2020 NBA schedule: The 12 most important games of the restarted regular season

    Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.

  • Joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009
  • Covers the Dallas Cowboys and Dallas Mavericks
  • Appears regularly on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM

The 2020 NBA season restart finally has its schedule.

Each team will have eight regular-season games to help finalize playoff seeding, with the first two games starting on July 30 as the Utah Jazz face off versus the New Orleans Pelicans followed by the LA Clippers versus the Los Angeles Lakers. Players and teams will have roughly two weeks to secure their playoff seeds while knocking off any rust ahead of the postseason.

Here are the 12 games we can’t wait to see when basketball returns on July 30.

MORE: Everything to know for the NBA’s 22-team restart

New Orleans Pelicans vs. Utah Jazz
July 30, 6:30 p.m. ET | TNT

The Jazz have the utmost confidence that Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell can successfully co-exist as franchise cornerstones, but will there be any residual tension from Gobert’s lack of concern for the novel coronavirus that preceded the news that he and Mitchell had both tested positive? And speaking of Gobert, Zion Williamson trying to finish over and around him is a pretty exciting way to welcome back the NBA.

— Tim MacMahon

Los Angeles Lakers vs. LA Clippers
July 30, 9 p.m. ET | TNT

While the atmosphere in Orlando won’t be the same as it would be at Staples Center, the intensity between these rivals figures to remain high in their final regular season matchup. Though home-court advantage is no longer part of the equation, both teams will need to address chemistry as they ramp up for a long playoff run.

Can the Lakers replace Avery Bradley and find the same consistency they had before the stoppage? How do the Clippers look at full strength, and how will Doc Rivers balance the minutes on a deep roster?

— Nick Friedell

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Memphis Grizzlies
July 31, 4 p.m. ET | NBATV

The race for the West’s eighth seed could come down to the fresh-faced Grizzlies against the playoff-seasoned Trail Blazers, who were conference finalists last season. The point guard matchup — perennial All-Star Damian Lillard vs. Rookie of the Year frontrunner Ja Morant — should be particularly fun. Lillard left the game with a strained groin when these teams met on Feb. 12, while Morant’s 20 points and nine assists led the Grizzlies to a home win.

— MacMahon

Boston Celtics vs. Milwaukee Bucks
July 31, 6:30 p.m. ET | ESPN

Giannis is fully recovered from a knee injury that gave him some trouble prior to the season suspension. His first chance to knock off more than three months of rust will be against the Celtics, a potential playoff foe. With a 6.5-game lead over the second-place Raptors, the Bucks can use the restart as a kind of preseason.

The Celtics don’t have that kind of luxury, sitting just three games in front of Miami as both teams try to avoid a showdown with the Bucks in the conference semifinals. Jayson Tatum scored 28 or more points in seven of his nine games following the All-Star break, and will look to pick up where he left off in Florida.

— Friedell

Miami Heat vs. Denver Nuggets
Aug. 1, 1 p.m. ET | ESPN

This matchup will hopefully give us a look at Nuggets All-Star big man Nikola Jokic, who, before a positive COVID-19 diagnosis earlier this week, had lost 40 pounds and transformed his body during the league’s hiatus. For Denver, it will be interesting to see what kind of lift young Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. gives a team in need of another push behind Jokic and Jamal Murray.

As for the Heat, this no-frills environment is made for Jimmy Butler to turn in some great performances. With Butler, Bam Adebayo and the playoff experience of trade-deadline addition Andre Iguodala, the Heat have the ability and the confidence to make waves in the East.

— Friedell

Milwaukee Bucks vs. Houston Rockets
Aug. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET | ABC

The passive-aggressive jabs exchanged by Houston’s James Harden and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo over the last year give this matchup a juicy subplot, but watching Harden attempt to figure out how to attack the league’s premier defense will be the main attraction.

Milwaukee’s unique plan for guarding Harden — having his primary defender straddle his left hip, taking away his stepback jumper and daring him to drive into the trees — has been successful. He’s averaged 28 points (on 34.8% shooting) in the Rockets’ three losses to the Bucks over the last two seasons, but Harden has refused to give the Bucks credit for containing him, saying he simply missed shots.

— MacMahon

Memphis Grizzlies vs. New Orleans Pelicans
Aug. 3, 6:30 p.m. ET | ESPN

Rookie sensations and former AAU teammates Zion Williamson and Ja Morant have quickly established themselves as two of the NBA’s most entertaining talents, and this rematch will be no exception.

The fight for the West’s last playoff seed has potential for high drama during the eight-game wrap-up of the regular season and a potential play-in scenario.

— MacMahon

Houston Rockets vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Aug. 6, 9 p.m. ET | TNT

Could the Rockets pose a threat to the West favorite Lakers?

After acquiring Robert Covington at the trade deadline, Houston debuted its small-ball lineup with a win at Staples Center the last time these teams met. The micro lineup started out strong, but fatigue began to wear on the Rockets before the season was halted. The Clippers exploited the height mismatch by beating Houston on the boards. Will Frank Vogel take his cotenants’ lead and stick with his centers? Did the layoff give the Rockets enough time to recover?

— MacMahon

Milwaukee Bucks vs. Toronto Raptors
Aug. 10, 6:30 p.m. ET | ESPN

Will this be an Eastern Conference finals preview for the second year in a row? The Raptors have kept on rolling without Kawhi, as Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry and a roster full of hard-nosed players get the chance to repeat as champs in this unique environment.

The Bucks are six games clear of the Raptors in the East, but if Milwaukee wants to send an early message, they’ll get a chance to show that this year could be different. It will be interesting to see how hard Mike Budenholzer decides to push his veteran roster as this group starts what they hope will be a long stay at Disney.

— Friedell

Toronto Raptors vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Aug. 12, 6:30 p.m. ET | ESPN

The Sixers come into the restart looking to script the kind of ending they expected they could achieve when the season started. Their play so far this season has been underwhelming, Philadelphia heads into the bubble with a presumably healthy Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, along with a core of players that should be motivated to change the direction of its season.

The Raptors come into the restart after some much-needed rest, presumably healthy and ready to prove they can make another title run without Kawhi Leonard. Not only is this a rematch of last season’s seven-game Eastern Conference semifinal, it’s a meeting of two teams who feel they have a lot to prove in Orlando.

— Friedell

Houston Rockets vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Aug. 14

The Rockets felt comfortable committing to small ball because the list of NBA big men who are threats to dominate in the low post is small. Fortunately for the 76ers, Joel Embiid is at the top of that list. Can the perimeter-oriented Rockets capitalize on forcing him out of his comfort zone as a rim protector enough to make up for the punishment Embiid will dish out down low?

Embiid and Russell Westbrook, two of the league’s most entertaining personalities, also have a trash-talking history that means there is always potential for fireworks when they meet.

— MacMahon

LA Clippers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Aug. 14

This is each team’s final regular-season game, so it could have significant implications on the West playoff bracket. Paul George and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the two marquee players who were traded for each other in a blockbuster deal last year, will face their former teams for the final time before the postseason. Then again, If the Clippers are locked into the No. 2 seed, however, it wouldn’t come as any surprise if they rest George and Kawhi Leonard in preparation for the playoffs.

— MacMahon

Every team’s eight-game schedule

East:
MIL | TOR | BOS | MIA | IND | PHI | BKN | ORL | WAS

West:
LAL | LAC | DEN | UTAH | OKC | HOU | DAL | MEM | POR | NO | SAC | SA | PHX

Source: Read Full Article