Every NBA game we can't wait to watch, and why
Set your calendars — the full NBA schedule is here.
Here are our must-see regular-season matchups for 2018-19, complete with plenty of rivalries, reunions, rookie showdowns and, of course, the biggest Los Angeles Lakers games of the season.
The 10 can’t-miss games
76ers at Celtics | Oct. 16 | TNT
These Eastern Conference foes have revived a fantastic rivalry that dates back to the days of Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. And they did so with a ton of talent on both sides, promising youth all around and enough bad blood to make their predecessors proud.
Over the course of the season, they’ll be fighting each other — and perhaps the Toronto Raptors — for the East’s No. 1 seed, and here’s hoping that they meet deep in the playoffs with a shot at the Finals on the line.
Lakers at Trail Blazers | Oct. 18 | TNT
For years, the Lakers and their fans have dreamed of LeBron James donning purple and gold, and now they’ll finally see that dream realized.
Forget that his Lakers debut comes on the road; simply the sight of him suiting up for Hollywood’s team will make this game a must-see event, especially since it’ll mark his first regular-season game alongside a, shall we say, “interesting” collection of new teammates. Portland’s Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum will probably want to give James a warm welcome to the Western Conference, too.
Warriors at Rockets | Nov. 15 | TNT
“If only Chris Paul stayed healthy,” Rockets fans will say. “If only Andre Iguodala had done the same,” Warriors fans reply. Each of these West powers will bicker about last season’s thrilling seven-game conference finals and how things might have been different had injuries not played such a key role. Maybe the Rockets could’ve closed it out? Or maybe the Warriors would’ve done so in only five games?
No matter, but the rematch will be even more interesting. Will Carmelo Anthony help the Rockets overtake the Warriors? Or could he bury them along the way? Either way, one of these teams will likely make the Finals — and have to somehow get through the other on its way there.
Lakers at Warriors | Christmas Day | ABC/ESPN
LeBron vs. the Warriors — it never gets old. Three times in the past four years, James has found himself on the wrong side of the Warriors’ rising dynasty. By moving to the West, James now has to face the Dubs twice as often in the regular season.
It might not be the same rivalry that it was when James was in Cleveland and these teams met in four straight summers, but the history between James and the Warriors makes any matchup must-see TV.
Thunder at Rockets | Christmas Day | ABC
After an embarrassing first-round exit, the Thunder are looking to rebound and believe they will behind a Russell Westbrook–Paul George tandem that now has a full season under its belt. But the Rockets are still, despite a somewhat lackluster offseason, far ahead.
Regular-season matchups between these two foes could give us insight into whether the Thunder have closed the gap, or whether they are still stuck toward the middle (or bottom) of a sure-to-be-jumbled West playoff race.
76ers at Jazz | Dec. 27 | TNT
The game itself should be feisty between two rising contenders filled with top-tier young talent, but the Mitchell-Simmons feud will spice this one up even more.
Raptors at Spurs | Jan. 3 | TNT
After a nasty divorce from the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard makes his first return trip to San Antonio, where fans will be caught in a brutal dilemma. Do they honor their former star who helped deliver a title? Or do they remember the sour split?
Leonard was tabbed to be the bridge from the Big Three era to the next generation of Spurs greatness … until it all went wrong and he was shipped to The North for DeMar DeRozan, who will have his own awkward reunion when the Spurs visit Toronto on Feb. 22. Wounds are still fresh on both sides. Can each side make amends?
Warriors at Celtics | Jan. 26 | ABC
An NBA Finals preview? With LeBron finally relinquishing his stranglehold on the East, the rising Celtics should emerge and have enough talent to topple Golden State.
All their matchups in recent years have been appointment television, with the Celtics emerging victorious several times. Now throw in a healthy Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, and the Warriors have reason to sweat.
Lakers at Celtics | Feb. 7 | TNT
LeBron vs. Kyrie. Lakers vs. Celtics. What more do you need? These old rivals haven’t had this much star power since they were duking it out in the 2008 and 2010 Finals. But the history between James and Irving will make this showdown even more lively.
And if the Lakers add another star at the deadline, perhaps these longtime Finals foes might somehow meet again in June with a title on the line.
Warriors at Thunder | March 16 | ABC
The Warriors typically sleepwalk through the regular season, but few teams get their blood boiling before June like Westbrook & Co. Ever since their epic 2016 Western Conference finals, this has been one of the league’s top rivalries, and it won’t lose any steam now that George re-signed in OKC.
Will Thunder fans continue to boo their former NBA MVP, Kevin Durant? It doesn’t seem the hatred has cooled off, even though this will mark the third season since KD walked away from the franchise that drafted him.
— Baxter Holmes
More must-see Lakers games
Let’s face it: All 82 games on the Lakers’ schedule could be appointment viewing, but here is a quartet of the hardest-to-get tickets for LeBron’s new squad.
Rockets at Lakers | Oct. 20 | ESPN
After watching its team debut in Portland, the city of Los Angeles gets its first up-close look at LeBron in Lakers gold. And Game No. 2 of the King James era is no cakewalk.
