NBA Preseason 2019: Projecting Most Intriguing Matchups on the Schedule

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistSeptember 30, 2019

New Orleans Pelicans' Zion Williamson (1) runs upcourt during the team's NBA summer league basketball game against the New York Knicks Friday, July 5, 2019, in Las Vegas. Knicks' Allonzo Trier is at left. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)
Steve Marcus/Associated Press

We all know NBA preseason games are important for player development, knocking off rust and lineup experiments. In addition, fans take an initial glimpse of veteran stars in new threads.

The Golden State Warriors begin a new chapter as they move into another arena. This season, the team will wear an alternate jersey that reflects a fresh start, and the backcourt will feature a guard other than Klay Thompson alongside Stephen Curry to open the year.

We'll see a lot of familiar faces in new places elsewhere in the league.

The Houston Rockets will put their title hopes behind a new lead duo. The Cleveland Cavaliers have an intriguing young guard combination with a collegiate head coach climbing into the pro ranks. The New York Knicks and New Orleans Pelicans selected potential roster centerpieces within the top three picks of this year's draft. They'll go head-to-head in October.

Of course, we can't expect to see everything in the preseason, but the exhibition games serve as the initial hype for the regular season. Who and what will be on display in the next few weeks? Let's take a dive into the most appealing matchups on the schedule.


Houston Rockets vs. Los Angeles Clippers

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HOUSTON, TX - JULY 26: General Manager Daryl Morey, and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Houston Rockets smiles during the Houston Rockets Introductory Press Conference on July 26, 2019 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly ackno
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October 4, 1 a.m. ET at Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

We're not going to see the Los Angeles Clippers' new tandem in this matchup. Kawhi Leonard is set to don new colors after winning a title in Toronto, but Paul George will still be recovering from offseason surgery on both shoulders. He's going to miss the preseason and hopes to return in November, per ESPN's Ramona Shelburne.

However, spectators should tune in for the Rockets' dynamic duo, James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

Harden may throw in a bonus. He intends to add on to his shooting arsenal, a step-back one-legged three-point shot. The two-time scoring champion talked about the new wrinkle in his bag of tricks, per ESPN's Tim MacMahon.

"... It's something that I work on," Harden said. "But you know how Mike [Jordan] has his fadeaway and Dirk [Nowitzki] has his one-leg and [Kareem Abdul-Jabbar] had the sky hook, I want my step-back to be one of those moves that last forever." 

While viewers adjust to the reality of Harden and Westbrook on the same squad again, the former will have an opportune time to test out his new shot early October before the games count.

These two teams could meet in the spring during postseason play at full strength. For now, we can enjoy a fresh look at two star players in new places and appreciate Harden's creativity.


Los Angeles Lakers at Golden State Warriors

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JULY 08:  D'Angelo Russell of the Golden State Warriors watches the game between Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers on Day 4 of the 2019 Las Vegas Summer League at the Thomas & Mack Center on July 08, 2019 in Las Vegas, N
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October 5, 8 p.m. ET at Chase Center in San Francisco

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma won't step on the court until mid-October because of a stress reaction in his left foot.

As the only leftover young asset who played significant minutes with the team last year, the 24-year-old's absence is a small setback for the supporting cast around LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Nonetheless, the Lakers' roster won't provide us anything we haven't seen in recent years. Still, they're going to play the Warriors in their new arena, the Chase Center, with new faces expected to take on bigger roles because of Kevin Durant's departure to Brooklyn and Thompson's recovery from a torn ACL.

Golden State will see how guard D'Angelo Russell fits in the lineup coming off his first All-Star campaign. Willie Cauley-Stein will become the new big man in the middle. The coaching staff needs to develop some youngsters as well.

Guard Jordan Poole (17.8 ppg) and forward Eric Paschall (12 ppg), two of the Warriors' three 2019 draft picks, had strong performances in the Las Vegas Summer League games. Guard Jacob Evans, last year's first-rounder, also flashed, averaging 16.3 points per outing through the July contests. They could hear their numbers called frequently early in the season.

For the Warriors, this matchup marks the beginning in multiple ways. Fans in attendance will break in the 18,064-seat arena and get to know younger role players who may crack the rotation for significant minutes on the court.


Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics

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October 13, 3 p.m. ET at TD Garden in Boston

Although James plays for the Lakers, the Cavaliers have some appeal for hardcore NBA fans who also watch men's college hoops.

Cleveland hired former Michigan head coach John Beilein for the same position after he led the Wolverines to the Men's NCAA Tournament in four consecutive seasons, reaching the final during the 2017-18 campaign.

Beilein will have a young backcourt featuring second-year guard Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, the No. 5 overall pick in this year's draft. We'll see this duo work together to energize the franchise:

After Kyrie Irving's unceremonious exit, the Boston Celtics welcome guard Kemba Walker, who's coming off a year in which he logged a career-high 25.6 points per game. 

The Celtics hope to see Walker mesh with the roster talent more than Irving did through the last season. Boston would probably like to see the 2017-18 versions of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The front office also signed Enes Kanter to replace Al Horford at center.


New Orleans Pelicans at New York Knicks 

MADISON, NEW JERSEY - AUGUST 11: Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans poses for a portrait during the 2019 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot on August 11, 2019 at the Ferguson Recreation Center in Madison, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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October 18, 8 p.m. ET at Madison Square Garden in New York City 

The Pelicans and Knicks met in the Summer League, but a 6.9-magnitude earthquake abruptly stopped the action with seven minutes and 53 seconds left in the game. The two teams will meet again at Madison Square Garden on the final day of preseason action. 

Although this game won't count in the win-loss column, expect multiple stars and celebrities to attend and watch this year's No. 1 selection Zion Williamson and the No. 3 overall pick RJ Barrett, the Knicks' new franchise savior, square off again.

The former Duke teammates flashed in their first head-to-head outing. As expected, Williamson displayed pure power with some thunderous dunks. Barrett showed his shooting range and smooth moves while driving toward the basket.

On the flip side, Williamson didn't finish the contest for precautionary reasons after he bumped knees in the paint. Barrett didn't shoot particularly well, missing 14 of his first 18 shots, which isn't a huge deal for a rookie playing a Summer League game in July.

In this matchup, NBA fans will likely see more of these young stars shine as they prepare for regular-season action.