Whenever the schedule for one of the major sports leagues (NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL) is released, fans, and even players, go through and circle the games that they cannot wait to see. It could be a rivalry, a player who left in free agency’s first game back, a matchup of the draft’s top two picks, a matchup against the previous season’s champion, a rematch with the team who is responsible for knocking their team out of the playoffs last season, or even a Christmas day game because we all love Santa giving us our favorite team playing on the holiday.
Whatever the reason, there are games that we, as fans, look forward to during the regular season and that we consider the team’s biggest games.
In the NBA this year, it is no different. After a crazy free agency period that saw many big names move cities, it is set up to be a crazy NBA season. Some teams that were possible title contenders made moves to ensure that the “possible” is taken out and they are looked at as title contenders, while other teams downgraded from title contenders to possible playoff teams. After breaking down the entire NBA schedule, here are the top fifteen most intriguing matchups of the upcoming season. Also given are the dates for each matchup, so if you have not done so yet, you can mark it down on your calendar.
15 Philadelphia 76ers vs. Los Angeles Lakers (Battle of the top two picks)
Dates: December 16 & March 12
You are probably asking yourself how the Sixers and the Lakers are an intriguing matchup, considering that they were the two worst teams in the league last year. But due to such terrible seasons, they also drafted number one and number two in this past summer's draft, so this is an intriguing matchup because it is Ben Simmons (one pick) vs. Brandon Ingram (second pick).
Both teams have gathered talent through the draft over the last couple seasons that has given them hopes of being title contenders in, hopefully, the not too distant future. The Sixers have a huge frontcourt that consists of Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons, while the Lakers have of a young core of Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Brandon Ingram.
Hopefully in a couple years, this will not be a matchup of the league’s two bottom dwellers, but this could be a matchup we see for the NBA Championship.
14 Los Angeles Lakers vs. Los Angeles Clippers (Battle of LA)
Dates: December 25, January 14, March 21, & April 1
For all of you Lakers fans out there, your Lakers are part of the first two most intriguing matchups this season. The battle of LA is always an interesting one. The Lakers dominated it for what seems like an eternity, until recently when they started rebuilding and the Clippers have been dominating the series ever since. Both teams share the same building, leading to an intriguing battle between the two teams.
The intriguing thing about this matchup is the Clippers are made up of veterans like Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan while the Lakers are made up of a young core that includes the previously mentionned D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and Brandon Ingram.
The Clippers have been in the conversation when it comes to contending in the Western Conference over the last few years while the Lakers want to get back into the conversation and stay there. Any game that is scheduled on Christmas is an intriguing game and if you live in Los Angeles, Clippers-Lakers is it.
13 Brooklyn Nets vs. New York Knicks (Battle of the Boroughs NY)
Dates: November 9, February 1, March 12, & March 16
In New York sports, there is nothing like a subway rivalry. Just look at the Yankees and Mets. When they play each other, everyone and their grandmother, if they live in New York, go to Yankee Stadium or CitiField to see the crosstown rivals beat up on each other. The same can be said for the Knicks and the Nets. The Knicks are still angry over the Nets move from New Jersey to Brooklyn, making New York a two team city like it is in every other professional sports league.
The Knicks are coming off a huge offseason where they added Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to a core that already consists of Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. The Nets, on the other hand, have been rebuilding for a couple years now and fans can expect that to continue through this season. It does not look like an intriguing matchup on paper, but when these two crosstown rivals get together, it is always a game.
12 Atlanta Hawks vs. Houston Rockets (Superman’s Return to Houston)
Date: February 2
This is the first matchup on our list that is based on a star player who signed with another team, who is coming back to play against his former teammates. In this instance, that player is Dwight Howard.
He left James Harden and the Rockets behind to sign with his hometown team, the AtlantaHawks. The Rockets used the money saved by losing Howard and signed sharpshooters Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, along with Brazilian big man Nene to help bolster the team’s depth.
The Hawks have been eliminated from the playoffs the last two years by the Cavaliers, so this offseason they added veterans Kirk Hinrich, Kris Humphries, and Jarrett Jack along with Howard to a core that already consists of Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver, but they also traded longtime point guard Jeff Teague to the Pacers, so it looks like they are handing the reigns to Dennis Schroder. They also lost big man Al Horford to the Celtics.
Both teams were in the playoffs in their respective conferences last year and the same is expected this season barring a significant injury. They both want to be seen as more than just playoff teams, so other than Howard’s return to Houston, this should be an intense and physical matchup to watch.
11 Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks (Good Ol' Fashioned Rivalry)
Dates: November 11, December 25, January 18, & April 2
This is a good ol' fashioned rivalry that dates all the way back to the 1970s and has generated heat ever since. This year’s matchup is going to be interesting because the Celtics are talking about being ready to be contending for the title, while the Knicks made moves that show that they are going that way too.
