NBA Schedule Release: 10 Games We're Most Excited About

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2017

NBA Schedule Release: 10 Games We're Most Excited About

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    The 2017-18 NBA schedule dropped Monday, and it's jam-packed with intriguing matchups from Day 1 till the playoffs.

    Thanks to a very busy offseason that saw the likes of Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler and more switch teams, a lot of those intriguing matchups are potential "revenge games." Several stars will visit teams they spurned in free agency or that traded them away.

    But those aren't the only interesting games on the schedule. Current rivalries will be renewed. Rising teams will be tested. And the seemingly unbeatable Golden State Warriors will get every team's best shot at some point in the season.

    Ten of this season's most exciting games will follow. Share what you think we missed in the comments section.

Oct. 17: Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors

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    Does the addition of Chris Paul make the Houston Rockets legitimate contenders? Can CP3 exorcise his Golden State demons on a different team?

    We'll get a few hints about those issues on the very first night of regular-season action when the Houston Rockets take on Stephen Curry and the Warriors.

    Over the summer, Houston assembled a team that looks poised to compete with the juggernaut Warriors, at least on paper.

    With a backcourt that includes two of the game's best playmakers in Paul and James Harden, there's nowhere to "hide" Curry on defense. And the Rockets have plenty of switchy wings/forwards to make life a bit more difficult for the Warriors on the other end too.

    No, they're not going to completely stop an attack that has two of the greatest offensive players of all time (Curry and Kevin Durant), a Swiss Army Knife the likes of which we've never seen before (Draymond Green) and an all-time great shooter (Klay Thompson). But Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute should at least make them work.

Oct. 20: Cleveland Cavaliers at Milwaukee Bucks

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    Giannis Antetokounmpo had a ridiculous rise last season, earning him Most Improved Player of the Year. And if he continues on that trajectory, the Eastern Conference could have another legitimate contender.

    In 2015-16, Antetokounmpo finished 36th in the NBA in Box Plus-Minus. In 2016-17, he finished eighth, per Basketball Reference. His rank in points per game jumped from 35th to 21st. Most importantly, his team went from 33 wins to 42. And oh yeah, he's still just 22 years old.

    The Greek Freak could very well be the future of the NBA. The heir apparent to, or maybe even the next evolutionary step after LeBron James.

    And who better to showcase another potential leap against than James? The superstar small forwards will face off on national TV in the opening week of the season. It should be an early gauge of how much more improvement Antetokounmpo made over the offseason.

Nov. 2: Golden State Warriors at San Antonio Spurs

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    On May 14, during Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference Finals, the San Antonio Spurs led the Warriors by 20 points with under 10 minutes to play in the third quarter. 

    Then, Zaza Pachulia slid under Kawhi Leonard's feet on a closeout, rolling the two-time Defensive Player of the Year's ankle and ending his postseason. Over the next 129 minutes (the rest of the series), the Warriors outscored the Spurs by 84 points.

    "A two-step, lead-with-your-foot closeout is not appropriate," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told reporters after the game. "It's dangerous. It's unsportsmanlike. It's just not what anybody does to anybody else. And this particular individual has a history with that kind of action."

    November 2 will be the first time Leonard shares the floor with Pachulia since that game and those comments.

    Is his team still the Warriors' closest competition in the West?

Nov. 3: Brooklyn Nets at Los Angeles Lakers

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    It took just two years for the Los Angeles Lakers to decide they were ready to move on from 2015 No. 2 overall pick D'Angelo Russell.

    Nevermind the fact that LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Nikola Jokic and Magic Johnson are the only players in the three-point era who can match Russell's sophomore-season averages for points, rebounds and assists per 36 minutes, per Basketball Reference, the Lakers were all-in on Lonzo Ball. And they apparently weren't willing to wait to see if Ball and Russell could play together.

    Now, of course, the trade was about more than that. L.A. was also able to unload Timofey Mozgov's immediately-regrettable-the-day-he-signed-it-in-2016 contract. Parting with Russell may have been the price for that. And if the Lakers think they can sign LeBron in 2018, getting that cap space was probably worth it.

    But regardless of the primary motivation for the deal, Russell should be hungry to show what he can do in front of fans at the Staples Center. Only this time, he'll be wearing black and white.

