Top 15 Most Important NBA Games Next Season

We are a little more than 2 months away from the NBA regular season starting back up. On October 25th we as fans are getting treated to a follow up to one of the best seasons of all time. Last year we saw a team have the best regular season of all time lose in the finals. We saw a player voted unanimous MVP for the first time in history. We saw not one, but two teams come back from 3-1 down to win a series in the playoffs. And strangest of all, we saw Cleveland win a championship.

The offseason was defined by major player changes and the league becoming more top heavy than it has ever been before. We lost some major players from last year’s playoffs, and the contenders just got better.

When the schedules were released, every fan looked to see when their team was going to play the Warriors. They want to believe that they will be this year’s Trail Blazers as the only team to humiliate the big-bad Warriors during the regular season. Normally the regular season is just a long trailer for the playoffs, but last year generated a ton of storylines that are genuinely interesting still. What will the Timberwolves be like this year? How will the Spurs play without Duncan? Will the Warriors win 74? Awesome stories that won’t affect the playoffs too much. We are pumped for the season to start, and here are the most important games on the schedule.

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15 October 25th – Spurs @ Warriors 

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

This game would be a lot more interesting had the Spurs done what they promised and actually competed with the Warriors to go to the Finals. We all know that last year the Warriors broke the NBA record for most wins in a season going 73-9. But don’t forget that the Spurs “quietly” went 67-15, tied for the 7th best regular season record of all time. These two had epic battles down the stretch of the regular season last year, and we are hoping to see more for a long time. It was a shame that these two didn’t meet in the playoffs, but it’s not as if last year was a disappointment. This game means a lot. It’s the first big game of the season (on the first day of the season) so all eyes will be tuned in. It will be Kevin Durant’s first game playing for the Warriors, which has been the story of the offseason thus far. And it will also be the Spurs first game in well over a decade without Tim Duncan on the roster. There is a ton going on with this game and we cannot be more excited for it. Kawhi vs. Steph, Pop vs. Kerr, Fundamentals vs. Fun. Is it October yet?

14 November 23rd – Lakers @ Warriors

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Walton’s return to Golden State isn’t the biggest story of the season. While the story of the offseason was Golden State upgrade by picking up Kevin Durant, the Lakers also took a huge shot at an upgrade by hiring Luke Walton as their head coach. The hire made a ton of sense for the Lakers; Walton was the biggest name in the coaching market, he played for the Lakers (and Phil Jackson), and the team desperately needs anyone to help their young players gel. During Walton’s tenure as head coach of the Warriors, he helped guide them to a 39–4 record, including a 19-0 streak to start the season. We won’t say that this was a fluke or that Walton didn’t have a hand in the incredible record, but we will point out that the team he had on the floor was the best in the NBA. It’s easier to coach guys like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, who have experience and discipline, than guys like DeAngelo Russell and Brandon Ingram, who have neither. We are excited to see how Warrior fans will greet their old coach, who bolted to coach one of their traditionally top rivals. Could that move reignite a rivalry that’s been otherwise dead for over a decade? Maybe we’ll find out in November.

13 April 9th – Raptors @ Knicks

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

There are a lot of playoff questions may be hinging on this game, surprisingly. If you told us 3 years ago that a late April game between Toronto and the Knicks may hold the key to the playoffs for a number of team, we’d call you an idiot. But sure enough here we are. Last year the Eastern Conference had 4 teams tied for the 3rd seed in the playoffs. Of those teams, many got a little worse or a little better, but for the most part they stayed the same. Now, on paper, some new teams are expected to join the mix, one of who are the Knicks. If this season plays out anything like it did last year, where about half of the conference is within 2 games of each other come April, than this game specifically will matter. The Knicks and the Raptors aren’t classically rivals, after all neither team has been very good for a while now, but the East looks to be dominated by the Cavs that we can easily imagine these two going at it in late April to get that coveted 2 or 3 seed avoiding a meeting with Cleveland until the conference finals. This situation is sheer projection on our part, but that doesn’t mean there’s no reason to be excited.

