Suddenly, there’s basketball again. In an interesting turn of events, the NBPA has approved the league’s proposed December 22 start date to the 2020-21 NBA season.
The official offseason can finally commence, allowing teams to make the necessary moves in such a short window before the start of next season which is barely over a month away.
As with any season, opening night is the main course of the first few weeks of the NBA season. It’s where experts make outlandish predictions and fans overestimate some players just by their performance in one game. Now take that into overdrive with the start date right around Christmas day.
With plenty of teams looking to prove themselves as contenders this time around, here’s a few games that would be ideal to start off the 2020-21 season.
1. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Los Angeles Clippers
The show goes on with these two in-city rivals. After a massive letdown falling to the Denver Nuggets, the Los Angeles Clippers have clearly lost the Battle for LA to their Purple and Gold counterparts. But make no mistake, the matchup is still the main event in today’s NBA.
On any given night, fans will still pile in to watch Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James go toe-to-toe with their respective supporting cast.
As it stands, the problem with the Clippers felt like a lack of chemistry that resulted in underachieving with a clearly talented roster. Getting off on the right foot will be critical, especially against the reigning Finals MVP and 4-time champ LeBron James.
King James and company will be eager to assert their dominance as defending champions, after being overlooked for the “sexier” pick in last year’s Clippers. The Lakers rode their two top-5 titans and killer team chemistry all the way to the pinnacle of basketball. They’ll be thinking repeat on day 1 as soon as the NBA starts.
2. Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers
Despite the 4-0 sweep by the Heat in this series just a couple of months earlier, it was still a lot of fun to watch. Watching two alpha males in Jimmy Butler and TJ Warren commence in battle was one for the books. Warren elevated his game in the Orlando Bubble, but Jimmy Butler entered another stratosphere then as well.
The Pacers clearly weren’t at full strength during their matchup, missing key pieces in Jeremy Lamb, All-Star Domantas Sabonis, and a banged up Victor Oladipo. However, they have been rumored to be targeting Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward, which could provide a huge scoring option on the perimeter. They’re fully expected to make some moves to bolster their roster this offseason, and what better way to test their mettle than to take on the defending Eastern Conference finalists.
As for the Heat, they’ll look to prove that their Finals run was definitely no fluke. Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, and Bam Adebayo will keep them a force in the East for the next half decade. With a dominant performance on opening night, they could send out a proper warning shot to the rest of their East coast competition to start the NBA season.
3. Memphis Grizzlies vs. New Orleans Pelicans
Watching these two young teams go at it to date has been exciting. The debate over who would’ve been Rookie of the Year between Ja Morant and Zion Williamson had the latter been healthy will forever be argued as long as these two stay tethered together in superstardom.
The Pelicans are looking to reshape their roster and culture this season after hiring Stan Van Gundy as their new head coach. Van Gundy will be tasked with the development of what could potentially be two elite talents in Williamson and Brandon Ingram. Against the Grizzlies, Williamson averaged 23.5 points along with 6.5 rebounds and 4 assists, numbers that he’ll look to add onto when they lock horns once again.
Morant and the Grizzlies have a bright future behind their young, athletic guard. With frequent flashes of Russell Westbrook-like rim finishes along with being able to knock down the outside shot, Morant will soon develop into a perennial All-Star.
With two future faces of the NBA dueling before our eyes, this could be an exciting match to start the season.
4. Brooklyn Nets vs. Golden State Warriors
After deciding to leave the Warriors in order to pair up with his longtime best friend in Irving, Kevin Durant’s return to Golden State will be one of the most watched games of the season. Durant returns to face the team he served as a championship mercenary for throughout his previous three seasons. While this will be a highly anticipated moment for fans to see what the Irving-Durant duo are capable of on the court, spectators will also be watching eagerly as the Warriors return to their once-famed spot as a deadly opponent without the likes of Durant.
Neither roster looks set in stone as of now, especially with the Warriors assuring that they’ll be active in the market as they look to bring in a talented big man via trade or the draft. The Nets will likely resign most of its roster while filling in other minor spots with role players, seeing as how this will be the first test run for Irving and Durant.
Both teams are projected to be at the top of their respected conferences as the season gets underway. Their first game against one another could be a sign of things to come.
5. Boston Celtics vs. Toronto Raptors
If there wasn’t a rivalry brewing between both the Raptors and the Celtics before, there is now. After going to seven games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, both teams admitted to a deep amount of respect for one another.
The Raptors do have quite a few questions surrounding the likes of Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol upon free agency beginning. It’s a safe bet not all of them will be back playing for the North. Even still, the Raptors were one of the stingiest defenses in the league last season under Nick Nurse. Whatever squad they build around Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam will definitely be formidable nonetheless.
The Celtics will be the same squad as well give or take a few role players. The main core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kemba Walker will remain intact with Marcus Smart also likely to stick around. Hayward, as previously mentioned, may become a tradeable option for the Celtics once the offseason commences, depending on what they can get back for the All-Star.
The NBA’s December start can’t go wrong with these five games on the slate.