial also-rans have a serious chance at knocking off the Spurs — much less the Warriors — in the playoffs, but it will make for some darn good games down the stretch as they attempt to slay the giant. All of these teams should top 40 wins, however, and we wouldn’t’ be surprised to see every one of them finish with a winning record.

With all of that said, it’s much too early to crown a champion yet. Even with the much more restful schedule injuries can happen at any time, to any team. And in the NBA, sometimes all it takes is one key injury or one surprising breakout player to tilt the scales completely. The only thing that can be said for certain is that we are excited to watch some hoops.