2018-19 NBA Schedule: Breaking Down Top 10 Games of the Season

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistAugust 10, 2018

2018-19 NBA Schedule: Breaking Down Top 10 Games of the Season

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The more things change the more they stay the same.

    The 2018-19 NBA schedule was released Thursday, and the league is going to look quite different after LeBron James joined the Los Angeles Lakers, Kawhi Leonard was traded to the Toronto Raptors and DeMarcus Cousins signed with the Golden State Warriors, among other head-turning changes.

    Despite the movement and storylines, the Warriors are still the team to beat after winning the last two titles, especially with the addition of Cousins. The Houston Rockets, Lakers, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and other contenders will be tasked with toppling arguably the greatest starting five in NBA history come playoff time if they want to lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

    There will be plenty of excitement before that, though, as the regular season features a number of promising showdowns. Here is a look at the top 10, which were chosen based on factors such as the star power of the players, the storylines surrounding the matchups and the impact they will have on the playoff race.

Oct. 16: Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    The NBA wasted no time giving fans a treat.

    The Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics figure to be the class of the Eastern Conference for years to come, especially after LeBron James went West, and will start the season with a TNT showdown on opening night.

    Boston handled the 76ers in the second round of last season’s playoffs, but the combination of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have another year of experience and return alongside Dario Saric, JJ Redick and Robert Covington.

    If the process is ever going to turn into a championship, the 76ers will likely have to go through Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in the Eastern Conference.

    They will get their first opportunity on the road to start the season.

Oct. 20: Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Lakers

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    LeBron James is always under the spotlight as one of the best players in NBA history, and that will be the case even more this season as he joins one of the most storied franchises in league history—the Los Angeles Lakers.

    James' first regular-season home game in Staples Center will feature his new-look Lakers against James Harden, Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets. This will also be a homecoming of sorts for Paul considering he played on the Los Angeles Clippers, but the attention will be on James.

    There will be star power on the court with James, Harden and Paul, as well as star power on the sidelines with Los Angeles celebrities out in force to see the King grace the home floor for the first time in the regular season.

    What's more, there are basketball implications, considering the Lakers will surely have to go through the Rockets in addition to the Golden State Warriors if they are going to be serious contenders in the West.

Oct. 24: Dallas Mavericks at Atlanta Hawks

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    Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

    Most of the other teams on this list are contenders, but the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks make the cut for another reason—two headline rookies.

    Atlanta's Trae Young and Dallas' Luka Doncic figure to generate headlines throughout their first seasons.

    Young was a consensus All-American at Oklahoma and led the country in points (27.4) and assists (8.7) per game in his one collegiate season, while Doncic was the Euroleague's regular-season and Final Four MVP and won a Euroleague championship in May.

    They will also be forever linked with each other because of a draft-day trade that saw Dallas ship the No. 5 pick Young and a lottery-protected 2019 pick to the Hawks for the No. 3 pick Doncic.

    Both teams' fans will get the chance to see what they have and what they may have lost when these two rookies square off in this matchup.

Nov. 9: Boston Celtics at Utah Jazz

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    Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

    Gordon Hayward's return to Utah to face the Jazz for the first time was supposed to happen last season, but he was injured minutes into the opener and never returned.

    Utah fans will have to wait for this season to greet Hayward, although it may not be friendly considering some burned his jersey while Rudy Gobert appeared to take a shot at his former teammate on Instagram (warning: NSFW language) after he departed.

    There is more to like about this matchup outside of Hayward's return to his old stomping grounds, as Donovan Mitchell and Kyrie Irving will square off in a high-profile backcourt matchup between two playoff contenders.

Nov. 15: Golden State Warriors at Houston Rockets

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    David Phillip/Associated Press

    LeBron James generated plenty of offseason headlines with his move to the West, but the showdowns between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets will likely be where the conference is decided.

    Houston took Golden State to seven games in last season's Western Conference Finals but lost the decisive matchup on its home floor without an injured Chris Paul.

    It added Carmelo Anthony this offseason, and he could give the Rockets another scorer in their constant effort to keep up with the foursome of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green if he rediscovers his old form.

