The NBA followed up its launch of the Christmas Day and Opening Week games with the reveal of the full schedule on Friday. With the offseason creeping into training camp and the free agent frenzy almost completely abandoned (sorry, Lauri Markannen), the story lines that will be most exciting to follow next season are coming into focus. With that said, let’s go over some of the matchups I’m most excited to see in the 2021-22 season.
The Return: Heat at Raptors, February 3
Every Raptors home game should be incredibly special next season, and the team is expected to play in Toronto after a year-long exodus to Tampa due to the pandemic. With all due respect to Tampa, it is not a special mosaic like the city of Toronto. But perhaps no Raptors home game will be as remarkable as the return of Kyle Lowry, who will play his first game in the city since February 2020, this time as a member of the Heat. Lowry is obviously a franchise legend for Toronto, and he never received a proper sendoff from fans who witnessed the thrilling arc of his prime, which began with numerous disappointments in the playoffs before culminating in the 2019 championship race. Add the Raptors’ fantastic game operations to the mix, and there will likely be very few dry eyes on the building when Lowry is finally back in Canada.
New Friends vs. Old: Nets at Warriors, January 29
Last year’s Warriors-Nets matchups were cooled by the fact that Golden State didn’t have a very good roster. However, once Klay Thompson returns after a two-season absence, the first game between these two teams in full force should be one of the most intriguing of the entire year. Hopefully Thompson is ready to play and the Nets have their three healthy stars, two massive qualifiers. I have to imagine Kevin Durant will have something to prove against the Warriors’ OG core of Steph, Dray, Klay and Iguodala, and vice versa. (Although if anyone has no interest in narratives, it’s Durant.) Then there’s also the story of Golden State in the playoffs against James Harden and Kyrie Irving. In fact, while everyone dreams of a Lakers-Nets final, I think a Warriors-Nets final could be even more exciting.
The Rematch: Nets at Bucks, October 19
Speaking of the Nets, we won’t have long to wait to see Brooklyn take on defending champion Bucks, as the two teams will meet in the first game of the season in a rematch of their thrilling seven-game second-round series of the playoffs. And here’s an early prediction: The Nets win big on opening night. If any team feels cheated by the postseason, it’s probably Brooklyn, which pushed Milwaukee to seven games despite having only one healthy star for the series, and almost made it to the conference finals.
The Rookies: Pistons vs. Rookets, November 10
The Pistons and Rockets won’t be particularly interesting this season. That doesn’t mean the Cade Cunningham-Jalen Green showdown won’t be. The top two picks from the 2021 draft already have some meat simmering on the stove. Cunningham was No. 1. Green said he wanted to go first except I didn’t want to play in Detroit. The Pistons also host the Rockets on December 18. The pair already went head-to-head in the Summer League and lived up to the hype by at least taking the showdown personally. Although it may be a long time before Cunningham and Green play an NBA game with something on the line, their first round should be an appetizer for special races.
Okay, let’s cheat a bit here because some teams are so offensive that it doesn’t really matter who they play against. All that is important is that the only way for these teams to win is to hit a succession of increasingly difficult shots rather than stop on defense. The Blazers, Nuggets and Mavericks finished with the top 10 offenses in 2021, but with defenses outside the top 10. They also have generational talent on the offensive side of the court: Damian Lillard, current MVP Nikola Jokić, and Luka. Dončić. Whenever a combination of these two teams meet next season, especially without either of them conducting a significant roster review, expect fireworks.
The Tanker’s Special: Rockets vs. Thunder, October 22
Neither the Rockets nor the Thunder will have an interest in winning many basketball games next season. Both are in the midst of major rebuilds, and both teams have quite an eccentric collection of players. If there is an end-of-season council between these two clubs, it will be funny that each of the gymnasts has to pass in order not to win. I wouldn’t be surprised if both GMs dressed up as their young stars sat in unidentifiable pain.
The Diet All-Star Game: Nets at Lakers on Christmas Day
Let’s not beat around the bush anymore. When these two teams are completely healthy, the rosters in a Lakers-Nets game feel like the basketball equivalent of a Steven Soderbergh cast. Just look at these names! Lebron James. Kevin Durant. James Harden. Anthony Davis. Kyrie Irving. Russell Westbrook. Carmelo Anthony. Blake Griffin. Dwight Howard. With Patty Mills. And Trevor Ariza as Trevor Ariza. Me Open floor his partner Michael Pina explained why it would be a dream match to see these two teams in a final. Not just the collection of talents, though not all at their peak, to be fair, is simply overwhelming, the personal drama shared by many of the contestants adds several juicy layers to this showdown. Christmas can’t come soon enough.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.