12 November 3rd – Celtics @ Cavaliers

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Testing out the new guys – November 3rd has the first matchup between the Celtics and the Cavs of the season. Last year the Cavs obviously won its championship while the Celtics were bounced in the first round of the playoffs. However, the fact that the Celtics were even in the playoffs was surprising to most as they were such a young team that didn’t have a lot of good pieces on paper. What they did have was Brad Stevens, who continues to prove that he’s one of the smartest coaches in the NBA. This off season the Celtics were one of the most active teams in Free agency, and though they didn’t land the biggest prize in Kevin Durant, they did add an established big man in Al Horford. They also added some young talent from the draft in the form of Jaylen Brown. The Cavs didn’t make any big moves, but did add some solid depth and resigned LeBron. The Celtics look like the Eastern Conference team of the future, and the Cavs are the Eastern Conference team to beat, we are excited to see what they do in their first matchup. And who knows; maybe this is an early taste of a great Eastern Conference Finals series to come.

11 October 28th – Raptors @ Cavaliers

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Eastern Conference Finals rematch, who doesn’t want to see that? The Cavs were expected to wipe the floor with the Raptors in that series, but against all odds, the Raptors clawed their way through 6 games and gave fans one heck of a show. Even though they showed up and played well, don’t think that the Raptors have forgotten how fans and the media treated them during that series. They won’t forget ESPN “forgetting” to put them as a playoff contender after game one, or the tongue-lashings that writers gave to DeMar DeRosen and Kyle Lowry for their performances. That series will give quite a bit of heat to this game that otherwise would feel very pedestrian. The Cavaliers never seemed to care all that much about the regular season, and we expect that to happen again this year, it’s all about the playoffs. But the Raptors may be the only team that can give the Cavs a true rival for that time, as the rest of the East is a hodge-podge of teams that are too young, too inexperienced, or too injury-prone. We expect DeRosen to show up and put on a clinic, scoring 40-50 points, even if the Raptors lose the game. After signing his massive contract, he has to show fans that he is the franchise player they’ve craved since Chris Bosh left, and the only way to do that is to beat LeBron.

10 November 9th – Mavericks @ Warriors

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

In two very… interesting… moves, the Mavericks signed ex-Warrior Harrison Barnes and traded for ex-Warrior Andrew Bogut. Both players fit the team’s mold by being basketball players, but most likely won’t elevate the team to contender status. Harrison Barnes is an upgrade over Chandler Parsons, who has been one of most disappointing players in the NBA after signing a max contract in 2014. Barnes and Parsons are following the same track; young small forwards who benefited greatly from being surrounded by better players, and earned huge contracts from the Mavericks despite being injury prone and underwhelming in the playoffs. At least Parsons was signed to take scoring pressure off Dirk, Barnes adds more pressure if anything. Bogut is just another in a long line of veteran centers that Mark Cuban thinks will please fans after missing out on signing a coveted big man. The two guys will be going back to their old team for the first time in early November and it will be very interesting to see how fans will welcome them. We expect a mix of golf claps and some whispers saying, “oh right, they used to play here.”

9 January 13th – Celtics @ Hawks

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Al Horford is one of the most underrated players in the NBA, and has been for a long time. The big man dealt with a few major injuries that shortened his 2011-12 and 2013-14 seasons, and left fans to believe that his time in the NBA would be dwindling after getting named to two All-Star teams. However he came back to form in 2014-15 and helped lead the Hawks to their best season in franchise history, and has now been selected to back-to-back All-Star teams for the second time in his career. After the Hawks extended a max offer to Atlanta native Dwight Howard, Horford decided that he wasn’t appreciated enough on the team and elected to take a max deal with Boston. The signing was huge for Boston, a team that desperately needed a big man and a veteran with playoff experience to help late in the season. This meeting in January will be the first time that Horford goes back to his old stomping ground, and we think he will play with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. He will be playing with a fire in his eyes and actively will be trying to prove that he was a better option than Dwight Howard (a thought that we 100% agree with). Also worth noting is that this battle is a rematch from the playoffs, when the Celtics got bounced by the Hawks. If Boston wants to prove itself as a power in the East, they’ll have to go through Atlanta.

8 March 5th – Pacers @ Hawks

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Of all of the moves that Atlanta made this off-season, the trade that sent All-Star point guard Jeff Teague to Indiana was the most surprising. The three-team deal also sent George Hill to Utah, and the number 12 overall pick in last year’s draft to Atlanta (which they used to draft Taurean Prince from Baylor). The move was expected to have freed cap space in Atlanta so they could re-sign Al Horford and Kent Bazemore, and they did one of those things. We don’t know who will have “won” this trade as Teague was dealing with a torn patellar tendon through much of the late parts of the season, and Prince is a unproven rookie who is coming into the NBA at 22, and those kinds of players rarely pan out. In fact it looks like Utah may have gotten the best deal. However the Utah-Pacers match has very little playoff implications, while the Pacers and Hawks may be battling for the same couple spots. Teague going back to Atlanta is a very interesting story line. The team drafted him, he helped lead them to their best season in franchise history in 2014-15, he played through a very painful injury to keep them competitive in the playoffs, and then was dumped for, what turned out to be, Kent Bazemore, who is the “poor-man’s version” of DeMarre Carroll (who is the “poor man’s version” of Andre Iguodala). The Pacers went though a ton of changes this off-season and are much different than the team they were last year, but we are very interested in the one-two punch of Paul George and Teague. The NBA is a business, and there is no better proof than what Atlanta has been doing the past 2 years. We want to see if this move comes back to haunt them, but won’t know until March.

