NBA Preseason 2020: Projecting Most Intriguing Matchups on the Schedule

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IDecember 10, 2020

NBA Preseason 2020: Projecting Most Intriguing Matchups on the Schedule

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    The NBA preseason typically isn't too long, but it will be even shorter than usual this year. And that's just one of the ways that the buildup to the 2020-21 season is different than most.

    Because the 2019-20 season didn't end until Oct. 11 (when the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals), it's been a quick-but-eventful offseason. Teams are already back in training camps, and the preseason is set to get underway Friday. The start of the shortened 72-game regular season is also just around the corner, with a pair of opening-night games scheduled for Dec. 22.

    None of the league's 30 teams will play more than four preseason games, and some will play only two. Still, it will provide an opportunity for some players to get a little time on the court against opposing teams before jumping into a new season.

    Here's a look at several intriguing matchups on this year's preseason schedule.

Dec. 11: Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Don't expect to see LeBron James or Anthony Davis on the court in this one. Lakers head coach Frank Vogel told reporters that it's "unlikely" either of the star players will take part in Los Angeles' preseason opener Friday. Still, this will be the first time the NBA champions will be in action since winning the title in the bubble at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World.

    While James and Davis may not play, some of the Lakers' offseason acquisitions could be in action. They have made plenty of moves in recent weeks, trading for point guard Dennis Schroder and signing guard Wesley Matthews, forward Montrezl Harrell and center Marc Gasol as free agents. These players weren't in action as recently as Los Angeles' returning players, so perhaps they could get some court time Friday.

    This will be the first time the two Los Angeles teams have faced off since July. Many predicted a Western Conference Finals matchup between the rivals, but the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead against the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the playoffs and were eliminated. And while they haven't been too active this offseason, they added veteran center Serge Ibaka to their core, which still features Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

    After Friday's game, the Lakers and Clippers will play each other in another preseason game Sunday. They will also meet at Staples Center for their 2020-21 season opener Dec. 22.

Dec. 12: Toronto Raptors at Charlotte Hornets

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    Steve Reed/Associated Press

    The LaMelo Ball era is underway in North Carolina, as the Charlotte Hornets selected the 19-year-old point guard with the No. 3 overall pick in November's 2020 NBA draft. There are sure to be a lot of eyes on Ball during his rookie season after he spent last season playing in Oceania's National Basketball League.

    Ball wasn't the Hornets' only notable offseason acquisition. They also signed free-agent forward Gordon Hayward in an effort to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Along with some of the other talented young players who were already in Charlotte, this franchise could be getting close to taking a major step forward, especially if Ball lives up to his potential.

    The Hornets' preseason opener against the Toronto Raptors on Saturday could provide the first opportunity to see Ball in action at the NBA level. It's not known how much he will play, but any minutes at all could provide a glimpse of what Charlotte fans could expect this season.

    Plus, Toronto is likely to again be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, so it will be the first chance to see how the 2019 NBA champions are looking ahead of the new season.

Dec. 13: Washington Wizards at Brooklyn Nets

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant were Oklahoma City Thunder teammates from 2008 to 2016. They will be on opposing benches in this preseason opener between the Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets, and there's a lot of attention on both stars entering the 2020-21 season.

    This will be the first time Westbrook dons a Washington uniform after the Houston Rockets dealt him Dec. 2. He will pair up with Bradley Beal in the Wizards backcourt this year after spending only one season with the Rockets. Perhaps they will get some minutes together in the preseason as they begin to learn to play together.

    Durant hasn't played a game for the Nets after missing all of the 2019-20 season while recovering from a ruptured right Achilles tendon. He recently told the media that he was having discussions with the training staff and coaching staff to see how much he will play in Brooklyn's preseason opener.

    "I'm just looking forward to seeing how my body responds and how we respond as a team my first game," Durant said.

    So there could be a lot to watch in this matchup regarding Westbrook, Durant and potentially Kyrie Irving, who played only 20 games in his first season with the Nets because of a shoulder injury.

Dec. 18: Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns

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    Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

    The Phoenix Suns may not have made the playoffs this past season, but they were the only team to go undefeated in the NBA bubble, going a perfect 8-0 in seeding games while coming up just short of a postseason berth. Since then, they have improved their roster, trading for veteran point guard Chris Paul and adding him to a core featuring shooting guard Devin Booker and center DeAndre Ayton.

    Phoenix is set to play four preseason games (two against the Utah Jazz and two against the Lakers), but this matchup will be its final tune-up before its regular-season opener against the Dallas Mavericks on Dec. 23. At this point, Paul should be more acclimated to playing alongside his new Suns teammates, and perhaps he and the rest of their starters will get some considerable court time.

    Although it's only the preseason, the Suns are facing a pair of teams that made the playoffs out of the Western Conference last season. So it could be a measuring stick to see how they stack up when key players are on the floor in these contests.

    Another reason this could be a game to watch? It's the Lakers' final preseason game too, so maybe James and Davis could get a bit of court time. There's also a chance they won't, but it's worth keeping an eye on as this matchup approaches.

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