The season will tip off Dec. 22 with two games, headlined by a matchup between the reigning NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Given the uncertainty around playing games during a pandemic, the NBA said last month it will only release its schedule through March 4. The second half of the schedule will come out at some point after the regular season has started.
The All-Star break will be held from March 5-10, though the midseason showcase game will not take place. It was supposed to be held in Indianapolis, but the league and Indiana Pacers announced last week the city will host the 2024 All-Star festivities instead.
Because of the revised schedule from last season, which ended in October, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has prepared fans for some notable alterations to this year. The league and National Basketball Players Association agreed to a 72-game schedule in which teams will play in their home markets.
The closest parallel to this season is the 1999 lockout-shortened campaign. Teams didn't begin play until Feb. 5 with 50 games played in 90 days before a traditional postseason.
Looking at what to expect on the court, there's a different vibe than we had going into 2019. For starters, it would be impossible for the league to duplicate what happened last offseason when almost every marquee star was signed as a free agent or traded to a new club.
The Lakers didn't make any drastic moves, though they did add Dennis Schroder off to provide depth in the backcourt. LeBron James and Anthony Davis firmly established themselves as the league's best tandem based on what they did during the 2019-20 regular season and playoffs.
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
According to @EliasSports the Lakers are now 20-1 when Anthony Davis and LeBron James combine for 60 points. That is tied with Shaq and Kobe in 1999-2000 for the best record in a season by teammates in NBA history, including playoffs (min. 15 games). https://t.co/P8rQG8kbx5
There were several high-profile coaching changes to keep a close eye on. The Clippers are going to attract a lot of attention, but with a different feel than at the start of last season.
After being the toast of the NBA to start 2019-20 thanks to signing Kawhi Leonard and acquiring Paul George, the Clippers are out to prove last season's playoff collapse against the Denver Nuggets was an aberration. They replaced Doc Rivers with Tyronn Lue after blowing a 3-1 series lead in the second round.
A number of questions came out of the Clippers' playoff exit. Concerns about the team's chemistry lingered all season, but George told reporters before the postseason they spent time working on their rapport when the season was suspended:
"I went down to where he [Leonard] was at [near San Diego], he came to where I was at [near Los Angeles]. We spent time together—the whole group did, not just me and him—on occasions. The whole group kind of spent time together through the hiatus.
"I think we made up a lot of time. While not being together, I think we made all that back up during this hiatus. It kind of expedited this process being here."
It didn't produce the result the Clippers were counting on, but they still boast one of the best rosters in the league and should be in the mix for a top spot in the playoffs again.
Rivers was unemployed for three days before the Philadelphia 76ers hired him. The 59-year-old will attempt to stabilize an organization that fell apart for a variety of reasons last season. The Sixers also added Daryl Morey to run their basketball operations.
The focus in Philadelphia will be on how Rivers gets Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid to work together to maximize their talent and raise the team's ceiling. They brought in shooting help with the additions of Seth Curry and Danny Green.
During his introductory press conference Oct. 5, Rivers said he sees no reason Simmons and Embiid can't be a great duo.
"They've won 65 percent of the games they've played," he said, "so it clearly works when they play together. ... This team is loaded with talent. We just have to figure out how to make it work the best."
One reason Philadelphia's 2019-20 season ended with a playoff sweep against the Boston Celtics was Simmons' absence. The two-time All-Star had knee surgery in August after suffering a partially dislocated kneecap.
The Sixers face stiff competition in the Atlantic Division. The Toronto Raptors won the division with a 53-19 record; the Celtics advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, and Jayson Tatum is arguably the best young superstar in the conference.
There's also the Brooklyn Nets, who will likely be the most-watched team in the league at the start of the season. One year after the Nets signed Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, both players will finally play together for the first time Dec. 22 against the Golden State Warriors.
Speaking of new head coaches, former two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash was a surprise hire by the Nets. The 46-year-old has two years of experience working with Durant from when he was a consultant with the Warriors, but this will be his first test as a head coach in the league.
Another likely contender under the microscope in the East is the Milwaukee Bucks, who face immense pressure to win this season with reigning two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo eligible for free agency next offseason.