After what should be a thrilling pregame show, the Lakers will find out whether they can hang with Houston in the West. Will Lance Stephenson be able to defend and agitate the likes of James Harden the way the Lakers’ front office envisioned earlier this summer? James gets his first crack at good friend Chris Paul in what will be one of many measuring-stick-type games for the revamped Lakers.
Lakers at Cavaliers | Nov. 21 | ESPN
LeBron returns home for the first time as a Laker, but he should be welcomed with applause and open arms after carrying the Cavs to the past four Finals.
James will be greeted by former coach Ty Lue and his old supporting cast — one that was constantly maligned for not being good enough to help James win another ring and includes former Lakers Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson, who surely will be looking to prove themselves in increased minutes.
Thunder at Lakers | Jan. 2 | ESPN
George, who made it clear he wanted to be a Laker prior to last season, ended up not even giving Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka a meeting at the start of free agency. James still chose the Lakers without George and now will see whether his supporting cast is good enough to beat PG-13, Westbrook and the Thunder.
These two teams could be jockeying in the West standings all season long.
76ers at Lakers | Jan. 29 | TNT
Two of the most exciting teams square off, but this time with James as a Laker. James met with but spurned the Sixers for L.A., and Joel Embiid and Simmons will be motivated to show James what he turned down this summer.
Embiid destroyed the Lakers for 46 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists and 7 blocks in their first meeting at Staples Center last season, and Simmons nearly had a triple-double with 18 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds in the same game. Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart will certainly be eager to face the young Sixers.
— Ohm Youngmisuk
Sure, there are obvious reunion games to circle on this year’s NBA calendar, but here are a few more that deserve some love on the calendar:
Celtics at Jazz | Nov. 9 | ESPN
When the Celtics made their lone visit to Utah last season — without an injured Hayward — the Salt Lake Tribune ran a column with the headline, “Gordon who?” that anointed Mitchell and Rudy Gobert the new kings of Utah.
A lot of Jazz fans remain bitter about Hayward’s decision to sign in Boston, but will time heal old wounds? It will be fascinating to see what sort of reaction Hayward receives in his first game back in Utah.
Pistons at Clippers | Jan. 12
Blake Griffin will visit his former team for the first time since being shipped to Detroit in January. The Clippers will be practically unrecognizable to Griffin, but he’ll still have plenty of motivation.
In the aftermath of the trade, he told The Undefeated that, “Coming [to Detroit] made me realize what a franchise looks like.”
Hornets at Spurs | Jan. 14
After 17 seasons with the Spurs, Tony Parker makes his first trip to the AT&T Center as a visitor after signing with the Hornets this summer. It’ll be an opportunity for Spurs fans to toast what Parker gave the team, including six All-Star appearances and four NBA titles.
While Leonard’s visit could get a little hostile, this one will be a pure celebration.
Nuggets at Celtics | March 18
More than a year after his jaw-dropping departure from Boston, Isaiah Thomas will finally get his Celtics video tribute.
You remember the kerfuffle earlier this year when the Celtics said that they would honor IT the same night as Paul Pierce‘s jersey retirement? Pierce balked, Thomas eventually ceded the floor to Pierce, and then the Cavaliers traded Thomas to the Lakers three days before Cleveland’s final regular-season visit to Boston, rendering it all a moot point. Thomas, who signed with the Denver Nuggets this offseason, will finally get toasted for his 2½ thrilling years in green; expect a thunderous ovation for someone who played a major role in getting Boston where it is now.
Rockets at Hawks | March 19
There will be few dry eyes inside sparsely filled Philips Arena when the Hawks welcome back Melo, who spent five unforgettable days with the organization in July.
Anthony is collecting $25.5 million from the Hawks, or roughly the same amount that Trae Young will make over the first four years of his rookie deal.
— Chris Forsberg
Best rookie showdowns
Mavericks at Suns | Oct. 17 | ESPN
Some draft observers believe Luka Doncic will become the best player from the 2018 NBA draft. This early-season, national TV matchup against Ayton, the No. 1 overall pick, will be his first opportunity to prove that theory correct.
Mavericks at Hawks | Oct. 24 | ESPN
Young and Doncic will be linked for a long time, thanks to the Mavs-Hawks draft-night trade in which Dallas gave up a protected pick to move up two spots for the Slovenian guard. They have vastly different frames, but both rookies boast elite court vision and can shoot from distance. Let the debate begin.
Suns at Kings | Feb. 10
It’s always entertaining when the top two picks in a draft face off for the first time. This game should be no different. Marvin Bagley III made it clear prior to the draft that he felt disrespected by those who thought Ayton should be taken No. 1 over him.
— Ian Begley
Every team’s schedule
Atlantic: BOS | BKN | NYK | PHI | TOR
Central: CHI | CLE | DET | IND | MIL
Southeast: ATL | CHA | MIA | ORL | WAS
Pacific: GS | LAC | LAL | PHX | SAC
Southwest: DAL | HOU | MEM | NO | SA
Northwest: DEN | MIN | OKC | POR | UTAH