In the Eastern Conference, which has been run by whatever team LeBron James is playing for over the last six years, is wide open after the Cavs. The Cavaliers are the obvious favorites to win the conference, but the Raptors showed that they could be contenders last season. After the Raptors, there are not many teams that can say they are contenders. That is where the Knicks and Celtics come in. Both of them have made the moves required to be considered in that category and we'll get to see if those moves paid off in these games.
10 10.Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Toronto Raptors (Rematch of Eastern Conference Finals)
Dates: October 28, November 15, December 5, & April 12
As we mentioned above, the Cavaliers and Raptors were the top two seeds in the East last season and when they played in the Conference Finals, the Raptors gave the Cavaliers all they could handle before losing in six games to the eventual NBA champions.
The Raptors went into this past offseason with one thing on their mind and that was to re-sign DeMar DeRozan, which they did on the first day of the free agency period. After re-signing him, they focused on beefing up their front line after losing their shot blocker, Bismack Biyombo, to the Magic. They did just that in signing Jared Sullinger and Jason Thompson, while drafting the big man Jakob Poeltl out of Utah.
After they paraded around Cleveland celebrating their championship, the Cavs added Chris “Birdman” Andersen and drafted the guy who might be the steal of the draft, Kay Felder, out of Oakland.
Each game of the Conference Finals was intense last season and we should look for that to continue this season.
9 Golden State Warriors vs. Portland Trail Blazers (Rematch of West Semis)
Dates: November 1, December 17, January 4, & January 29
Like the Cavaliers-Raptors matchup, this is another rematch from last season’s playoffs. The Warriors, on their way to back to back Western Confrence Championships, faced off with the Trail Blazers in the semifinals. Steph Curry missed the first three games of the series and returned for game four after the Blazers, behind Damian Lillard’s 40 points, won game three, giving the Warriors and their fans nightmares. Those nightmares quickly turned to sweet dreams as Golden State took down the Blazers in games four and five to advance to the Conference Finals.
After being projected to be bottom dwellers and miss the playoffs last season, the Blazers proved the critics wrong and will look to do so again this season. They are probably not going to be projected as bottom dwellers this season and will likely be considered playoff favorites.
The Warriors, on the other hand, licked their wounds after collapsing against the Cavaliers and made the biggest splash of the summer with the signing of Kevin Durant. With a core of Draymond Green, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant, you can be sure the Warriors will get each of their opponents’ best effort this season, but for the Blazers, it is about avenging their playoff exit.
8 San Antonio Spurs vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (Kawhi vs. LeBron)
Dates: January 21 & March 27
The Spurs have seemed to constantly be the thorn in LeBron James’ side. Two of his losses in the NBA Finals have come at the hands of the Spurs and Kawhi Leonard always seems to be annoying LeBron with his physical defense when they match up one-on-one.
This season, the Spurs are looking to fill the void left by the retirement of Tim Duncan and might have done that with the signing of the Spanish big man, Pau Gasol. After watching the way Coach Popovich does things, the Spurs do not rebuild, they reload and that is what was shown by signing Gasol to replace Duncan.
The Cavs, on the other hand, are coming off a championship and have mostly everyone back from last season as they try to win back to back NBA titles. This will make for an incredibly interesting matchup between two super-powers in the NBA.
7 Chicago Bulls vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (D-Wade vs. LeBron)
Dates: December 2, January 4, February 25, & March 30
Even before Dwyane Wade left the Heat for the Bulls, this matchup was rather interesting. Every time the Bulls and Cavaliers get together, it seems to be a physical defensive battle. The Bulls went into this past offseason thinking they were heading into rebuilding mode, but that quickly changed when they signed Rajon Rondo and pried Dwyane Wade away from Miami to form a big three along with Jimmy Butler, who Wade has said over and over again runs the show in Chicago.
They went from rebuilding mode at the beginning of the offseason to dreaming of knocking LeBron James and the Cavs off the throne and being a real player in the wide open Eastern Conference.
The Cavaliers know that they have teams gunning for them and are ready to take on all comers. They have everyone back from last season’s championship team except for Matthew Dellavedova, who signed a ridiculous contract with the Bucks.
This year’s matchup will have a little added intrigue now that LeBron’s good friend, Dwyane Wade, will be donning the red and black of the Bulls.
6 New York Knicks vs. Chicago Bulls (D-Rose’s Return to Chicago)
Date: November 4
Like mentioned above, the Bulls made some acquisitions this past offseason in signing Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade, but that did not come with them getting rid of some players. The day before the draft, the Bulls pulled off a trade with the Knicks and sent Chicago’s own Derrick Rose, along with Justin Holiday, to the New York for Robin Lopez, Jose Calderon, and Jerian Grant. Rose lived his dream by being picked number one overall in the 2008 NBA draft and playing for his hometown Bulls. Chicago fans were sad to see him go because they thought that was the beginning of the rebuild that the front office had been leaning towards. That was before they signed Rondo and Wade.