    Between Anthony, Paul and James Harden on one side and those four on the other, basketball fans will be treated to something of an All-Star Game in this one.

    Home-court advantage would help if the Rockets are going to unseat the mighty Warriors, and this represents a chance to move a step closer to the No. 1 seed again with the hope Paul stays healthy this time around.

Nov. 16: Utah Jazz at Philadelphia 76ers

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    The Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers were both playoff teams last season and feature plenty of young talent, but this is primarily on the list because of the petty battle between Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons for the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year, which the latter won.

    The two engaged in plenty of banter last season, with Mitchell going as far as to wear a hoodie with the definition of rookie on it to suggest Simmons didn't make the cut since he missed his first year with injury.

    They can each let their game do the talking in this one, while Joel Embiid and Rudy Gobert face off in the paint in another formidable individual showdown.

Nov. 21: Los Angeles Lakers at Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Phil Long/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Cavaliers fans vilified, booed and jeered LeBron James when he returned for the first time in a Miami Heat jersey following The Decision, but things are going to be much different this time around when he comes home with the Los Angeles Lakers.

    James firmly inserted himself into the discussion as the greatest player of all time during his second tenure with the Cavs, did plenty to help the community off the court and won the city a long-awaited championship by propelling a 3-1 comeback against the 73-win Golden State Warriors in 2016.

    He even hinted he may come back to play for the Cavaliers, per Tom Withers of the Associated Press.

    James' return to Cleveland is going to be appointment viewing for basketball fans, as those who fell in love with him all over again during the course of the last four seasons will surely welcome him with open arms before this game.

Dec. 25: Los Angeles Lakers at Golden State Warriors

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    The NBA has been defined by the Golden State Warriors facing off against LeBron James the last four seasons.

    Fans won't get to see the matchup in the NBA Finals a fifth straight time after James joined the Los Angeles Lakers, but they will get to see the King go against basketball royalty on Christmas Day.

    Even casual basketball fans tune in on Christmas to see the best the league has to offer, and this matchup comes at prime time after all the presents have been opened.

    The Warriors defeated James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in three of the last four NBA Finals matchups, although James' one victory in 2016 is the most memorable of all, considering Cleveland overcame a 3-1 deficit.

    However, Golden State has the opportunity to send a message to James and the Lakers in Oracle Arena in front of a national audience. A convincing Warriors win would surely suggest Los Angeles is at least a season away from competing against the elite teams in the West, even with the King aboard.

Jan. 3: Toronto Raptors at San Antonio Spurs

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    A season and offseason worth of Kawhi Leonard headlines will all lead to this—his first game back in San Antonio to face the Spurs after the only NBA franchise he has played for traded him to the Toronto Raptors.

    San Antonio landed DeMar DeRozan as part of the return package, and there figures to be bad blood on both sides.

    Leonard played a mere nine games last season as he recovered from a quadriceps injury, but Adrian Wojnarowski and Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com reported "months of discord centering on elements of treatment, rehabilitation and timetables for return" led to "a chilling impact" between the team and player.

    Spurs fans will have a chance to show Leonard where they stand with regard to the "discord" when he comes back to town.

    On the other side, David Aldridge of NBA.com reported DeRozan was "extremely upset" the Raptors traded him and suggested Toronto lied to him about the move.

    On the court, the Spurs made the playoffs even without Leonard last season and added an All-NBA caliber player in DeRozan, while the Raptors continued to lose in the playoffs with the DeRozan and Kyle Lowry combination and decided to head in a different direction with Leonard.

Feb. 7: Los Angeles Lakers at Boston Celtics

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Few rivalries in all of sports bring the storied history of the one between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, and this season's edition received some new juice when LeBron James went West.

    James has his own history of ripping Boston's heart out the past few seasons with some of the most memorable performances of his career taking place there, including Game 7 of last season's Eastern Conference Finals and Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals when he was a member of the Miami Heat.

    This game also gives the 33-year-old the chance to go up against former Cleveland Cavaliers teammate Kyrie Irving again after he was traded to Boston prior to last season.

    It is a stretch to call this a potential NBA Finals preview since the Lakers have to deal with the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, among others, in the Western Conference, but this is an opportunity for Los Angeles to measure itself against the best the East has to offer.