The Bucks have been the NBA's best regular-season team the past two seasons but have failed to reach the NBA Finals either time. They did make a splash in the offseason by acquiring Jrue Holiday from the New Orleans Pelicans, but a separate reported sign-and-trade agreement with the Sacramento Kings for Bogdan Bogdanovic fell apart because he wanted to enter restricted free agency.
Bogdanovic wound up joining the new-look Atlanta Hawks, who also signed Danilo Gallinari to give Trae Young additional help on the offensive end.
The Miami Heat, who eliminated the Bucks in the second round of the playoffs en route to winning the Eastern Conference, are an emerging juggernaut. Jimmy Butler is the unquestioned leader of the team, but Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro are two of the league's brightest young stars.
Over in the Western Conference, aside from the two Los Angeles teams, the Warriors, New Orleans Pelicans and Dallas Mavericks could be the biggest threats to reach the NBA Finals.
The Warriors' hopes took a hit Nov. 18 when Klay Thompson injured his Achilles. He will miss the season, but Golden State still has Stephen Curry and Draymond Green healthy. The Warriors also added James Wiseman with the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NBA draft. Injuries decimated their roster last season, but head coach Steve Kerr has his core group back and ready to at least challenge for a playoff spot.
After a rookie season that featured so much of the promise that made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2019, Zion Williamson will look to take a step forward in his second season. He averaged 22.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game but was limited to 24 games because of injuries.
The Pelicans are hoping new head coach Stan Van Gundy can help Williamson unlock his full potential. They have a roster capable of making the playoffs with Brandon Ingram and JJ Redick, but Williamson's development this year will determine their ceiling.
The Mavs have an MVP front-runner in Luka Doncic on their roster. Their 115.9 offensive rating last season was the best in NBA history, surpassing the previous mark of 115.0 set by the 2018-19 Warriors.
That list of contenders doesn't even include the Denver Nuggets, who reached the Western Conference Finals, and Houston Rockets, who moved on from Mike D'Antoni and parted ways with Morey after losing to the Lakers in five games during the second round of the playoffs.
Jamal Murray averaged 26.5 points and shot 45.3 percent from three during the playoffs. If that's anything close to the player he's going to be moving forward, combined with Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets have the talent to get over that last hurdle in the West.
This marks the third straight season in which Harden will be playing with a different All-Star point guard. His partnership with Paul worked to get the Rockets to Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals before losing to the Warriors.
The Harden-Russell Westbrook pairing provided plenty of headlines last season, but they were easily disposed of by the Lakers in the playoffs.
Wall will be next in line to try to help Harden and the Rockets get over the hump. The five-time All-Star hasn't played since injuring his heel in December 2018 and later ruptured his Achilles during a workout that caused him to miss the entire 2019-20 campaign.
Even though the Westbrook deal led to speculation about Harden's future with the Rockets, ESPN's Tim MacMahon noted the team doesn't have any immediate plans to move the former MVP:
Tim MacMahon @espn_macmahon
Houston understood that the demand for Russell Westbrook was limited and was willing to settle for the protected first-round pick along with John Wall. The Rockets want a king's ransom (young franchise cornerstone plus Jrue-esque picks package) in any potential Harden deal. https://t.co/jxo9hBiSAW
Westbrook, meanwhile, will get to play alongside Bradley Beal as they attempt to help the Washington Wizards make the playoffs for the first time since 2017-18.
A sleeper playoff team in the West is the Memphis Grizzlies. They have reigning Rookie of the Year Ja Morant on their roster and were one win away from making the playoffs last season.
Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke could move into the upper echelon of NBA trios this season. Jackson could be the piece that unlocks Memphis' ceiling when he returns from the meniscus injury he suffered in August. The 21-year-old averaged 17.4 points and shot 39.4 percent from three last season, but his year came to a premature end when he tore his meniscus in the third game of the restart Aug. 3.
Other young players who will attract a lot of attention this season include rookies Anthony Edwards and LaMelo Ball. Edwards was selected No. 1 overall in the 2020 NBA draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He is joining an exciting offensive roster that already includes Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell.
Ball went to the Charlotte Hornets with the third pick in the draft. The 19-year-old will be the face of the franchise right from the opening tip this season. He's being tasked with lifting a Hornets organization that hasn't made the playoffs or posted a winning record since 2015-16.