The NBA announced its game schedule Friday evening for its upcoming restart in Orlando on July 30, and there’s a slew of enticing matchups throughout the 16 days of “seeding games.” There will be a maximum of seven games per day, taking place across three different courts on Disney World grounds. The schedules were created using the remaining games left on each of the 22 teams’ schedules, with each team playing a total of eight each.
From the first night back on July 30, to the playoff races for the final spots in each conference, there’s no shortage of exciting games ahead. After sifting through all the games on the NBA‘s remaining regular-season schedule, here are 10 of the best matchups to watch when the league returns, beginning with the first day back.
When the NBA shut down in March, it was because Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. It set off a wave of cancellations around the country, and created a well-documented rift rift between Gobert and his teammates, specifically with Donovan Mitchell. There’s been concerns about how the two stars will be able to repair their relationship, and what that means for Utah’s future. Their first test will come on opening night of the NBA’s return. Aside from Gobert and Mitchell sorting out their issues, though, Utah will be without its leading scorer in Bojan Bogdanovic, who underwent season-ending wrist surgery during the hiatus.
On the other side of this matchup is Pelicans rookie phenom Zion Williamson, who was on an absolute tear before the season was postponed. Williamson will be completely healed from the knee surgery that kept him out of the first half of the season, and he’s been keeping in shape, too. The Pelicans are chasing the No. 8 seed in the West, and they’ll need every win to make the playoffs starting with this game against Utah.
This could potentially be a preview for a Western Conference finals clash between the two Los Angeles teams. LeBron James, who, at 35, was having an MVP-caliber season before COVID-19 forced the world to pause, will now be incredibly well rested for a playoff run. While Kawhi Leonard — aka the king of load management — should also be rejuvenated from the time off. There’s sure to be a significant amount of rust for all the players, and playing at a neutral location without fans in attendance will take some adjusting. Still, though, after waiting for what felt like an eternity for the NBA to return, this matchup seems like the perfect opening number for the league.
Grizzlies vs. Trail Blazers: July 31, 4 p.m. ET
The race for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs will begin with the No. 8 seed Grizzlies vs. the ninth-seeded Trail Blazers on the second night back. While Memphis is 3 1/2 games ahead of Portland in the standings, the Blazers will be bringing some reinforcements with them to Orlando that they’ve sorely missed all season. Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic are expected to be healthy and available to play for Portland, giving this team some much-needed depth in the frontcourt. Rookie of the Year favorite Ja Morant will also receive some help with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke expected to be fully healthy. Also, the Grizzlies could potentially see the debut of Justise Winslow in Orlando.
What will reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo look like in his return to the hardwood? He won’t have to go all-out immediately — he’ll be fully recovered from a knee injury that kept him out of the last two games before the hiatus, and faces no threat of losing the top spot in the East to the Raptors as 6 1/2 games separate the two. The Celtics will have more to prove during these seeding games as the Heat are looming behind them with only 2 1/2 games between them. Jayson Tatum looked like a bona fide superstar before the postponement, and getting Kemba Walker back to full health after missing games throughout February will only benefit Boston’s dynamic offense.
Before the hiatus, Russell Westbrook was beginning to hit his stride with the Rockets, James Harden wasn’t required to do everything for once and newly acquired 3-and-D specialist Robert Covington was meshing well with this team. Coming into the restart, the Rockets are a bit of a wild card because they could either be a serious contender or fall into old defensive patterns that could be costly. The Mavericks currently sit 1 1/2 games behind the Rockets in the Western Conference standings, and are looking to gain some ground on their Texas foes. Dallas will be missing some key pieces in Dwight Powell and Jalen Brunson due to injuries, but with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis expected to be fully healthy, this team could make some unexpected noise at Disney World.
Nuggets vs. Heat: Aug. 1, 1 p.m. ET
This will be the first game seeing the new, slimmed-down version of Nikola Jokic, and it’ll be interesting to see how the weight loss affects his game. Some are concerned that it might hinder his game in the post, but he’s never been a bang-down-low type of player. If anything, this will only help his endurance, especially late in games when the Nuggets need him most. He also just tested positive for COVID-19, but is expected to be ready once the season resumes. The Heat, led by Jimmy Butler, have become a dangerous team in the East, and with the sharpshooting of Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro, in addition to the All-Star emergence of Bam Adebayo, they have the potential of making life difficult for teams in the playoffs.
Grizzlies vs. Pelicans: Aug. 1, 6:30 p.m. ET
Ja Morant vs. Zion Williamson, and a chase for the final spot in the West playoffs make this matchup must-watch television. The last time these two teams squared off, Zion and the Pelicans got the best of the Grizzlies, with the Duke product leading the way in scoring (24 points). However, Morant, who only had 16 points, was without Jackson, and Clarke in that game. This time around, both will be in the lineup to help. Williamson and Morant have already put together electrifying rookie resumes, with the stakes even higher in this matchup, prepare for these first-year standouts to put on a show.
Lakers vs. Rockets: Aug. 6, 9 p.m. ET
After the Rockets traded Clint Capela, and actualizing Mike D’Antoni’s dream of playing small ball without a center on the floor who can’t shoot, they immediately had to face the lengthy Lakers. Surprisingly, Houston outlasted the formidable Los Angeles team back in February, but the question is, can the Rockets do it again? More importantly, could they do it over a seven-game playoff series against the Lakers? That second question won’t get answered until the postseason if these two teams face each other, but this matchup will help us to understand if the Rockets could be a threat to the Lakers’ title hopes.
Raptors vs. Bucks: Aug. 10, 6:30 p.m. ET
No seeding implications here as the Bucks are clear ahead the Raptors in the standings. However, this could be a preview for the Eastern Conference finals. When these two teams met in the conference finals last season, Kawhi Leonard became the deciding factor in the series. Without him, the Bucks have the upper hand with Giannis, although Toronto isn’t an easy opponent by any means. Despite all the injuries the Raptors have endured this season, they’ve kept chugging along near the top of the East standings. The Bucks have something to prove this season, but the Raptors are trying to remind everyone that they’re still the champions, and they haven’t gone anywhere yet.
Raptors vs. 76ers: Aug. 12, 6:30 p.m. ET
Speaking of the Raptors’ championship run last season, the Sixers would surely like to erase that devastating Game 7 semifinals loss out of their memory for good. Especially Joel Embiid, who has been surprisingly quiet during this hiatus. Philadelphia will go as far as Embiid will take them, and a lot of that hinges on what type of shape he’s in when games resume. This will be the Sixers’ last game of the regular season, and hopefully by then, their star center is in good enough shape to potentially make a run in the playoffs. The Sixers have a lot to prove going into Orlando, because this team can either be one of the best teams in the East, led by Embiid and a healthy Ben Simmons, or an absolute mess on both ends of the floor. It just comes down to which team shows up to Disney World.