The 2017-‘18 NBA schedule is out. Life, as I know it, is back to normal. Nothing gives hope like the dates, timings and matchups on an NBA schedule. Sure, there’s more to life than the NBA. But that’s a conversation for June 2018.
The NBA, while drafting the 2017-‘18 schedule, has taken into considerations a lot of the feedback that came its way during last season; stars resting for big games is one such problem. To eliminate the likelihood of that happening, the NBA has done away with four-games-in-five-nights. This was especially tough on teams that had to travel coast-to-coast across time zones.
Another interesting change the NBA has brought about is protecting 22 of its biggest games, i.e. ensuring neither team will be playing back to back, thus ensuring that both teams are healthy and well rested. By eliminating the four-in-five and reducing the number of back-to-back games – on an average 14 per team as compared to 16 last season – the NBA shows it is serious about the quality of play, the health of its players and the experience of its fans.
No surprise that the Warriors have the most number of nationally televised games at 43, with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Houston Rockets a close second with 40 each. The biggest drop came for the Chicago Bulls, who traded away their biggest star Jimmy Butler. The Bulls, who play in one of the five largest TV markets for basketball, dropped down to just one game on national television, down from 20 last season. The Oklahoma City Thunder, the Lakers and the Boston Celtics round off the top five with 36, 35 and 33 games respectively.
Sony SIX, NBA’s broadcast partner in India, showcased 314 live regular season games last season. It will be fair to speculate that the NBA will look to increase that number as it continues its aggressive growth in the subcontinent.
The offseason has been busier and more dramatic than usual. Big names moved, bigger names asked to be moved, and the biggest names stayed put. None of that matters if the Golden State Warriors stay healthy. With Durant extending his contract and Curry signing a mega deal, the Warriors have a very real chance to become the first team to win three back-to-back championships since the ‘99 Los Angeles Lakers. Nevertheless, with a schedule tuned towards keeping stars healthy, the regular season will be witness to a bunch of interesting plotlines; ten of which are listed below.
(Dates and timings are in IST)
Cleveland Cavaliers vs Boston Celtics
- October 18, 5.30 am
Despite finishing with the best record in the East last season, the Celtics needed to find a way to get past three-time Eastern Conference Finalists, the Cleveland Cavaliers. They first brought in Gordon Hayward and would have landed Paul George if the Indiana Pacers’ GM Kevin Pritchard wasn’t so adamant about sending George away from the Eastern Conference. Then the blockbuster Kyrie Irving deal went through.
The Cavaliers are still more than a handful to manage for the Celtics. Remember the Celtics are now missing Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder who were part of the defensive identity of the franchise. Celtics fans will miss their emotional leader, Isaiah Thomas, who will now suit up for the Cavaliers. No better way to tip off the 2017-’18 NBA Season.
Golden State Warriors vs Houston Rockets
- October 18, 8.00 am
Time will tell if the Rockets will have a new owner by the start of the season. None of that, however, will matter when these two juggernauts meet. Both teams possess enviable firepower. The Warriors have the edge defensively, more so with the Rockets letting go of Patrick Beverley in the Chris Paul trade.
The Warriors, however, have struggled against teams with Alpha guards, and the Rockets have two – James Harden and Paul. Here’s a prediction: a fully healthy Rockets and Warriors team will breach 320 points in a game this season. The last time 320 points were scored in a game? November 2, 1990, when the Denver Nuggets lost to the Warriors in a 162-158 classic.
Boston Celtics vs Milwaukee Bucks
- October 19, 5.00 am
Giannis Antetokounmpo, the 2017 KIA Most Improved Player, is up on a ton of experts list as a possible candidate for MVP this season. This isn’t a stretch of the imagination. Giannis is scary good in the open court and has court vision as few others do. Once he develops a reliable jump shot, it’s over for his defenders. Now put a young, long, lithe, athletic Bucks team led by a probable MVP and whose core has been together for a few seasons, against a veteran, playoff tested contender, and you have the potential for one of the games of the 2017-18 NBA season. I won’t be surprised if the Bucks meet the Celtics in a fight for a spot in the NBA Finals.
San Antonio Spurs vs Minnesota Timberwolves
- October 19, 7.00 am
Both teams feature new faces that will alter the way they compete. The Timberwolves, featuring their young duo Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins, are now fortified with the arrival of Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague, and All-Star Jimmy Butler. They are expected to the make the biggest leap in terms of wins amongst all 30 NBA teams.
