Following another notable offseason of free agency and trades, the NBA has given its fans more to talk about with the release of the 2017-18 schedule on Monday.
NBA.com unveiled the dates and times for all 1,230 regular-season matchups.
In mid-July, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced the season would begin Oct. 17, eight days earlier than the start of the 2016-17 campaign. It was a calculated move that would allow teams more days of rest between games and prevent star players from sitting out to rest as often. Because of this move, no team will play four games in five nights for the first time in league history, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.
Opening night will feature a matchup between the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers followed by a look at the revamped Houston Rockets visiting the Golden State Warriors.
The NBA is a league built on intense rivalries, with the Cavaliers and Warriors arguably being a modern-day version of the Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers at the end of the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird era.
The first meeting between the Warriors and Cavs this season will take place on Christmas Day in Oakland.
One of the best matchups last season was between the Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder, particularly during their meetings in Oklahoma City, where fans rained boos upon Kevin Durant. Things figure to be just as intense this season, with an added wrinkle thrown in.
The first Warriors-Thunder game in 2017-18 will take place on Nov. 22 in Oklahoma City. It will be a litmus test for the Thunder, who boosted their prospects in the Western Conference with the surprise acquisition of Paul George at the end of June.
It was apparent last season—especially in the first round of the playoffs against the Houston Rockets—Westbrook was a one-man show for OKC.
SB Nation's Alex Kirshner broke down the numbers from Oklahoma City's five-game series loss against Houston and illustrated how inept anyone not named Westbrook was for the Thunder:
"Westbrook played 194 minutes in the series' five games, of which Houston won four. When Westbrook was on the floor (for 39 minutes per game), the Thunder outscored Houston by 4.9 points per 100 possessions. Taj Gibson (plus-13.7) and Steven Adams (plus-7.7) posted even better net ratings when they were on the court.
"When Westbrook wasn't on the court, Oklahoma City was even worse than you probably thought. The Thunder were outscored by 51.3 points per 100 possessions while Westbrook watched from the bench, for a total of 46 minutes during the series. That's about one full game, scattered throughout five games, of total ineptitude."
George averaged a career-high 23.7 points and shot a career-best 46.1 percent from the field in 75 games for the Indiana Pacers in 2016-17. He's not at the level of 2013-14 MVP Durant, but he's certainly on the short list of those who can be considered the top 10 or 15 players in the NBA today.
The Thunder are putting all their chips on the table this season because George and Westbrook can opt out of their contracts next summer. If they can make this partnership work and show signs of being a force in the Western Conference, they may want to stay together beyond 2017-18.
The biggest homecoming game next season will feature Gordon Hayward's return to Utah as a member of the Boston Celtics. The 27-year-old spent the first seven years of his career with the Jazz before signing with the Celtics over the summer and reuniting with Brad Stevens, who was his head coach at Butler.
As seen below, it has become an annual tradition for fans to hold a ceremony to burn a star player's jersey whenever he switches teams:
Lil Uzi Flirt @MozeztheLeader
Dawg lol RT @Jcougar23 #betrayward https://t.co/WGAtHFgcsP2017-7-5 13:01:05
Hayward's decision to leave the Jazz is uncommon because they were a team on the rise in the West. They went 51-31 last season and won a division title for the first time since 2007-08. They have a talented young roster with players such as Rudy Gobert and Rodney Hood to build around Hayward.
Unfortunately for the Jazz, Hayward decided his best path to a championship is in the Eastern Conference, which may be the case considering how loaded the West is. Stevens' presence in Boston surely sweetened the deal for him to make a move.
The Celtics also look like they'll be more formidable against the Cleveland Cavaliers than they were in the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals, and we will see how much the gap has closed between the two teams in their first matchup on opening night in Cleveland.
Last year's Eastern Conference Finals was among the least competitive five-game series in NBA history, with the Cavs winning by an average margin of 25.8 points, including a 44-point victory in Game 2, the largest-ever victory in the Eastern Finals.
While the Celtics continued to trend upward, the Cavs appeared to fall apart. They parted ways with general manager David Griffin when his contract expired June 30. Chauncey Billups passed on taking the job, per Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, before Koby Altman was promoted from assistant general manager July 24.
Altman's biggest task is to find a solution to Kyrie Irving's trade request, which ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst first reported. The defending Eastern Conference champions still have LeBron James and figure to be formidable once again, but the cracks are starting to show in their foundation.
Chris Paul's first game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on February 22 is another major return next season. The Clips traded the All-Star point guard to the Houston Rockets, and he'll be pairing with 2016-17 MVP runner-up James Harden as they try to challenge the Warriors for supremacy in the Association.
This matchup may have some added drama, as ESPN's Michael Eaves reported Paul wanted a trade in part because he was unhappy with the Clippers after they acquired Austin Rivers in 2015:
"But what really solidified Paul's dissatisfaction with [Clippers head coach] Doc [Rivers] was a proposed trade involving Carmelo Anthony last season. New York offered Carmelo and Sasha Vujacic to the Clippers in exchange for Jamal Crawford, Paul Pierce and Austin Rivers, a deal to which Rivers ultimately said no. That event led Paul to feel that keeping his son on the roster was more important to Doc than improving the team. So, ultimately, Paul lost both trust and faith in Doc. As one league executive put it, 'Chris despises Doc.'
The younger Rivers offered this response on Twitter:
Austin Rivers @AustinRivers25
These false rumors are comedy...so fictional it's actually amusing! People will say or do anything to get attention. A lot 🤡🤡 out there2017-6-28 20:36:11
Regardless of what led to Paul's departure, it was a big hit for the Clippers after they won at least 51 games in each of the previous five seasons with the point guard.
Los Angeles still has a talented roster with Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and the pieces acquired from Houston in the Paul trade, including Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker and Lou Williams, and the Clips could still compete for a playoff spot in the West.
Sticking with Los Angeles, the Lakers are more interesting this season than they have been since Kobe Bryant's farewell tour in 2015-16. The arrival of rookie Lonzo Ball, whom the Lakers selected No. 2 overall in June's draft, is the main reason for this intrigue.
Ball will be making his regular-season debut for the Lakers against the Clippers on October 19.
The Philadelphia 76ers have a star rookie of their own looking to help lead the franchise's turnaround. Markelle Fultz impressed the Sixers front office enough during predraft workouts that it made a deal with the Boston Celtics to move up two spots to ensure it could take him with the No. 1 overall pick.
In addition to Fultz, the 76ers feature a solid core of talent that includes Joel Embiid, 2016 No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons and free-agent addition JJ Redick. They will showcase their talents together in their season debut against the Washington Wizards on October 18 in Washington D.C.
Given the state of the Eastern Conference, the 76ers have the potential to compete for a playoff spot if Embiid and Simmons are able to stay healthy and Fultz develops quickly as a rookie.
Everything still runs through Golden State, though. The Warriors will be the kings of the mountain until a team proves it can knock them down. All of the moves the Rockets, Clippers and Thunder made this offseason are to get where the Warriors are now.