On Monday, the NBA released the full 2017-18 regular season schedule, after giving us a preview last week of the opening week and Christmas Day games. Based on heated rivalries, star players making visits to their old teams, top rookies battling each other, etc., I made my list of 10 games that you should definitely take a look at throughout the regular season.
10. Oklahoma City Thunder @ Indiana Pacers- Dec. 13, 7 PM ET
For the first time in his career, Paul George will not be wearing a Pacers uniform while playing at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. During the 2012-13 season, when Pacers’ star player, Danny Granger, was out for most of the year, George took the next step in his game, increasing his scoring average by more than 5 points, making an All-Star appearance, and winning the Most Improved Player Award. He lead them to 2 straight Conference Finals in the 2013 and 2014 postseasons, and to first place in the East during the 2013-14 season. Last season with the Pacers, he claimed that he will leave the team during free agency in 2018 for the Lakers. After that, he became part of many trade rumors since the Pacers wanted to get something in return for him, and they ended up with Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Despite all the success George gave to the Pacers, he planned to leave the only franchise he ever played for, so we must wait to see how Pacers fans will treat him in his return to Indiana.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves @ Chicago Bulls- Feb. 9, 8 PM ET
As there were many other things that the Bulls could have done on Draft Night, they decided to enter rebuilding mode without Butler, and trade one of the best wing players in the league. In return, they got Kris Dunn, a rookie that failed to pass expectations, and Zach Lavine, an up-and-coming shooting guard in the NBA. Like George, Butler won a Most Improved Player Award in 2015. At first, he only received minutes because of all the injuries the Bulls suffered, and his skills as a defensive player. But then he proved himself as an all-around player, going from scoring 13.1 points per game to 20.0 in the 2014-15 season, and increased his field goal percentage by nearly 7 percent. In his last season with the Bulls, he single-handedly led the team into the postseason as the 8th seed, averaging 23.9 ppg. There is no reason why Butler should not be cheered for during his return to Chicago, and they will truly be missing his presence next year when cheering for a team that is going through a rebuilding phrase.
8. Philadelphia 76ers @ Los Angeles Lakers- Nov. 15, 10:30 PM ET
The top two picks in the last two years go head-to-head. This is the first time we will see Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball play in an NBA environment, since injuries to Fultz prevented us to see them play in the Summer League. They played twice last year in college, and Ball’s UCLA won both games, but both players put up similar stats in both games.
This is also the first matchup between last year’s first and second picks, Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, since Simmons was sidelined for the entire last season. Their second matchup of the year is scheduled on December 7th, at 8:00 PM EST. If both teams can keep their squads of youngsters together, there may be a possibility that they end up matching up against each other in the Finals in the far future.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves @ Oklahoma City Thunder- Oct. 22, 7:00 PM ET
Both teams have acquired brand new wings in trades during the offseason, and what better way to find out which player has impacted its team more than a game five days into the season. This is only the first of four match-ups that they will play this season, so we will be getting to see plenty of action between these two teams. Although it may be too early to tell, but it is pretty likely that the top 3 seeds in the West are locked up by the Warriors, Rockets, and Spurs, so this can possibly be a preview of a first-round forth versus fifth series in the postseason.
Also, their second game will be five days later, Oct. 27, in Minnesota, so we will see if home-court advantage can make a difference.
6. Golden State Warriors @ Oklahoma City Thunder- Nov. 22, 8 PM ET
Last year, after breaking all Thunder fan’s hearts when deciding to join the team that beat them in the Conference Finals, there was no surprise his sidekick, Russell Westbrook got pretty mad at Durant. This resulted in Westbrook carrying the entire Thunder team on his shoulder, leading to him winning the MVP, averaging 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists. On the other hand, Kevin Durant won his first championship, and earned the Finals MVP honors. Now, the Thunder have assembled a much better team around Westbrook, bringing in Paul George, Patrick Patterson, and Raymond Felton, and keeping most of their key players on their roster. We do not know whether Westbrook and Durant are back on talking terms, but we do know that this game is going to be pretty intense.
5. Houston Rockets @ San Antonio Spurs- Apr. 1, 3:30 PM ET
The first game played between these two teams are on December 15, but I recommend watching their last meeting of the regular season. With an improved Rockets roster adding Chris Paul, it will not be that easy for the Spurs to clinch the second seed in the West for the third year in a row. This game is being played 10 days before the end of the regular season, but do not expect any of their stars resting for this game, as this may as well be a game that can decide who gets home-court advantage in the semi-finals. If the Spurs and Rockets end up as the second and third seed teams in the West, then this game will just be a preview of what is to come.
4. Houston Rockets @ Golden State Warriors- Oct. 17, 10:30 PM ET
As it seems like most teams in the West have given up to compete against the Warriors, the Rockets are certainly not one of those organizations. On opening day, we will get to see our first glimpse of the new Rockets offense with Chris Paul and James Harden (and maybe even Melo…) go up against the defending champs. They will only play three times, and their next two match-ups are both in January, but what better way to see the brand new Rockets team play their first game trying to upset the defending champions on their home floor at ring night.
Oh yes, the Warriors are receiving their championship rings before this game, but this game has much more significance than that.
3. Boston Celtics @ Cleveland Cavaliers- Oct. 17, 8:00 PM ET
On the opening day of the NBA season, we get to watch the rematch of last year’s Conference Finals. However, this is not the same Celtics team that nearly got swept. They now have another All-Star, Gordon Hayward, and the No. 3 pick in the NBA Draft, Jayson Tatum. And they probably will not be needing Avery Bradley’s lockdown defense to win against the Cavs, as Kyrie Irving may possibly be shipped out of Cleveland before the season starts. This is only the first of three times they will meet in the regular season, so you might want to wait until the third game to fully make a decision on which team is better as Hayward may need some time to get used to playing in Boston, and with all the drama in Cleveland. This actually may be the year where LeBron will not make the Finals, and this Celtics team are the biggest competition in the East to stop the Cavs.
2. Golden State Warriors @ San Antonio Spurs- Nov. 2, 8 PM ET
Unfortunately, no one would ever know how the 2017 Western Conference Finals would have turned out if the Spurs had a healthy roster. In Game 1 on the road, the Spurs were leading by 23 points until Kawhi Leonard left the game with an injury, and never returned for the rest of the series. Also, their starting point guard, Tony Parker, suffered a season-ending ruptured quad injury in the second round. Although Parker will not be in the lineup in time for this matchup, Kawhi Leonard will definitely be back. Now, with Rudy Gay on the Spurs, and Nick Young on the Warriors, we have a rematch of what could have been a totally different series if Leonard was healthy.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers @ Golden State Warriors- Dec. 25, 3:00 PM ET
Despite all the rumors, LeBron James is still LeBron James, arguably the greatest player in the league right now. And what better matchup than seeing the best player go up against a super-team with 4 All-Stars. Also to mention, they both played each other in the last three finals, with the Warriors holding a 2-1 advantage. According to Chris Sheridan, LeBron is 100% leaving the Cavs next year, so this most likely will be the last year of Cavs-Warriors rivarly. Since the chance that the Cavs will make the Finals significantly decreased for this season, make sure you watch this game because this may as well be the last time this particular Cavs squad goes to play in Oracle Arena.