If you’re bogged down by football, bored with baseball and ambivalent about hockey, the start of the NBA season couldn’t have come at a more perfect time, about 10 days earlier than normal just like last season to lengthen out the regular season schedule to limit the number of back-to-backs.
If you want to see LeBron James in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform, there will be many, many opportunities to witness that. Five of the Lakers’ eight October games will be nationally televised. Here are 10 NBA national games you need to watch in just the first two weeks of the NBA regular season, where the top players and storylines from 13 teams are packed in.
All times Eastern, as they should be #EastCoastBias
Tuesday, October 16
Philadelphia @ Boston, 8 p.m., TNT
There’s definitely bad blood between these two Eastern Conference heavyweights after the Celtics dispatched the Sixers in five games in last year’s East semifinals. Boston didn’t have Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward in those games, and the Celts are the prohibitive favorites to reach the Finals now that LeBron is out of the conference.
Philadelphia’s young core is only going to improve, and point guard Markelle Fultz may even have a serviceable jump shot now. With TweetGate and the GM search behind them, the Sixers now need to focus on what’s in front of them, and what stands in their path to greatness, which is this Celtics team.
Oklahoma City @ Golden State, 10:30 p.m., TNT
Golden State’s road to a threepeat begins here, as the Warriors will raise a championship banner ahead of another seasion with their core intact. Of note in this one is how the Warriors will begin to use their rotation at center, with marquee signing DeMarcus Cousins still recovering from Achilles surgery. That’ll be put to the test right away against the Thunder frontline with Steven Adams in there.
Oklahoma City shored up its present and future in the offseason by re-signing Paul George long term and replacing Carmelo Anthony’s albatross contract with improved depth pieces like Dennis Schroder from Atlanta and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot from Philadelphia, along with their rescuing of Nerlens Noel from Dallas. Five of the NBA’s top 15-20 players will be competing here, so opening night viewers will be in for a treat.
Wednesday, October 17
Dallas @ Phoenix, 10:30 p.m., ESPN
Sure, it’s the debut of the top overall pick in June’s draft, DeAndre Ayton. But this game is all about LUKA. The 19-year-old, six-foot-eight Slovenian wunderkind who the Mavs traded up with Atlanta to draft is a human highlight reel after being one of the top players in Europe last year, which even led ESPN’s Mina Kimes to travel to Madrid to profile Doncic back in April. Will Luka live up to the hype?
Doncic is the player every other NBA player and team will be talking about early on, and ESPN televising his debut even though the Mavericks and Suns are bad teams tells you everything you need to know. The league is going to push Luka hard, and his debut is going to be the entry point for that.
Thursday, October 18
L.A. Lakers @ Portland, 10:30 p.m., TNT
Prepare yourself for everyone talking about LeBron and the Lakers nonstop on Thursday. How will he impact Lonzo Ball, or Kyle Kuzma or Brandon Ingram? What will L.A.’s hodgepodge supporting cast of Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley look like?
On the Blazers side, how will Portland respond to being swept in the first round last year by New Orleans. Has the Damian Lillard-C.J. McCollum backcourt run its course? The team said it’s going to add new wrinkles to its offense, and that’ll be interesting to see in its opener.
Friday, October 19
Boston @ Toronto, 8 p.m., ESPN
Philadelphia might be the sexy name in the Eastern Conference, but the Raptors are still the Celtics’ most dangerous impediment as they look to get back to the Finals.
After being gifted an opening night revenge game at home against LeBron-less Cleveland, Toronto gets its first real test of its Kawhi Leonard era on Friday. The game will mainly be about how new head coach Nick Nurse uses his lineup to match up with Boston, and how the Raps gel under new yet familiar leadership with Kawhi will be their biggest early season storyline.
Golden State @ Utah, 10:30 p.m., ESPN
Though everyone is caught up with the Warriors, Rockets, Lakers and Thunder, the Jazz may very well be the West’s third best team. Donovan Mitchell is only going to improve after a standout rookie season, Rudy Gobert is the backbone of the league’s best defense and Joe Ingles and Ricky Rubio are coming off career years. While Houston can match Golden State shot for shot, and almost dethroned the Dubs last season, Utah is the only real team in the West that can give the Warriors headaches by playing their way.
Saturday, October 20
Houston @ L.A. Lakers, 10:30 p.m., ESPN
ESPN televises games very rarely on Saturday nights and almost never during college football season. But for LeBron’s first home game as a Laker, it’s making an exception.
Though the Rockets still have their James Harden-Chris Paul-Clint Capela core intact, they’re going to try to replace Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute at forward with Carmelo Anthony. Ryan Anderson’s porous defense and strong shooting is out, and oft-injured point guard Brandon Knight is in. ESPN’s broadcast will be about the glitz and glamour of LeBron at Staples Center, but how the Rockets piece together their rotation will matter much more.
Wednesday, October 24
Philadelphia @ Milwaukee, 9:30 p.m., ESPN
A few things are new with the Bucks this year, most notably their new arena, Fiserv Forum, a new head coach in Mike Budenholzer and new rotation big men in Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova. But will there be enough change in Milwaukee for Giannis Antetokounmpo’s squad to make true inroads in the Eastern Conference?
Will Milwaukee get to Philadelphia’s level, or its is stuck with its current core and destined for annual first round losses? Those questions start to get answered next week.
Thursday, October 25
Boston @ Oklahoma City, 8 p.m., TNT
While the individual matchups of Kyrie Irving vs Russell Westbrook and Gordon Hayward vs Paul George will be fun, let’s examine the coaches for a second. Both Brad Stevens and Billy Donovan came as much-hyped moves to the pro game, yet Stevens rather than the more experienced Donovan seems to be thriving. And if the Thunder don’t take a step forward this season, it’s possible that Donovan’s job could be on the line. OKC’s roster is definitely improved. Now it’s up to Donovan to coax more out his this group than he did last year when the Thunder fell to Utah in round one.
Monday, October 29
L.A. Lakers @ Minnesota, 8 p.m., NBATV
What, did you think we were gonna not talk about Jimmy Butler here? In the first two weeks, the Wolves have games against San Antonio, Indiana, Toronto and Milwaukee before their first national TV game against L.A.
Butler is playing, but how will Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and the rest of the team respond on the court? Will they rally behind Butler, who publicly asked out and ridiculed the most important players on the roster? Or will the team implode and go on an early season tailspin? We’ll find out almost immediately.