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Top 10 Storylines from 2020-21 NBA Schedule Release – Bleacher Report

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The whirlwind 2020 NBA offseason is already history. In just over two weeks, the league packed in the draft, scores of trades, all of free agency and the opening of training camps.

    Now, with the start of the regular season Dec. 22 just under three weeks away, first-half schedules, which go through March, hit the internet Friday. Bleacher Report’s Adam Wells has those in one place for you.

    Here, we’ll focus on the storylines. They aren’t hard to come by in this slate, but finding the 10 biggest is more difficult. That’s the endeavor here, though.  

    To find out what the top 10 hooks are between now and March, scroll below.       

1 of 10

    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Bogdan Bogdanovic may never make an All-Star Game. At 28, he’s older than most restricted free agents. And his career-high scoring average is the 15.1 he put up this past season.

    Still, he became one of the biggest stories of the 2020 offseason after a botched sign-and-trade eventually led him to the Atlanta Hawks.

    Initial reports had Bogdanovic headed to the Milwaukee Bucks along with Jrue Holiday. The problem was those reports surfaced prior to free agency. Milwaukee wasn’t allowed to negotiate a deal with the restricted free agent until Nov. 20, which prompted the league to launch a formal inquiry into the matter.

    “At that juncture, it became clear Milwaukee was no longer a possible landing spot for Bogdanovic,” Jake Fischer wrote for Bleacher Report. “He could have engaged with Bucks leadership Friday, but moving forward with Milwaukee instantly became untenable for the 28-year-old. It would be far too precarious to move forward with the Bucks at the risk of the NBA ultimately determining foul play and blocking the transaction.”

    Less than a week later, Bogdanovic was on his way to the Hawks.

    Now, Bogdanovic and the Bucks will have their shot at each other on Jan. 24. By that time, we should have a pretty good feel for where the Bucks and Hawks are.

    How will Holiday fit with the Bucks? Will the retooled Hawks clearly be on the way to a postseason return? And will Bogdanovic have lived up to the hype surrounding his 2020 offseason?       

2 of 10

    John Leyba/Associated Press

    The Denver Nuggets secured the regular-season crown for the Northwest Division in 2019-20, but the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz were both within a game-and-a-half of their record.

    With OKC likely falling out of that mix following the departures of Chris Paul, Steven Adams and Danilo Gallinari, Utah and Denver appear to have pole position for 2020-21.

    The Portland Trail Blazers and Minnesota Timberwolves should have a say in the matter, though.

    Portland still has its dynamic backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Plus, it added Robert Covington and should presumably have a healthy Jusuf Nurkic. The Blazers will almost certainly outperform last season’s .473 winning percentage.

    As for Minnesota, a full season with D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns flanked by the shooting of Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez should lead to gaudy offensive numbers. If No. 1 pick Anthony Edwards lives up to his draft slot, the Timberwolves might push for the playoffs.

    All five of these teams will get a healthy dose of games against one another during the first half of the season.

    Utah opens its schedule with three straight division foes. Eight of Denver’s 37 games are against the Northwest. Portland opens the season against Utah. Minnesota has a back-to-back against the Nuggets in early January. And all four will get shots at OKC, the only presumable schedule win in the division between now and March.

    The West, in general, is loaded. This particular division could be one of the league’s toughest.    

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    The Atlantic Division features plenty of fun matchups during the first half of the season. And four of its five teams have a shot at the top record of the bunch.

    After just a few weeks on the job with the Philadelphia 76ers, new president Daryl Morey swung trades that directly addressed the team’s biggest weakness: lack of shooting.

    With Seth Curry and Danny Green now in the presumed starting five and Tobias Harris pushed to the 4, the Ben Simmons-Joel Embiid partnership should have a better chance to flourish.

    And with an early slate that includes several opponents who finished below .500 in 2019-20, Philly has a little bit of time for its new acquisitions to acclimate before a late-January back-to-back against the Boston Celtics.

    By then, the C’s should have starting point guard Kemba Walker back from a knee injection that is supposed to hold him out until the start of the new year.

