The 2019-20 NBA schedule was released on Monday night and, thanks to a summer offseason full of player movement, the new season offers an exciting slate of match-ups featuring rivalries, returns and rookie duels.
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We have selected 10 regular-season games you simply cannot afford to miss, starting with a marquee match-up on the season’s opening night.
Battle of LA kickstarts season – Los Angeles Lakers @ LA Clippers, October 22
Lakers team-mates Anthony Davis and LeBron James pictured together at Summer League in Las Vegas
What better way to tip off the 2019-20 season than a star-studded battle for city supremacy featuring four of the league’s biggest names on opening night?
Anthony Davis will make his Lakers debut alongside LeBron James who, stung by missing the playoffs last season, will be looking to reassert his league dominance as quickly as possible. The 2019 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are scheduled to make their first starts for the Clippers, though George’s presence is questionable as he recovers from shoulder surgery.
The Lakers and Clippers also meet on Christmas Day and, with both teams aiming for a high playoff seed in the Western Conference, could potentially end up facing each other in the postseason too.
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MVP night in Houston – Milwaukee Bucks @ Houston Rockets, October 24
Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden chase possession
The NBA’s last three regular-season MVPs – Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden and Russell Westbrook – will share the court when the Bucks visit the Rockets in the opening week of the new season.
How will the ball-dominant Harden and Westbrook coexist in the Rockets new-look backcourt? Will Antetokounmpo or Harden – who battled head to head for the 2018-19 Most Valuable Player award eventually won by the Bucks’ superstar – lay down an early-season marker for 2019-20 MVP candidacy?
Porzingis returns to MSG – Dallas Mavericks @ New York Knicks, November 14
Kristaps Porzingis poses at a Mavericks practice
The reception Kristaps Porzingis receives on his return to Madison Square Garden will be fascinating to see.
The 7ft 3in Latvian star gave Knicks fans some long-overdue hope as he earned All-Star selection in 2018. However, after an ACL injury kept him off the court for a full year, the Knicks shipped him to Dallas ahead of the 2019 trade deadline amid reports of Porzingis’ unhappiness with the organisation.
Whether he is cheered or booed by the MSG faithful, Porzingis will be keen to show he is back to his best after his long injury lay-off. He will get every assistance from Luka Doncic, Dallas’ 2018-19 Rookie of the Year.
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Kyrie back in Boston – Brooklyn Nets @ Boston Celtics, November 27
Kyrie Irving reflects on the end of the Boston Celtics season
Kyrie Irving’s return to Boston as a member of the Brooklyn Nets looks certain to be a caustic affair after the drama surrounding his free agency and his public criticism of team-mates were blamed for the Celtics’ 2018-19 underwhelming season.
Some of the sheen has been taken off this match-up by the absence of the injured Kevin Durant, but the backcourt battle between All-Star guards Irving and his Celtics replacement Kemba Walker – played out in front of a rabid crowd at Boston’s TD Garden – means this remains a must-see match-up.
Return of ‘The Klaw’ – LA Clippers @ Toronto Raptors, December 11
Kawhi Leonard celebrates Toronto's victory over Golden State in Game 6 to win the 2019 NBA Finals
After delivering the team’s maiden NBA championship in his one season in Toronto, there is little doubt Kawhi Leonard will receive anything less than a hero’s welcome when he returns to the ScotiaBank Arena with the Clippers.
Expect a ring ceremony and an accompanying video tribute as the Raptors say ‘thank you’ to the player who ended their 25-year wait for title glory.
Westbrook returns to OKC – Houston Rockets @ Oklahoma City Thunder, January 9
Russell Westbrook is unveiled as a Houston Rockets player
This encounter should be a spicy affair given the trade activity between the two teams over the summer. The Rockets shipped veteran All-Star point guard Chris Paul (and a package of future first-round draft picks) to Oklahoma City in exchange for Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook’s 11-year tenure in Oklahoma City made him a beloved figure and there is no doubt he will receive a warm welcome on his return. But that is not the only storyline in play. Do not forget Paul’s exit from Houston came amid reports of brewing tension between him and James Harden.
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Top rookies meet – New Orleans Pelicans @ Memphis Grizzlies, January 20
Zion Williamson in Summer League action for the Pelicans against the Knicks
No 1 draft pick Zion Williamson meets No 2 selection Ja Morant for the first time when the Pelicans visit the Grizzlies on Martin Luther King Jr Day with both young stars likely contending for Rookie of the Year honours.
Williamson has been hailed as the most exciting NBA prospect since LeBron James entered the league in 2003 and he will have the experience of Jrue Holiday, JJ Redick and Derrick Favors around him, along with former Lakers Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball.
The Grizzlies are in transition after trading Mike Conley to the Utah Jazz but Morant has elite athleticism and creativity of his own and a stellar young running mate in Jaren Jackson Jr. This match-up will offer a glimpse into the NBA’s long-term future.
Giannis hits Paris – Milwaukee Bucks @ Charlotte Hornets, January 24
Giannis Antetokounmpo soars for a dunk in the Bucks' series-clinching Game 5 win over the Celtics
Defending MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and his powerful Milwaukee Bucks roster come to Europe for a meeting with the Charlotte Hornets.
After reaching the Conference Finals last season, the Bucks are the favourites to come through the East in 2019-20 and reach the NBA Finals.
The opportunity to see the ‘Greek Freak’, Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and the Lopez brothers as they look to take the next step will be a real treat for European fans.
Steph vs Kyrie, plus KD? – Brooklyn Nets @ Golden State Warriors, March 12
Stephen Curry celebrates a late three-pointer during the Warriors' Game 5 win
A backcourt duel featuring Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving is a marquee match-up at any point in the season. But it is not the only talking point in this encounter.
Former Net D’Angelo Russell will face his former team, assuming he is still a Warriors player late in the 2019-20 season.
Then there is Kevin Durant, expected to miss the entire campaign as he recovers from his Achilles injury. However, if Durant were to recover more quickly than expected, could he be in contention late in the season for a dramatic return to face the Warriors, the team with whom he won two NBA championships and two Finals MVPs?
Who reigns in the East? – Milwaukee Bucks @ Philadelphia 76ers, April 7
Joel Embiid launches a three-pointer over Antetokounmpo
The final regular-season clash between the Eastern Conference’s two heavyweight teams could prove pivotal to their playoff hopes. The No 1 seed, and home advantage through the postseason, could be decided in this game, potentially making it one of the most important games of the season.
When Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid meet, you can expect fireworks. In a March 2019 match-up, the ‘Greek Freak’ scored 52 points but the Bucks ended up on the losing end of a 130-125 classic, thanks to 40 points and 15 rebounds from Embiid.
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