The Knicks’ acquisition of Rose brought excitement to a fanbase that has been suffering through several down years in a row and were hoping that the Knicks would hurry up and get back to contending for a title. They also were able to bring in Rose’s Chicago teammate, Joakim Noah, to help him feel more at home in New York.
After the acquisitions, the Bulls and Knicks are seen as two teams that can challenge the Cavs for the East, so aside from D-Rose’s return to Chicago, this matchup could go a long way in determining who gets to go up against the Cavs.
5 San Antonio Spurs vs. Golden State Warriors (Battle of the Top Two in the West)
Dates: October 25, March 11, & March 29
Last season, fans had to wait three months to see these two juggernauts of the Western Conference collide. This season, the NBA officials who make the schedule decided against making fans wait so long again because the first matchup between these teams is on opening night.
The Warriors and Spurs were clearly the two top teams in the West last season and looked to be on a collision course to meet up in the Western Conference Finals, but, thanks to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Spurs had to watch the West Finals from home.
Both teams came up short of the NBA Championship and made noise this offseason to show that they are not backing down. The Warriors went out and signed Kevin Durant to add another scorer to a team already filled with scorers like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. The Spurs signed Pau Gasol to fill the void left by Tim Duncan, who retired. These two teams will be contenders for the next few years and, since they're in the same conference, they will always be at each other’s throats for control of the West.
4 New York Knicks vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (Battle of the Big Three's)
Dates: October 25, December 7, February 4, & February 23
Ever since LeBron James left Cleveland to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, it has become the norm for teams to go out and try to form their own “big three” in order to win an NBA Championship.
The Nets tried it a couple years back, pairing Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett with Deron Williams, but it did not lead them anywhere. When LeBron went back to Cleveland, along with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, a new big three was formed.
The Knicks are one of the teams hoping that the big three they formed will be better than the one in Cleveland. Adding Derrick Rose to play alongside Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis gave the Knicks hope that the glory days could be making a comeback to Madison Square Garden. The last few seasons have been a blur for Knicks fans, but the idea that the Knicks have a big three and made moves to add guys around them gives them hope that a championship run is not far off in the future. In order to get to a Championship in the East, you have to go through LeBron James. The Knicks get their first shot at LeBron and the Cavs on opening night.
3 Miami Heat vs. Chicago Bulls (D-Wade’s Return to Miami)
Dates: November 10
Going into this past offseason, the Heat and their fans had dreams of landing Kevin Durant and teaming him with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic, and the up-and-coming Hassan Whiteside. When it was all said and done, they lost out on Durant and Dwyane Wade left town to go home to his hometown team, the Chicago Bulls.
Pat Riley tried to make sure that would not happen, but Wade did not like how Riley was “low-balling” him with his offers. Wade is one of those players that will be hard to see in a different uniform, as it was assumed that he would spend his entire career with the team. But after seeing how the front office was not giving him what he was asking for, Wade decided enough was enough.
Fans do not have to wait too long for this one either, as these two teams will face each other in Miami only two weeks into the season. It is expected that Wade will receive an ovation like the one that Chase Utley got when he returned to Philadelphia a couple of weeks back.
2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Golden State Warriors (KD’s Return to OKC)
Dates: February 11th
Out of all the free agents signing with new teams, the most shocking signing had to be Kevin Durant bolting from Oklahoma City to join Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and the Warriors, who were responsible for eliminating the Thunder from the playoffs.
After he announced his decision, many people thought that it meant that Russell Westbrook would be leaving as well, but after signing a contract extension, Westbrook is not going anywhere and it shows that Durant was the one who did not buy into the Thunder’s future.
The Thunder traded Serge Ibaka in a package to Orlando for Victor Oladipo, which should fill some of the void left by Durant’s departure. A lot of rumors have come out that Durant left the Thunder like LeBron left the Cavs the first time, which could mean that his return to Oklahoma City could be like LeBron’s return to Cleveland, which was full of boos and jeers.
It just goes to show you that players in the NBA are all about rings nowadays and Durant went to where he has the best chance of getting one. Hopefully, he gets more love from the Oklahoma City fans than LeBron did from Cleveland when he went back. But we highly doubt it.
1 1.Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (Finals Rematch)
Dates: December 25 & January 16
That brings us down to the most intriguing matchup of the NBA season and wouldn’t you know it? It is the Warriors versus the Cavaliers, a rematch of the last two NBA finals.
The NBA schedule makers decided to give us the first rematch on Christmas day. The Warriors took down the Cavs in the 2015 NBA Finals, but the Cavs returned the favor this past season, after a historic collapse by the Warriors.
The Warriors decided to add Kevin Durant, hoping he could help them reclaim the championship that they should have won in back to back years. It is going to be tough for teams to match up with the Warriors, who have so many dangerous players on their team.
While the Warriors reloaded, the Cavaliers kept their team intact and most of the players who came up big in the finals are back. Both games between these teams will be just as close and exciting as the last two NBA Finals have been. On top of that, with the added matchup of Durant vs. LeBron, this encounter just got a lot more intriguing.
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