    “There’s no rush. There’s no rush on my end,” Walker said Wednesday, per Boston.com’s Conor Roche. “I’m coming back when I need to come back and when I’m feeling good to play.”

    For the sake of the Sixers-Celtics rivalry, let’s hope that’s before Jan. 20.

    The Toronto Raptors, meanwhile, are entering 2020-21 with a remade frontcourt that added Aron Baynes and lost Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. They’ll be tested early by big men like Zion Williamson, LaMarcus Aldridge, Embiid and Jusuf Nurkic.

    The Brooklyn Nets should enter the top-of-the-Atlantic conversation too. Having Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving all but guarantees that, but the three other contenders feature proven duos. Brooklyn will get shots at all three between now and March.

    As for the New York Knicks, they’re almost certainly in for another sub-.500 season, but any signs of growth from players like RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson will be positives.       

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    The James HardenRussell Westbrook pairing that cost the Houston Rockets at least two first-round picks (as well as the ability to play with a traditional 5) only lasted one season.

    On Wednesday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Houston was sending Westbrook to the Washington Wizards for John Wall and a future protected first-round pick.

    Perhaps we can credit Houston for not falling for the sunk-cost fallacy and taking whatever it could get for Westbrook, but it’s hard to get over what that deal took from the Rockets. The Thunder also have the right to swap selections with Houston in 2021 and 2025.

    Maybe the Rockets will quickly replenish those future picks with a Harden trade, but then they’re out one of the greatest scorers in league history.

    In the meantime, these two superstars are set to meet twice (Jan. 26 and Feb. 15) before the second half of the season (assuming that a Harden trade doesn’t happen).

    Though those two will be the headliners, those games will also feature Wall against the only team he’s ever played for. And there was reportedly plenty of tension between him and Bradley Beal during their time as teammates.

    These matchups won’t lack drama.       

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    For years, the league’s two marquee dates during the regular season have been Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Christmas Day.

    Sacrificing one of those could’ve had severe financial consequences for a league that already suffered a significant hit in 2019-20.

    So, even though it meant a much shorter offseason than usual, the NBA was able to expedite a return that preserved its opportunity to enter millions of homes on Christmas. And it’ll do so with an intriguing batch of games.

    • Pelicans @ Heat (noon ET)
    • Warriors @ Bucks (2:30 p.m. ET)
    • Nets @ Celtics (5 p.m. ET)
    • Mavericks @ Lakers (8 p.m. ET)
    • Clippers @ Nuggets (10:30 p.m. ET)

    There’s plenty to be said about each of the five above, but the biggest storyline is likely what this signals about Luka Doncic.

    In his age-20 season, Doncic averaged 28.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists in just 33.6 minutes per game. He finished fourth in MVP voting. And now, he’s in the prime-time slot against LeBron James on Dec. 25.

    This is a “we think you can be the future face of the league” nod. The 21-year-old guard’s early career production suggests that confidence isn’t misplaced.     

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    After facing off in the 2020 Finals in Orlando, the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat will only face each other once in the first half of the season. The matchup is set for Feb. 20 at Staples Center.

    And while the Lakers loaded up this offseason, adding Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol, the Heat more or less stood pat. If anything, the loss of rotation players Jae Crowder and Derrick Jones Jr. might make Miami a bit worse (though additions Precious Achiuwa and Maurice Harkless should offset that a bit).

    Miami had an understandable couple of months, though. It extended 23-year-old Bam Adebayo, who signed a five-year max deal worth $163 million, but other than that, it preserved its 2021 cap flexibility.

    Still, there’s an intangible benefit to a deep playoff run. And the players who were most important to that run last season—Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson—are all back.

    By February, we should have a pretty good idea whether that core has a shot at another Finals or if that run was a product of the unprecedented circumstances in the bubble near Orlando, Florida.

    Even if the Heat are not at the top of the East by this game, a win over the Lakers will add legitimacy.  

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Martin Luther King Jr. Day is another date that holds significance for the NBA.