Nov. 4: Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets

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    In Nikola Jokic's final 2016-17 game against the Warriors, the Serbian star went for a ridiculous 21 rebounds, 17 points and 12 assists. His Denver Nuggets won the game, 132-110.

    It was further evidence of Jokic's status among the game's top players, an exclamation point on a stretch that saw the Nuggets put up offensive numbers even the Warriors couldn't match.

    In fact, from December 15 (the day Jokic became a permanent fixture in Denver's starting lineup) till the end of the season, the Nuggets scored 113.3 points per 100 possessions. The Warriors put up 112.9 points per 100 in the same stretch, per NBA.com.

    If you had to pick one team that should be able to go toe-to-toe with the Warriors in a strictly offensive sense, Denver might be it. And every time those two squads face off in 2017-18, it should be "hold on to your butts" level action.

Nov. 15: Philadelphia 76ers at Los Angeles Lakers

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    Here's just a brief sampling of some of the interaction between LaVar Ball, father of Lakers rookie Lonzo, and Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid.

    In a June 22 tweet, Embiid implored Ben Simmons to dunk on Lonzo "so hard that his daddy runs on the court to save him.."

    On July 5, video of Embiid saying "F*** LaVar Ball" surfaced (h/t Complex), which later drew a fine from the league.

    A couple days later, TMZ caught up with the father Ball.

    "His vocabulary is limited," Ball said of Embiid's shot at him. "You gotta use cuss words when you have no intellect... Three words for him: Can't play at all. Oh shoot, that's four."

    Ball even went on to suggest that Embiid would probably get injured again before he'd have a chance to play his son's Lakers.

    Well, that first meeting between the Sixers and Lakers is less than a month into the season. And if Embiid is on the floor, he's almost certain to bring a little something extra for Lonzo, LaVar and the L.A. fans.

Dec. 13: Oklahoma City Thunder at Indiana Pacers

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    In a summer jam-packed with player movement, the most surprising move might have been the Oklahoma City Thunder crashing the Paul George party.

    Sure, everyone expected him to move after he told the Indiana Pacers he'd be done with them after the 2017-18 season, per The Vertical. But the teams expected to be in the mix this summer were the Lakers and the Boston Celtics.

    OKC came out of nowhere.

    And with respect to Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, most expected a more significant haul to be headed back to Indiana.

    Fast forward a few months to the first time George will return to Indiana to face his former team, one whose hand he forced in June.

    Even in December, the reception from the Pacers fans could be colder than the weather outside the arena.

Dec. 25: Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors

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    For each of the last three seasons, the Cavaliers and Warriors being in the Finals has been about as close to a foregone conclusion as you can get in the NBA.

    And pending the outcome of the Kyrie Irving situation, we could be looking at Round 4 between these two powerhouses.

    The first preview of the potential fourth Finals matchup will come on Christmas Day, when LeBron and the Cavaliers travel to the Bay Area to take on the defending champions.

    Will the ruffled feathers of Irving have been soothed to the point Cleveland can compete by then? Or, will the Cavaliers look like an entirely different team thanks to a superstar trade?

Feb. 9: Minnesota Timberwolves at Chicago Bulls

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    Jimmy Butler was another superstar who was dealt this summer.

    His first game in his old home arena will be on February 9, and he could be out for revenge, according to Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun Times:

    After being traded back on June 22, the Sun-Times reported through sources that Butler felt lied to by general manager Gar Forman in their last meeting leading into draft night. Butler even talked to Forman and VP of basketball operations John Paxson about looking to sign then-free agent Kyle Lowry or trade for Kyrie Irving, all the while getting feedback from the two that he was in their plans as a centerpiece.

    With Chicago going all-in on a youth movement, there may not be many Bulls able to slow Butler during this February showdown.

March 28: Boston Celtics at Utah Jazz

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    One last homecoming will be that of the Celtics' Gordon Hayward, who spurned an up-and-coming Utah Jazz team in favor of his former college coach and current Celtics coach Brad Stevens.

    The departure itself would've been bad enough, but Hayward's camp failing to control the delivery of the message left Utah fans feeling even more bitter.

    ESPN's Chris Haynes reported Hayward's departure on Twitter around noon on July 4. Hayward's agent then denied the report to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

    A few hours later, Hayward's official announcement dropped on The Players' Tribune.

    The whole saga did not sit well with Utah fans, who are sure to be raucous on March 28, when Hayward comes back to Salt Lake City for NBA action for the first time.