The NBA’s 2018-19 regular season schedule was released Friday afternoon, allowing everyone to begin circling days they’ll need to mark on their calendars to watch the year’s biggest games.
As usual, there are plenty of them. While the NBA has again worked to try to give its players more time to rest and recover — again cutting the number of back-to-backs, preventing four games in five nights scenarios for a second season in a row and eliminating stretches of eight games in 12 days for the first time — the marquee games garner the most interest.
Here’s a list of 10 of the biggest attractions ahead when the NBA season kicks off in October.
1. The Warriors get their rings
The season opens Oct. 16 with the Boston Celtics hosting the Philadelphia 76ers in the first game of a TNT doubleheader. The nightcap will feature the now two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors getting their rings ahead of hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder. What has been a spicy matchup since Kevin Durant left the Thunder to join the Warriors in free agency will only be made moreso by the occasion.
2. LeBron’s Lakers debut
It is going to take a while to get used to seeing LeBron James wearing a Los Angeles Lakers uniform. The first chance to see him in a game that matters comes on Oct. 18, when the Lakers travel to Portland to take on the Trail Blazers. James’s first home game will come two days later, when the Lakers host James Harden, Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets.
3. Carmelo Anthony returns to Oklahoma City
Trading for Anthony didn’t turn the Thunder into the super team some expected it would become, and he was unceremoniously traded away this summer. But after latching on with the Rockets a short time later, Anthony will return to Oklahoma City for the first time on Nov. 8, in a battle between two of the top teams in the Western Conference.
4. Gordon Hayward faces Utah for the first time
Hayward left the Jazz last summer in free agency only to suffer a gruesome leg injury six minutes into his first regular season game with the Boston Celtics, which shelved him for the season. Hayward is still recovering from the injury, but seems in line to be back for the start of the upcoming season. That, in turn, would allow him to make his official return to Salt Lake City on Nov. 9.
5. The Western Conference finals rematch
For all of the hand-wringing about the Warriors being the NBA’s dominant team, the Rockets led both Games 6 and 7 of the Western Conference finals at halftime. If Houston hadn’t missed 27 three-pointers in a row in Game 7, the Rockets, and not the Warriors, may very well have won the championship. But Golden State did eventually prevail, and on Nov. 15 the two combatants will meet back in Houston for the first time since the Warriors escaped from Toyota Center with that Game 7 victory.
6. LeBron James — for the second time — goes back to Cleveland
Eight years ago, James went to Quicken Loans Arena for the first time as a visiting player as a member of the Miami Heat. It was a game many who were in attendance say was as intense of an atmosphere as they have ever experienced. On Nov. 21 — the night before Thanksgiving — James will be in Cleveland once again as a visitor when the Lakers will visit the Cavaliers. Still, given how much different things were in his second go-round as a Cavalier, which included a championship, there shouldn’t be nearly as much venom this time around.
7. LeBron vs. the Warriors, part infinity
James and the Lakers will visit the Warriors on Christmas Day, marking the fourth straight year that the game’s best player will square off against its best team. It will be the first regular season matchup between the two teams (they play multiple times in the preseason), and will come far enough into the regular season that we should have a good idea of how competitive the roster the Lakers so oddly constructed around James can actually be.
8. Kawhi Leonard vs. DeMar DeRozan
The biggest trade of the NBA offseason means that this season will now have an extra pair of high-profile reunion games. The first will come on Jan. 3, when Leonard returns to San Antonio for the first time after being traded to the Toronto Raptors last month. DeRozan, meanwhile, is quite unhappy about being traded for Leonard, sending him away from Toronto for the first time in his career. He is sure to get a rousing ovation when the Spurs go north of the border on Feb. 22.
9. Blake Griffin goes back to Los Angeles
Remember when Blake Griffin was going to be a “Clipper for life?” That lasted about six months, until the Clippers sent Griffin to the Detroit Pistons last winter in what was essentially a salary dump. On Jan. 12, Griffin will make his return to Staples Center to visit his former team — one he almost single-handedly removed from the list of the NBA’s laughingstock franchises — for the first time since the trade.
10. Farewell to Manu Ginobili and Dirk Nowitzki?
Perhaps the NBA’s schedule makers know something we don’t. Or, perhaps they are simply setting the stage for possible drama. Either way, the last day of the regular season features the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs meeting in what could mark the final game of the remarkable careers of future Hall of Famers Manu Ginobili and Dirk Nowitzki. Ginobili still hasn’t committed to playing this season, and Nowitzki has mused about playing even past this season, his 21st in the NBA. But the possibility remains that this could be the final time either of them puts on a uniform. It isn’t often a game features even one legendary player hanging it up, making this potentially a very special occasion.
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