The most anticipated NBA season of all time will tip off on Tuesday, Oct. 22 with two games, headlined by a showdown between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Following the wildest free-agency period in league history, the NBA announced its full schedule of 1,230 regular-season games on Monday.
The biggest day of the regular season will be on Christmas with five games scheduled, including another matchup between the Clippers and Lakers.
In an effort to make the national broadcasts more fan-friendly, the NBA has moved up the start times for east coast viewers, as Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN noted:
Because so many marquee stars will be suiting up for new teams next season, the battle for the NBA championship feels as wide-open as it has in years. The Golden State Warriors are no longer the overwhelming favorite to hold the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June after the loss of Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala.
A lot of the focus this season will be on California, but it will be directed toward Los Angeles.
The Clippers stole a lot of the Lakers' thunder by pulling off the heist of the summer. They signed reigning NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and acquired Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Leonard will also receive an NBA championship ring from the Toronto Raptors, presumably when the Clippers visit the defending champs at Scotiabank Arena on Dec. 11.
The crowd reception Leonard receives will be given close attention. He left as a free agent in the summer, but his brief tenure in Toronto produced the greatest season of Raptors basketball in the franchise's 24-year history.
The Lakers' new duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis can now circle Oct. 22 when they step on the court for the first time together against the Clippers in what will be the first of four head-to-head matchups.
After an injury-plagued and humbling first season with the Lakers, James has been doing his best to make sure Davis feels welcome and comfortable in his new surroundings. The four-time NBA MVP tried to give Davis his No. 23, but a manufacturing problem will delay the switch until next season.
All of the maneuvering between the two Los Angeles teams has made them the top two favorites to win the Western Conference:
While Davis is looking to move forward in his new home, New Orleans Pelicans fans will have an opportunity to express their feelings about his exit from the organization when they host the Lakers on November 27.
The new-look Pelicans, led by No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson, will begin their post-Davis era against the Raptors on Oct. 22. It's rare for a team to lose a superstar and seemingly come out of it in a better position, but executive vice president David Griffin has done a fantastic job in New Orleans since being hired in April.
In addition to Williamson, Griffin filled out his roster by acquiring Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart from the Los Angeles Lakers. He also picked up Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker from the draft, then capped it off by signing JJ Redick to provide outside shooting.
Following the trade of George, the Thunder went all-in on rebuilding by also saying goodbye to Russell Westbrook after an 11-year partnership. They shipped the former NBA MVP to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Chris Paul, two protected first-round draft picks and two pick swaps.
Unlike a lot of the trades and departures this summer, Westbrook and the Thunder separated on amicable terms:
Westbrook wrote a long farewell message to the Thunder and Oklahoma City fans on Instagram:
"I can't even begin to put into words all of the emotions I have right now. It's been one heck of a journey Oklahoma! When I came here, I was 18 years old, bright eyed, and completely unaware of all the amazing things that would soon take place. I grew up in Oklahoma with an amazing bunch of people. The people here are what makes this place so special. From the fans, my coaches, my teammates, the entire Thunder organization, Mr. Bennett, Sam Presti, my friends, and everyone in the entire community. You are all what makes Oklahoma such a beautiful place, and the reason I've loved playing here all of this time. You have supported me through all of the ups and the downs, and stood by me through the good times, and tough times. For that I am eternally grateful to you."
The hostility that Oklahoma City fans greeted Durant with upon his return as a member of the Warriors in 2016 presumably won't be present when Westbrook plays at Chesapeake Energy Arena as a visitor for the first time on Jan. 9.
The five-time defending Western Conference champion Warriors will look similar in some ways with the core of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson back. Thompson is expected to miss most of the season recovering from a torn ACL he suffered during Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
Golden State added D'Angelo Russell, coming off the best season of his career with the Brooklyn Nets, to keep the offense going strong with Thompson sidelined and Durant in Brooklyn.
The Warriors will be able to test themselves in marquee matchups against the Lakers on Nov. 13 and Clippers on Oct. 24.
Another rising team in the west is the Utah Jazz. The team added some much-needed scoring to support Donovan Mitchell, acquiring Mike Conley from the Memphis Grizzlies and signing Bojan Bogdanovic.
The Jazz can make an early statement on Oct. 25 when they play the Lakers.
Over in the Eastern Conference, the stage appears to be set up for the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers to wage a battle for the top seed. The Raptors likely won't be in the title picture following Leonard's departure.
The Bucks didn't make any huge additions this summer, but they return most of the core that led them to an NBA-best 60 wins last season. That core includes reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who thinks he's only reached 60 percent of his full potential.
The Sixers underwent significant changes, most notably replacing Jimmy Butler with Al Horford. The addition of Horford allows head coach Brett Brown to ease the burden on Joel Embiid to keep his legs fresh.
Josh Richardson, who was acquired from the Miami Heat as part of the sign-and-trade for Butler, is another solid addition for Philadelphia. He averaged 16.6 points and 4.1 assists per game last season and will turn 26 on Sept. 15.
Milwaukee and Philadelphia will lock horns for the first time during the regular season on Christmas day.
Arguably the biggest winners in free agency were the Nets for signing Durant and Kyrie Irving. They are a talented team heading into this season, but their likely window for title contention will open in 2020-21 when Durant returns from the ruptured Achilles he suffered in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
Even without Durant, the Nets still have Irving, Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Garrett Temple, Taurean Prince and Joe Harris to build off of last season's 42-40 record.
Irving left the Boston Celtics after a volatile 2018-19 season. He figures to receive a frosty reception, to say the least, when the Nets visit TD Garden on Nov. 27. The Celtics replaced Irving with Kemba Walker, and added Enes Kanter to their stable of big men.
It's amazing to think of how far off the radar the Raptors are without Leonard, despite returning the rest of a strong core. Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka, OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet are strong enough to get the defending champs into the postseason.
Regardless of where the Raptors end up next season, they will begin by raising their championship banner in their first home game against the Pelicans on Oct. 22.
Williamson is the focus of this year's rookie class, but other notable first-year players will also be making their NBA debuts. RJ Barrett will begin his journey as the face of the New York Knicks on Oct. 23 against the San Antonio Spurs. Ja Morant will take over for Conley as Memphis' point guard starting on Oct. 23 against the Miami Heat.
Second-year standouts Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks and Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks, who will always be linked by virtue of their draft-day trade for each other last year, will square off on Feb. 1
Speaking of the Mavs and Knicks, Kristaps Porzingis will suit up on the court at Madison Square Garden for the first time since Feb. 2018 on Nov. 14.
There are endless storylines and matchups for fans to pay close attention to. The NBA is firing on all cylinders right now, and the regular season can't start soon enough to provide answers to questions everyone has been asking since the end of the NBA Finals in June.
NBA Scheduling Czars, Sr. VP of Game Schedule Management Tom Carelli and Sr. VP of Basketball Strategy & Analytics Evan Wasch, join The Full 48 with Howard Beck to discuss reduction of back-to-back games, earlier start times, identifying key match-ups and narratives, and prioritizing high-profile and nationally-prominent games (like opening day, Christmas, and MLK day).