The NBA season will restart on Thursday in Orlando, as a four-month layoff comes to an end and the eight-game race to the playoffs begins. Teams will jockey for playoff position and, particularly in the West, the race for the 8-seed is quite interesting given the league’s introduction of a play-in series if the ninth place team is within four games of eighth.
There is going to be a lot of basketball happening over a relatively short period of time, and so we’ve gathered the most important games from each day on the schedule so you can do your best to plan around which games to watch. For the most part, these games have the opportunity to impact races for seeding, although there are some days without much in the way of key battles and for those days we’ve simply selected the game that should be the most entertaining.
Unsurprisingly, the league’s national TV partners have plucked a number of these games for their broadcasts, but some will require a League Pass subscription to dial in on.
Thursday, July 30
Clippers vs. Lakers (9 p.m. ET, TNT)
The first game of the restart, Jazz-Pelicans, is helped by the fact that Zion Williamson appears slated to suit up, but the nightcap was always going to be the marquee attraction. The expected Western Conference Finals preview happening in the first real game back for both teams will be fascinating to watch, particularly with regards to how aggressively each side will approach this matchup given the circumstances.
Friday, July 31
Grizzlies vs. Trail Blazers (4 p.m. ET, NBA TV): This game could decide the Blazers fate in the race for a play-in game. A win pulls them to within 2.5 games of Memphis, while a loss drops them to 4.5 back. It is a huge matchup for both teams out of the gate and should give us an early indicator of where each team is as far as playing form to start the restart.
Celtics vs. Bucks (6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Another potential conference finals preview that will serve as one of a few stiff tests for this Bucks team. How much we can read into the outcome of this one really relies on where guys like Eric Bledsoe and Pat Connaughton, both of whom entered the bubble late, are at physically. Still, it’s a great litmus test for both teams early on.
Rockets vs. Mavericks (9 p.m. ET, ESPN): Like Grizz-Blazers, this game is very important for potential seeding. A Mavs win would give them a shot at shedding the 7-seed and moving up, which is huge for their chances to make it out of the first round. If you gave every team in the West the choice of facing the Clippers or the Nuggets, they’re all taking their chances with Denver, despite how good that team is at full strength. A Mavs win moves them to just a half game behind Houston for sixth, and sets up a very intriguing race to avoid the Clippers.
Saturday, August 1
Sixers vs. Pacers (7 p.m. ET, League Pass): The best game of this day will be Lakers-Raptors, but that will have no bearing on seeding, so Sixers-Pacers gets the nod here as those two teams are currently tied for fifth in the East (with Indy currently holding the tiebreaker) and the winner will get some early separation.
Sunday, August 2
Spurs vs. Grizzlies (4 p.m. ET, League Pass): Like Saturday, the best game here figures to be Bucks-Rockets, but Spurs-Grizzlies will, like Grizzlies-Blazers, be an early chance for Memphis to either separate themselves from a contending squad or for San Antonio to reel closer to a play-in. The Spurs being without LaMarcus Aldridge makes their path more difficult, and this will give an early indicator of whether they’re going to factor into this race for real.
Monday, August 3
Grizzlies vs. Pelicans (6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): It’s rather incredible that the schedule worked out to pit the Grizz against their three closest challengers in the first three games of the restart. If they can somehow go 3-0, they’ll have themselves a substantial cushion — and might set themselves up to avoid a play-in series altogether. If they slip up against any or all, things get far more interesting. On top of that, this should be another Zion-Ja matchup, and that is always fun.
Tuesday, August 4
Celtics vs. Heat (6:30 p.m. ET, TNT): It’s highly unlikely the Heat catch Boston for the 3-seed, but it’s possible if the Celtics drop their opener to the Bucks and Miami starts off hot with two wins over the very good Nuggets and Raptors. If that happens, this game gets real interesting, as avoiding the 4-seed (which likely means facing the Sixers and then Bucks to open the playoffs) is very important for Boston’s hopes of coming out of the East.
Wednesday, August 5
Thunder vs. Lakers (6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): This is a possible conference semis preview, and it’s always fun to see LeBron and Chris Paul square off. This will be a week in to the proceedings and as such, I’d expect this to be when teams like the Lakers start really trying to put the pedal down and get the playoff kick going, which should make for some fun basketball.
