WITH the NBA schedule released earlier this week, fans around the globe are sifting through the list of matchups to find the best of the best. The Charlotte Hornets hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers probably won’t make that list of ‘must-watch’ basketball games, but I’ve scoured through the remaining 2,459 contests to find a dozen dates that need circling on your calendars.
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New Orleans Pelicans @ Toronto Raptors
22nd October – Zion’s debut + Raptors banner/ring ceremony
TORONTO will be a very different team in 2019-20, but for a night at least, they’ll be the toast of the town. The first game of the new season will be played on their home court as the Raptors raise their first championship banner to the rafters. However, they are just one part of the drawcard that night with a highly-touted rookie making his professional debut. If Zion Williamson is as good as advertised, people in the arena will tell their grandchildren about the time they watched Zion play his first NBA game.
Oklahoma City Thunder @ Houston Rockets
28th October – CP3 returns and Russell Westbrook battles the Thunder
BY the time Russell Westbrook makes his return to OKC on the 9th of January, there’s a chance that Chris Paul will no longer be on the Thunder’s roster. That makes the first matchup between Houston and Oklahoma City one of the must-watch contests of the upcoming season. The Thunder still host some competitive players and won’t exactly be easy beats, making this a real test for the Rockets early in season 2019-20.
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Brooklyn Nets @ Boston Celtics
Los Angeles Lakers @ New Orleans Pelicans
27th November – Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving return
SOME reunions are expected to be amicable ones next season, much like the aforementioned 9th of Jan clash with Westbrook and the Thunder. In the last week of November however, we will be treated to a pair of hostile returns via an ESPN doubleheader. Both Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis left Boston and New Orleans respectively this past summer following a season filled with off-court drama, speculation around their future and chemistry issues. Davis appears to be the lesser of two evils, and the NOLA faithful may not be as unfriendly towards him after seven seasons of mixed success. The same can’t be said for Kyrie and the Celtics crowd though…
L.A. Clippers @ Toronto Raptors
11th December – Kawhi Leonard comes back to the Six
KAWHI’S breathtaking performance in the NBA Playoffs last year helped Toronto achieve the ultimate goal. For that reason, Raptors fans were much more receptive to the idea of Leonard moving to L.A., especially after he was traded to Toronto somewhat against his free will before last season. Leonard will live on in Raptors folklore after what he accomplished for the city of Toronto and more importantly the whole of Canada in 2019, so expect plenty of applause when he inevitably drops 35+ on his former championship peers.
New Orleans Pelicans @ Los Angeles Lakers
3rd January – Lonzo/Ingram return and Zion meets LeBron
GET your popcorn. Early in 2020, the Pelicans will visit Los Angeles with multiple storylines on offer. Not only will former Lakers Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart return to play at their former home, we will also get to see the first instalment of the Zion/LeBron rivalry at Staples Center. We never got to witness Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James, but we could have a few matchups between Williamson and James on our hands before the torch gets passed.
New Orleans Pelicans @ New York Knicks
10th January – Zion vs. R.J. Barrett meet for the first time at MSG
ONE week after the Pelicans hit L.A. they’ll head to the Mecha of basketball (last Zion notice, I promise). The No. 1 overall pick vs. No. 2 overall pick Ja Morant later in the month will be cool to watch, but watching Zion at MSG square off against his former college teammate in R.J. Barrett is much more appealing in my eyes. The 3rd selection in the 2019 Draft, Barrett is out to turn the Knicks’ fortunes around while in NYC, a task that is easier said than done. I have faith that Barrett can develop into an All-NBA type of scorer and a win against his former Duke peer can help kickstart a new chapter in New York.
L.A. Clippers @ Los Angeles Lakers
29th January – The Battle of Los Angeles
TECHNICALLY the two tenants of Staples Center will play each other twice before this matchup, but there’s no certainty that Paul George will be around for either of those contests. In this Lakers ‘home game’ though, we should get our first look at both teams clicking on all cylinders. There’s an outside chance that the roster make-up, especially for the Lakers could be different in this game too with the trade deadline close to this late January battle. This will be a good chance to watch the dual star pairings square off in what may even be a West playoff preview (dare to dream).
Memphis Grizzlies @ Atlanta Hawks
2nd March – Generation next goes head-to-head
I can guarantee that there won’t be many people circling the Memphis Grizzlies vs. Atlanta Hawks matchup on their calendars. However, these up and coming squads in opposing conferences are trending in the right direction after adding exciting youthful pieces to their roster in consecutive offseasons. Ja Morant playing against Trae Young is worth the price of admission alone, but a frontcourt matchup between John Collins and Brandon Clarke/Jaren Jackson Jr will also be watched closely as well.
Brooklyn Nets @ Golden State Warriors
12th March – If everyone is healthy, this has Game of the Year potential
WHEN this match rolls around in March there’s a high possibility that a slew of stars will still in street clothes. Klay Thompson could and should be back on the court after a ruptured ACL, but the big-name everyone will want to see on the team sheet is Kevin Durant’s. After tearing his Achilles in the Finals, Durant’s departure from Golden State was a large talking point this summer with the 10x All-Star opting to flee after two titles in three years. If he’s healthy then there is every chance that this match will be THE can’t miss affair of the year. Oh, and it will also be the first time former All-Star Net D’Angelo Russell hosts his former team. Huge.
Indiana Pacers @ Washington Wizards
Toronto Raptors @ Orlando Magic
15th April – Playoff implications aplenty
THERE are a handful of clear-cut contenders this year in the Eastern Conference, but the bottom half of the playoff picture is still blurry. Offseason manoeuvres have the Wizards, Magic, Pacers and Raptors all firmly in the mix, making the last night of the regular season must-watch basketball. There’s a realistic chance that any combination of those four East squads will have to claim their final game to qualify for postseason action, with a win/loss potentially having a huge in the playoff seedings.
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