    The civil rights icon is rightfully honored every year by the league, whose players are predominantly Black. And the presence of the Grizzlies in Memphis means an MLK game is held in the same city as the National Civil Rights Museum.

    This year’s slate features 20 teams, including the Grizzlies.

    • Magic @ Knicks (noon ET)
    • Cavaliers @ Wizards (2 p.m. ET)
    • Timberwolves @ Hawks (2:30 p.m. ET)
    • Pistons @ Heat (3 p.m. ET)
    • Spurs @ Trail Blazers (3 p.m. ET)
    • Suns @ Grizzlies (5 p.m. ET)
    • Bucks @ Nets (7:30 p.m. ET)
    • Mavericks @ Raptors (7:30 p.m. ET)
    • Rockets @ Bulls (8 p.m. ET)
    • Lakers @ Warriors (10 p.m. ET)

    Memphis was better than expected last season, thanks in large part to Rookie of the Year Ja Morant. And just under a month into the season, we should start to have some idea of whether the Grizzlies will be able to build on that success.

    The team had a relatively quiet offseason, but development from youngsters like Morant, Brandon Clarke and Jaren Jackson Jr. could help Memphis take a step forward. And an early-season test against Chris Paul, Devin Booker and the also-rising Phoenix Suns should tell us a bit about both teams.      

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The loss of Kevin Durant to the Nets, Klay Thompson to a torn ACL and Stephen Curry to a broken hand made the 2019-20 Golden State Warriors a shell of their dynastic selves.

    KD missed all of the season in his new home as well, thanks to the Achilles he ruptured in 2019 Finals.

    So, the much-anticipated matchup between Durant and his former team was delayed. Now, in 2020-21, we’ll finally get to see Durant against the Warriors, even though Thompson is out with a torn Achilles.

    And we don’t have to wait long. Golden State and Brooklyn are set to play on opening night Dec. 22 on TNT at 7 p.m. ET.

    Both teams will look much different than last season. Golden State boasts a presumed starting five of Curry, Kelly Oubre Jr., Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green and James Wiseman. Brooklyn has Durant paired with Kyrie Irving and flanked by Joe Harris.

    We’ll get a good idea of how each squad will run in that first game, but it’s not the only time they’ll meet on national TV. They’re also on ABC on Feb. 13.              

9 of 10

    Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

    After the Los Angeles Clippers’ epic playoff collapse against the Nuggets that saw them lose a 3-1 lead and a ticket to the conference finals, L.A. is entering 2020-21 surrounded by drama.

    The Clippers lost reigning Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell to their crosstown rival. Jovan Buha of The Athletic released a spicy exposé on the team’s chemistry issues in 2019-20. And Paul George shared some attention-grabbing thoughts regarding his time with former head coach Doc Rivers on the All the Smoke podcast.

    Meanwhile, the Lakers snagged Harrell, added Schroder and Gasol and extended both LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The defending champions may have had the best offseason of any team.

    It looks like the Lakers have solidified their position as the basketball kings of Los Angeles. And they’ll have a chance to prove it on opening night at 10 p.m. ET on TNT.

    The Clippers aren’t helpless, though. George and Kawhi Leonard are still one of the game’s most talented duos. Replacing Harrell with Serge Ibaka might actually be an upgrade, considering the latter’s ability to space the floors. And Luke Kennard will add a little more playmaking punch.

    If they can sort out the reported chemistry issues from last season, the Clippers can enter the title picture. There’s a decent chance they’ll have to top the Lakers to get there, though.     

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    Kim Klement/Associated Press

    After the league shut down the 2019-20 season in March, scheduling the future was going to be a challenge. The regular-season games started back up in July, over a month after the Finals typically end. The Finals then wrapped in October, when the regular season usually starts.

    Everything has been pushed back. And though the league is trying to prevent further issues by shortening the season to 72 games, it’s not confident it’ll get through 2020-21 without logistical hiccups amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

    That’s why Friday’s schedule reveal was so much different than years past. If another delay is necessary, the league has given itself extra wiggle room before it organizes the second half.           

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