Thursday, August 6
Heat vs. Bucks (4 p.m. ET, TNT): TNT has a truly spectacular triple-header on this Thursday, starting with a possible conference semis preview of Heat-Bucks, where Miami represents a real threat to Milwaukee given their ability to get scalding hot from three-point range. I would expect Miami, at the very least, to take this game seriously and try to make a statement, it just remains to be seen if Milwaukee will be interested in going into fifth gear for this one.
Clippers vs. Mavericks (6:30 p.m. ET, TNT): Right now, this would be a first round preview, and the Mavs will, like Miami, be looking to send a message with their performance here. Like Milwaukee, we’ll see if L.A. is interested in going all out in this one.
Lakers vs. Rockets (9 p.m. ET, TNT): The Rockets small-ball stuff is really fun to watch when they go up against a big team. If you recall, their first game of the small-ball era was a thrilling win over this Lakers team. It’ll be a fun watch and, depending on how Houston does, could be a conference semis preview.
Friday, August 7
Celtics vs. Raptors (9 p.m. ET, TNT): It’d be pretty shocking if these teams didn’t meet in the second round of the playoffs. There’s a chance this is the best game of the restart, because we’ll be a full week in and these are two teams that can’t help but go all out at all times. There may be some delaying of flipping the proverbial switch for the Lakers, Clippers, and Bucks, but that’s just not really a thing with these two. I expect this to have playoff intensity.
Saturday, August 8
Jazz vs. Nuggets (3:30 p.m. ET, TNT): Like Boston-Toronto, this game ought to have some juice to it. Denver is 1.5 games up on Utah for third so this could be very meaningful for seeding. On top of that, these two have a bit of a rivalry going given they’re the best of the West that don’t reside in L.A. and have followed similar trajectories in recent seasons thanks to tremendous internal development of homegrown talent.
Sunday, August 9
Spurs vs. Pelicans (3 p.m. ET, ABC): This might be an elimination game for that 9-seed race. One would think Zion would be playing at about full strength by this point, although his lack of a pre-bubble slate might complicate thing. Both teams figure to need this win desperately to have any hope of a play-in game so, hopefully, that leads to a competitive matchup.
Monday, August 10
Bucks vs. Raptors (6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Milwaukee plays each of the other top four teams in the East, with Toronto as the final one of those and this might serve as a dress rehearsal for the playoffs for each team. Both of these teams have the luxury of going into the playoffs with what should be very easy first round matchups against the Nets, Magic, or Wizards, and as such they might take advantage of this tilt to ramp things up to 10 and test themselves. That’s the hope anyways, and if they do, this could be a lot of fun.
Lakers vs. Nuggets (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN): Likewise, I could see the Lakers doing the same with a good Denver team that they may or may not see in the postseason. Denver, at the very least, will come out looking to notch a huge win, and I wouldn’t be surprised if LeBron and co. see this as an opportunity to put their playoff rotation to the test.
Tuesday, August 11
Blazers vs. Mavericks (5:00 p.m. ET, League Pass): A weird day of games, none of them especially meaningful other than maybe Nets-Magic, but I cannot in good conscience recommend that to you lovely readers. As such, let’s go with Blazers-Mavs, as Portland figures to have plenty to play for, while Dallas could be in a battle for the 6-seed. Dame vs. Luka, if both are playing normal minutes at this point, will be fun.
Wednesday, August 12
Raptors vs. 76ers (6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): The first of two possible second round matchups on ESPN is Toronto-Philly, which seems unlikely as most expect Philly to leapfrog the Pacers into the fifth spot, but either way this should be a slugfest between two teams with a healthy distaste (but respect) for one another after last year’s conference semi.
Clippers vs. Nuggets (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN): This is more likely to actually be a playoff preview, and might be where the Clippers put their playoff rotation through a test run after facing the Blazers and Nets in the two previous games. Denver getting the L.A. back-to-back is a tough pull, and might mean they’re fighting to hold onto the 3-seed here.
Thursday, August 13
Bucks vs. Grizzlies (TBD): There is not really much intrigue on the final Thursday of the season the way the schedule fell, and as such we’ll put Bucks-Grizzlies on the watch guide because Ja Morant might try a ridiculous dunk on Giannis and fire the MVP up.
Friday, August 14
Thunder vs. Clippers (TBD): OKC likely will have something to play for in this one as far as seeding, possibly trying to avoid a first round matchup with this very Clippers team. Could be fun! Honorable mention goes to Nuggets-Raptors, as if both of those teams care, that should be a really good game.