The 2019-20 NBA schedule has been released in full, which means we can begin highlighting the biggest games of the year. Most all of those will take place under the spotlight of national television, as TNT and ESPN released their full season schedules (with the caveat that they can flex games in and out as needed).
While many of the national TV games will carry plenty of weight in a regular season that’s expected to be as hotly contested as any we’ve seen in recent memory, there are some games that stand out in particular in terms of the first time we’ll see some highly anticipated matchups.
Below, we highlight a few of the biggest regular season matchups, beginning with the battle of L.A. teams on opening night, as well as the first time some stars will be returning to their old homes after a season that saw an unbelievable amount of player movement at the top of the league.
The Heavyweight Matchups
Lakers vs. Clippers, Oct. 22: One of the most highly anticipated matchups of the season will take place on opening night, when LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers take on Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the Clippers at Staples Center. While the Clippers are widely considered the favorites to win the Western Conference because of their depth and defensive versatility, the superstar tandem of James and Davis will have an opportunity to send a message to not just their cross-town rivals, but the rest of the NBA on opening night.
Jazz vs. Nuggets, Jan. 30: While the battle of Los Angeles will be the most broadcasted Western Conference matchup in the NBA, it won’t be the only one worth tuning into. Last season, the Denver Nuggets finished second in the west with 54 wins and with the additions of Jerami Grant and a healthy Michael Porter Jr., they should be able to match improve on that record next season. However, they’ll face some stiff competition for a top-three seed, particularly from their Northwest Division rivals, the Utah Jazz., who added Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Ed Davis, Jeff Green and Emmanuel Mudiay in the offseason. Both teams are expected to enjoy successful seasons, but one will finish ahead of the other. Who will it be?
76ers vs. Bucks, Dec. 25: The Bucks and Sixers won’t face off until about midway through the regular season, but it should be worth the wait. The 76ers stocked up on size in the offseason, bringing in Al Horford to start alongside Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris in the frontcourt. They also acquired 3-and-D wing Josh Richardson from the Miami Heat to pair with Ben Simmons. Meanwhile, the Bucks were able to keep their roster intact with the exception of Malcolm Brogdon, who signed a lucrative deal with the Indiana Pacers. Will Brodgon’s absence be enough for the Sixers to leapfrog the Bucks, or will reigning league MVP Giannis Antentokounmpo lead the Eastern Conference once again? We’ll find out on Christmas Day.
Raptors vs. Pacers, Dec. 23: After losing Kawhi Leonard to the LA Clippers in free agency, it’s unlikely that the Toronto Raptors will repeat as NBA champions, let alone Eastern Conference champions, but with head coach Nick Nurse still at the helm and most of their core players still with the team—including Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet—they could emerge as a darkhorse contender. A good test to see how much they’ve fallen off or not will be their game against the Indiana Pacers in December. The Pacers added some shooting in the offseason with Malcolm Brogdon, TJ Warren and Jeremy Lamb and should be in the mix for a top-three seed regardless of when Victor Oladipo comes back. If the Raptors still look like a well-oiled machine against a fringe contender like the Pacers, they might need to be re-evaluated before the postseason.
Anthony Davis vs. New Orleans, Nov. 28: Anthony Davis spent seven years with the Pelicans and for the most part, he was a beloved figure in New Orleans. Then, in January, Davis requested a trade, but not just any trade—a trade to the LeBron James-led Lakers. Suffice to say, that didn’t sit well with Pelicans fans, especially when Davis got what he wanted. Expect Davis to hear it from the crowd at the Smoothie King Center in November.
Kyrie Irving vs. Boston, Nov. 28: On Oct. 4, 2018, Kyrie Irving told a group of Celtics season-ticket holders that he planned on re-signing with the team when he entered unrestricted free agency in 2019. On June 30, Irving officially made the decision to sign with the Brooklyn Nets after a disappointing season with Boston that ended in a 1-4, second round loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Celtics fans are a lot of things, but forgiving isn’t one of them. Just ask Ray Allen.
Russell Westbrook vs. Oklahoma City, Jan. 10: After 11 years in Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook will visit the Chesapeake Energy Arena with the Rockets in what will surely be a surreal moment for him and the OKC faithful. While Thunder fans surely would have liked to see Westbrook retire with the team, the hope is that they’re understanding of his desire to compete for a championship at 30 years old and give him the standing ovation that he deserves.
Mike Conley and Marc Gasol vs. the hearts of Grizzlies fans: For the first time since being traded by the Memphis Grizzlies, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol will both make their returns to the FedEx Forum next season. Conley will make his return on Nov. 16 with the Utah Jazz, while Gasol’s homecoming won’t be until March 29. As two of the greatest players in Grizzlies history both on and off the court, there’s no reason to believe they won’t get a warm welcome back to Beale Street.
Kawhi Leonard vs. Toronto, Dec. 11: Leonard spent just one season in Toronto, so he doesn’t have the history of say Westbrook in OKC or Davis in New Orleans, but he brought them their first championship in that season. His lone trip to Toronto this season with the Clippers will come on December 11, when he’ll get his ring and surely a standing ovation from the Raptors faithful for his efforts last year.