The Spurs seemed like they had a quiet offseason until they landed Rudy Gay, a streaky scorer with below average defensive ability. He isn’t a natural fit for the Spurs. But if Pop could get the hot-headed Stephen Jackson to buy into the Spurs philosophy, then Gay should be a walk in the park. The Spurs need a reliable scorer behind Kawhi Leonard, something they sorely lacked last season.
Sacramento Kings vs New Orleans Pelicans
- October 27, 8.00 am
Do not underestimate the drama of a motivated DeMarcus Cousins coming back to the Golden 1 Center to prove to the Kings what a mistake they made by trading him. Cousins has shed a ton of weight this offseason and is looking sharper than ever. When locked in, Cousins is one of the ten best players in the league, and this is his first full season suiting up against another great, Anthony Davis.
The Kings had a busy summer, surprisingly fielding a relatively balanced team comprising of a young core (Buddy Hield, De’Aron Fox, Justin Jackson) and battle-tested veterans (Vince Carter, Zach Randolph). They look good on paper, but on court, the reality might be different. I’m accepting bets from those who think Cousins will not dropping 50 on the Kings.
Portland Trailblazers vs Denver Nuggets
- November 14, 8.30 am
The Denver Nuggets, slyly, had the best offseason in the NBA. They paired up Paul Millsap and his incredible IQ alongside Nikola Jokic, one of the best passing big men in the NBA. This was a savvy move considering Denver’s point guard, Emmanuel Mudiay is still on a learning curve, and both the other dominant guards – Jamal Murray and Gary Harris – prefer to play off the ball.
While it seems as though this will be a battle of the guards, Murray/Harris versus Damian Lillard/CJ McCollum, this game made this list for the matchup between Jokic and JusufNurkic. Nurkic started ahead of Jokic when in Denver, but was traded midseason. This allowed both Jokic and Nurkic to grow into their own. If what we have seen so far is any indication of the path these two young men are taking, both are on their way to Hall-of-Fame careers.
Los Angeles Lakers vs Philadelphia 76ers
November 16, 9.00 am
As good as this matchup already was, it became a must watch when Sixers center Joel Embiid tweeted, urging teammate Ben Simmons to dunk on Lonzo Ball so hard that he (Ball) would go crying to his daddy. Twitter aside, this would still make the list of games to watch this season.
Both young teams are loaded with high draft picks, raring to go at each other. Ball will have Brandon Ingram in his corner, who has shown enough promise to be deemed a perennial All-Star in the future. While the Lakers are fine with taking their time, the Sixers are on a quest for a playoff spot in an Eastern Conference that is weakened by the departure of a ton of stars to the West.
LA Clippers vs Houston Rockets
- December 23, 6.30 AM
For six seasons, Chris Paul teamed up with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to create Lob City. Now Paul will look to create a similar moniker in Houston, while surrounded by three of the 15 best 3-pt shooters in the NBA. In the absence of Paul, the Clippers will look to run the offense through Griffin, who is an underrated playmaker. Griffin will not only have to remain healthy (he has missed 83 out of 246 games in the last three seasons) but will have to steer what seems like a dysfunctional team on paper thus far. Danilo Gallinari is not the scoring force he used to be, and the haul from the Rockets (Beverley, Sam Dekker) have yet to transition to the Clippers system. The best move by the Clippers: relieving coach Doc Rivers of all front office duties, thus allowing him to focus entirely on winning games,
Golden State Warriors vs Cleveland Cavaliers
- December 26, 1.30 AM
The two teams have played 18 games in the NBA Finals; how exciting can a regular season matchup be? Answer: Very. When fully healthy and motivated, both teams bring out the absolute best in each other. Beating the Warriors at home is still a huge task, but betting against LeBron is a huge ask.
The Warriors do not have the personnel to stop or even effectively slow down LeBron, while the Cavaliers do not have the defensive pace to keep up with the Warriors on the three-point line on in the paint. But while the Warriors got even stronger by signing Nick Young and OmriCasspi, the Cavaliers stayed mostly silent during the offseason. Nevertheless, I’m bringing two tubs of popcorn on Christmas. One for this game and one for...
Oklahoma City Thunder vs Houston Rockets
- December 26, 6.30 AM
Even if the Thunder weren’t convinced that Paul George was going to extend the one year contract he signed with them this season; it shows guts on their part to take the risk that makes them a sleeper in the West (a sleeper is someone who could potentially upset title contenders). As juicy as the Warriors-Cavs game is, there is no doubt that the best Christmas gift this year will be Harden/Paul vs Russell Westbrook/Paul George.