After a postseason in which the Washington Wizards fell just short of the Eastern Conference finals, they’ll tip off their 40th season since last winning the NBA Finals earlier than usual, play both of last season’s finalists in the first eight games and occupy a prime slot in the NBA’s Christmas Day lineup.
The NBA released its schedule Monday evening, and in addition to the holiday rematch with the Boston Celtics, John Wall, Bradley Beal and the Wizards travel to Golden State to face the defending champion Warriors five games into the season. They also get early visits to the newly renamed Capital One Arena from LeBron James and the Cavaliers, both of the draft’s top picks — Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball — and have a stretch of 10 road matchups in 12 games in November and December.
It was an eventful offseason throughout the NBA, but the Wizards played it low key. They added veteran forward Mike Scott and guard Jodie Meeks. They re-signed Otto Porter Jr., matching the four-year, $106 million contract the Brooklyn Nets offered him. And, most importantly, they gave Wall, their star guard, a four-year, $170 million extension.
Here are eight games worth keeping an eye on as the Wizards look to return to the postseason:
Wed. Oct. 18: vs. Philadelphia 76ers, 7 p.m., ESPN
Washington’s first game is one of the many nationally televised, prime-time games in the opening week of the season, which begins eight days earlier than it did last year. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wanted to reduce the number of back-to-back games to keep NBA teams from resting star players as often, or for nationally televised games.
The first game is at Capital One Arena, and the 76ers should have their three young and exciting recent first-round draft picks — Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Fultz. Simmons, the 2016 No. 1 overall pick, and Fultz, this year’s No. 1 overall pick will be making their NBA debut against the Wizards. Fultz played high school ball at DeMatha.
Fri. Oct. 27: at Golden State Warriors, 10:30 p.m.
The Wizards face the defending champions during a late-October four-game West Coast trip.
The Warriors will be the favorites to win the title again this year. They still have Finals MVP Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Stephen Curry — who got a five-year, $201-million contract extension in July. Golden State also re-signed sixth man Andre Iguodala.
But while the West might already be decided, the East is not. With whatever is happening with the Cleveland Cavaliers (see below), the Eastern Conference could be as wide open as it has been in seven or eight years. This will be the first glimpse at whether the Wizards measure up.
The teams will meet again in D.C. on Feb. 28.
Fri. Nov. 3: vs. Cleveland Cavaliers, 7 p.m.
Will guard Kyrie Irving still be on the Cavaliers at this point? Irving requested to be traded this offseason, reportedly preferring to be a go-to guy on his own team rather than playing alongside LeBron James anymore. But no moves seem imminent, and if Irving remains, the Cavaliers are favorites to win the East for a fourth consecutive season.
This will be a chance to see how Washington fares against their conference’s elite. The Cavaliers didn’t make many personnel moves this summer but they added former MVP Derrick Rose on the cheap.
Thurs. Nov. 9: vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 7 p.m.
The Big Baller Brand comes to Washington. This is the first time that Ball, the second overall pick in June’s draft, will play at Capital One Arena. Ball is probably best known for having a $495 shoe, and for the outlandish things his father, LaVar, says. But many analysts have considered Ball to be the next great point guard, comparing him to former all-star Jason Kidd and comparing his passing ability to Lakers President and Hall of Famer Magic Johnson. This will be the only time the Lakers play in Washington this season.
Tues. Nov. 28: at Minnesota Timberwolves, 7 p.m.
The Timberwolves traded for former Bulls all-star swingman Jimmy Butler in the offseason. With Butler, Minnesota now has a promising young core that also includes emerging superstar big man Karl-Anthony Towns, 21, and 2014 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins. Butler is 27 and has made the all-star team the past three years; Wall is 26 and has made the all-star team the past four.
Mon. Dec. 25: at Boston Celtics; 5:30 p.m., ABC
The third NBA game on Christmas might be the most competitive. This is the first time the Wizards and Celtics will play each other since their heart-pounding seven-game series in the Eastern Conference semifinals. They have history of bad blood: In their first meeting in 2016-17, on Nov. 9, Wall was ejected after committing a flagrant-two foul on guard Marcus Smart. In a game on Jan. 11, Wall and Celtics forward Jae Crowder got into a scuffle after the game. In Game 3 of their playoff series, Kelly Oubre was ejected and suspended for a game after shoving Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk to the floor. Olynyk then scored 26 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter, of the deciding Game 7. And the teams took turns showing up to games last season wearing all black “funeral” attire.
The Celtics made a big move in free agency, signing all-star swingman Gordon Hayward away from the Utah Jazz. The 26-year-old is reunited with his former college coach at Butler, Brad Stevens. Hayward is a 20 point-per-game scorer and will help ease the load point guard Isaiah Thomas carries.
However, signing Hayward caused the Celtics to trade guard Avery Bradley to the Detroit Pistons to make room financially. Bradley is an all-NBA defender and was usually guarding Wall or Beal, making life for them as miserable as he could.
Fri. Dec. 29: vs. Houston Rockets, 7 p.m.
Four days after Christmas, the upgraded Rockets travel to Washington. In June, the Los Angeles Clippers traded all-NBA guard Chris Paul to Houston for a handful of players, giving James Harden, last season’s runner-up for MVP, a fellow all-star in the backcourt.
One of the big questions surrounding the Rockets is how will they play with Paul at point guard. Last season, Harden ran the point in Coach Mike D’Antoni’s system, and averaged 29 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. Will Harden or Paul be running the show?
Regardless, this matchup features two star-studded backcourts that should provide a lot of scoring, elite shooting and incredible passing.
Tue. Jan 30: vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, 7 p.m.
Two games before this matchup, the new-look Thunder will have faced the Wizards in OKC, on TNT. This will be their second look in a week at Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City’s dynamo point guard who averaged a triple-double last season, and his new sidekick, Paul George.
Westbrook was the league MVP last season, his first without Durant by his side. Now, with George, Westbrook again has a star forward, and one of the NBA’s best two-way players, on his team. But, really, the focus will be the matchup of lightning-quick point guards as Wall and Westbrook go at each other.
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