7 December 7th – Warriors @ Clippers

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

There are a lot of great rivalries in sports. Red Sox-Yankees, Redskins-Cowboys, Barcelona-Real Madrid, and Michigan-Ohio State often get a lot of press, but it seems like a lot of the great NBA rivalries have fizzled and been forgotten. Celtics-Lakers has become boring, Mavericks-Rockets can’t even garner a nationally televised game, and the Knicks-Nets would lose viewers to infomercials. The NBA has become so top heavy that these rivalries are ignored and can even be deemed unwatchable. However, the Warriors-Clippers rivalry has become the best that the league has to offer, and arguably one of the best in sports. These teams, while not classically great, have become the favorites in the West, play in the same conference, and are geographically neighbors. The rivalry became heated because of the antics of guys no longer on either team (Kent Bazemore and Jermaine O’Neal). Both players jawed at their opponents and overly celebrated on numerous occasions. There have been moments where it looked more like a wrestling match than an NBA game, and times where it looked like players were on the verge of truly hurting each other. What turned the annoyances into a true rivalry came in the form of Draymond Green and Doc Rivers, who famously have had some conflicts in the media. The two jawed at each other during games, after games, on the radio, on twitter, pretty much however they could exchange petty insults. The Warriors have called Blake Griffin out for flopping, and the Clippers have called Draymond Green out for being a dirty player. The teams fighting has spread into this offseason with Doc Rivers calling Golden State’s season “lucky,” and Klay Thompson retaliating by reminding everyone about LA’s early playoff exits. To quote Thompson, “I wanted to play the Clippers last year, but they couldn't handle their business.” He will get his wish in December, and we could not be more excited.

6 December 16th – Lakers @ 76ers

via si.com

From one established new rivalry to one that we hope will become just as interesting one day. The Lakers and the 76ers were the two worst teams last season, and have been two of the worst teams for the past 3 years. No, they won’t be competing for most ineffective front office, or worst young centers, or even last place in the NBA (well, maybe that one). This will be the first meeting between #1 and #2 overall picks Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram for the first time in their careers. Many expect these two to take over as the future stars of the NBA, and this will be the first taste we get of how they play against each other. Rarely are two guys taken out of the draft and are compared to the superstars of the NBA. Ben Simmons game is similar to the way LeBron plays, and Ingram’s game looks a lot like Durant. The guys are playing for teams with a lot of basketball history that have fallen onto rough times thanks to ineffective coaching and management. The two both think they found their franchise saviors, and their first meeting is going to be fun for fans, and we really want to see what the future has in store for these two.

5 November 4th – Knicks @ Bulls

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

There were 3 huge stories this offseason. We touched on the Kevin Durant signing already in this article, and we’ll get to the other story in a bit, but before the KD signing the media was all about the Derrick Rose trade. For the first time in a while, fans were talking about the Knicks and the idea of them competing for a spot in the playoffs, without saying just kidding at the end. They traded for ex-MVP Derrick Rose and signed his buddy and teammate Joakim Noah. Yes jokes were made, but the moves make some sense and there is a chance that this works. Rose hasn’t been a bad player, but he hasn’t been healthy since his MVP season in 2011. Think about it, he only played 66 games this past season and people called him “healthy.” If he is truly back, the Knicks have a great player to pair with Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. Rose grew up in Chicago, won an MVP in Chicago, and made the Bulls relevant for the first time in about a decade during his time there. He may not have taken them to the finals, but LeBron has been unbeatable in the East for almost a decade. His homecoming to Chicago will be nice to watch, but the lack of bad blood between Rose and his old team knocks this game back a few spots. Either way it will be fun to see him back on his old home floor, and maybe going 1-on-1 with his old rival/teammate Jimmy Butler.

