The NBA has released its schedule for the upcoming 2017-18 season, meaning we can finally begin to look forward to specific dates and matchups.
The 2016-17 playoffs were marked by the dominance of the Golden State Warriors in the West and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East, but things may be different this season. A lacklustre offseason for Cleveland could lead to a wide-open conference, while several teams looking to challenge the Warriors in the West made aggressive deals to strike this year.
With so many familiar faces on the move this offseason — as well as some of the league’s most polarising stars staying in place — there will be plenty to watch once the season gets underway on October 17. Below, check out 10 matchups that any NBA fan can get excited about.
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Why it matters: These could be the top two teams in the West, and what's more, they're set to square off on the first day of the regular season. Golden State is returning much of its title-winning squad from last year, but don't be surprised if James Harden and newly-acquired point guard Chris Paul keep the Rockets in contention to the very end.
Why it matters: This contest will feature a battle of present versus future when All-Stars LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo enter the game for their respective sides. Both are freakishly talented athletes who can affect the game from anywhere on the floor. While Antetokounmpo is the one expected to take a big step forward this year, it will be interesting to see what James can do in his age-33 season.
Why it matters: The Timberwolves will have a new look this season, and it's not just because of the redesigned uniforms. With All-Stars like Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague joining an established young core that features Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, it will be fascinating to see what Minnesota can do in its first home game. The contest will also provide an early look at something we haven't seen in years: a Jazz team without Gordon Hayward.
Why it matters: After dropping four consecutive games to Golden State in this year's Western Conference Finals, the Spurs will be hungry for redemption come November. They will almost certainly be the underdogs, but with Kawhi Leonard leading the way, this is one team with enough talent to potentially unseat Golden State.
Why it matters: This game will feature a matchup between the top two picks in this year's NBA draft: Markelle Fultz of Philadelphia and Lonzo Ball of Los Angeles. Both flashed significant potential in summer league action, but this contest should provide a clear comparison between the heavily hyped guards. The 76ers are expected to be dark horse playoff contenders in the East, while the Lakers also appear headed in the right direction.
Why it matters: The Thunder will probably win this one, but don't tune in for the competition -- tune in for Paul George's Indiana homecoming. The All-Star wing led the Pacers to a pair of deep playoff runs early in his career, but an offseason blockbuster sent him south to the Sooner State to team up with reigning league MVP Russell Westbrook. New Pacers guard Victor Oladipo, part of the trade for George, will also get a crack at his former team.
Why it matters: The Jazz will travel across the country to square off with Boston's Gordon Hayward, the former face of their franchise. Playing in Salt Lake City would make the battle all the more compelling, but the Celtics don't visit Utah until March 28 -- fury over the All-Star wing's departure should be much less intense by that point. But emotions will certainly run high during the December game, even if it's played in TD Arena.
Why it matters: If anyone's going to seriously challenge the Warriors for supremacy in the Western Conference, there's a good chance it will be one of these two teams. The second and third seeds in last year's postseason will renew their Lone Star State rivalry in Houston, and there will be plenty of star power to go around.
Why it matters: This isn't the only Christmas Day game on the schedule, but it is the most compelling. After memorable Finals battles in 2015 and 2016, the Warriors zoomed past the Cavaliers this past spring, trouncing them 4-1. As with all their games, Golden State will be favoured, but don't underestimate Cleveland's desire to pull out a statement win.
Why it matters: This game is a rematch of last season's Eastern Conference Finals, and it could be the matchup for next year's too. With the additions of star wing Gordon Hayward and ultra-talented forward Jayson Tatum, Boston may have done enough this offseason to close the gap on LeBron and company. The Cavaliers and Celtics will also face off on October 17, the first day of the season, but it will be a much fairer contest once Hayward finds his footing with his new team.
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