The 2020-21 NBA season continues to fall into place, and on Friday we got another big piece to the puzzle with the schedule release. Due to COVID-19, and the potential for games to get disrupted, the league is giving itself some flexibility by only releasing half of the schedule right now. The rest of the schedule will be released at a later date depending on whatever adjustments need to be made.
Preseason games will run from Dec. 11-19, ahead of opening night on Dec. 22. We’ve got a star-studded national TV doubleheader to tip things off, and from there it will be nonstop action as the league tries to complete a 72-game season in a condensed timeframe.
Ahead of the new season, here’s a look at 10 games to circle on your calendars:
It should come as no surprise that this game is on the list, and it doesn’t really need much explanation. Two contenders from Los Angeles going at it on opening night, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George all in action, the new additions for each team making their debuts, a Montrezl Harrell revenge game, this one has it all.
OK, it feels like cheating to include both opening night games, but how can this one not be on there? On one side we have Steph Curry making his long-awaited return on an intriguing new-look Warriors team that features No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman. And on the other side, we have Kevin Durant — facing the Warriors for the first time since leaving them in free agency — and Kyrie Irving making their Nets debut together.
Two Eastern Conference powers will begin their seasons against each other when Giannis Antetokounmpo leads the new-look Bucks against Jayson Tatum and the Celtics. Besides the simple fact of getting to see two of the best teams in the league, the main bit of excitement here is Jrue Holiday’s debut with his new team. Will he be the difference maker to help the Bucks get over the hump in the playoffs?
Dec. 25: Mavericks vs. Lakers
Obviously, the entire Christmas Day slate is going to be must-watch TV, but we can’t include all five games so we’ll single out this one. It’s a classic contest in the sense that you have one of the league’s young, up-and-coming teams in the Mavericks going against the defending champion Lakers. And at the same time, you have a similar dynamic on the personal level with Luka Doncic and LeBron James. Watching these two battle in the marquee Christmas game should be a treat.
While most of this list focuses on contenders, those aren’t the only teams worth watching. A few days into the season we’ll get a fun matchup between two teams vying to get back to the playoffs, and two of the most entertaining guards in the league. The Hawks brought in a bunch of veterans to play alongside Trae Young, while the Grizzlies are going full youth movement around Ja Morant.
The Suns made arguably the biggest move of the offseason when they traded for Chris Paul in an effort to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Meanwhile, the Pelicans are also hoping to return to the postseason with a healthy Zion Williamson. This could be a preview of a play-in tournament matchup, and will also be a chance to watch some of the most entertaining players in the league.
Jan. 7: 76ers vs. Nets
The Sixers made a number of changes this offseason, both on and off the court, and because of that, they’ll be one of the most fascinating teams to follow this season. Our first chance to see them in a marquee game under new coach Doc Rivers comes against another team that will look quite different this season: the Nets. With four All-Star talents on the floor, in a potential playoff preview, it doesn’t get much better than this early in the season.
Jan. 8: Hornets vs. Pelicans
This might not be the first game that comes to mind when thinking about the schedule release, but there are a few reasons to have this one circled. First of all, it’s another chance to see Zion Williamson, and you can never complain about that. Beyond Zion, it will also be the national TV debut for LaMelo Ball, the No. 3 overall pick, and one of the most interesting prospects in the draft. And, as you might have noticed, it comes against his brother, Lonzo.
You couldn’t make a list of must-watch games for this season without including Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets. After all, he’s one of the most enjoyable players in the game thanks to his magnificent passing ability. Adding to the interest in this matchup is the fact that it will be a rematch of Denver’s thrilling first-round playoff series win over Utah. Which means in addition to seeing Jokic, we’ll get another one-on-one duel between Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray.
Feb. 20: Heat vs. Lakers
Of course, a Finals rematch had to be on the list. We’ll have to wait a while for this one, as the Lakers and Heat don’t play each other until nearly two months into the season. But with all the talent and storylines in this matchup, it should be well worth the wait. Plus, one benefit of these two not playing until later in the season is that all the stars should be recovered from their deep playoff run at that point, and we won’t have to worry about one or two of them missing out on this matchup.