4 February 2nd – Hawks @ Rockets

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Dwight Howard didn’t get an MVP with the Rockets. He didn’t take them to the finals. He didn’t do much of anything for the, but we could not be more excited for his return to Houston. It’s almost the exact opposite of Rose’s return to Chicago, as Howard elected to leave his team to go to his hometown after not getting along with his old teammates. Rose was forced to leave his hometown, even though he got along with his team. We are more excited about this matchup because of the bad blood between Howard and Houston. James Harden seemed sick of Howard and the two did not gel together last year, and it led to a lot of arguments both on and off the court. They couldn’t openly play aggressively against each other because they were “on the same team,” but they aren’t anymore. When Howard steps off the bus in Houston, he will be surrounded by animosity from fans. When he steps onto the court, he will hear nothing but boos. And when he walks off the court he will probably tell the media about how mean the fans were to him and how he wishes they would retire his number in Houston (just like he did when he played Orlando). Harden vs. Howard will be a fun few games to watch, if Dwight actually decides to play basketball this year.

3 December 25th – Warriors @ Cavaliers

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

There’s not too much to explain about why we are so excited for this game. We could talk about how it’s Steph vs. LeBron. We could talk about that it’s the favorite in the East against the favorite in the West. We could even talk about how great Christmas Day basketball games are. However, the truth is obvious; finals rematch = great basketball. Last year’s finals was one of the most exciting series ever. The slug match of the teams trading blows, the big question about Draymond Green’s suspension, the Warriors going up 3-1, and the Cavs winning 3 straight to bring a title to Cleveland. It was as exciting as basketball can be. What happened is done, and the Cavs have the trophy, but don’t expect the Warriors to roll over and let the Cavs embarrass them in the season after that. Last season the teams met twice and the Warriors won both meetings. They even met on Christmas of 2015, a game that the Warriors won 89-83 behind Draymond’s 22 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists. They met again in January and the Warriors humiliated the Cavs 132-98. But none of that mattered because Cleveland got the last laugh. So who’s gonna prove they are the best team this upcoming season? Who knows! All we can say is let the games begin again!

2 December 10th – Bulls @ Heat

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

There are very few great players in recent years that stick to playing with the team that they came up with, in any sport. Players like Derek Jeter, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dan Marino, Ray Lewis, and Ryan Giggs come to mind, but many were in the belief that they would eventually be adding Dwayne Wade to that list. Not anymore. After years of being the face of the city of Miami, after bringing 3 titles to a team that had never won before, after taking pay cuts to ensure that his team could sign the best possible player, The Heat refused to give Wade the contract he deserved in an attempt to save a little bit of money. It’s not as if they used that money to make the team much better, they had already resigned Hassan Whiteside to a max deal and missed out on any of the big prizes like KD, DeMar DeRosen, or Mike Conley. They let Joe Johnson and Luol Deng walk, and spent money on guys like Derrick Williams and Dion Waiters. As of now they will have either Wayne Ellington or Josh Richardson starting in their backcourt, and Wade will be playing on one of the most intriguing teams in Chicago. We aren’t sure what the Bull will play like as they have 3 ball-dominant players in their backcourt, but they have the veteran prowess to figure it out, and everyone seems to agree that it’s Jimmy Butler’s team. Wade’s homecoming is going to be an incredible moment, fans will applaud, Wade will ball out, and we are going to be treated to a show. We can only hope that Pat Riley will man up, come to the game, and accept the boos or cold shoulders from the Wade fans that he turned his back on.

1 February 11th – Warriors @ Thunder

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The story of the year has been and will continue to be Kevin Durant’s decision to leave the Thunder and join the Warriors. Some people praised his choice as a “great basketball decision,” while others called him a coward, and Thunder fans called him a traitor. Whatever you called him, the point is that you talked about him. Last year when the Warriors and Thunder met in the playoffs, the Thunder gained a commanding 3-1 lead, but then Durant and Russell Westbrook had a historic collapse and found themselves out of the playoffs. Westbrook wanted to get revenge for being beat and re-upped his deal with the Thunder, Durant went with the “if you can’t beat them join them” route. According to Westbrook, KD never told him about his plan or even let him know before the media found out, which is a low blow for someone that was supposed to be a good friend. However, it is the fans that truly suffer from this as they lose one of the best players in the world, and watch him join the team that humiliated them. Once KD hits the floor in Oklahoma he will be showered with warranted boos, his old teammates will give him the cold shoulder, and just maybe someone will kick Draymond Green in the man-parts. Let the countdown begin.

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