The NBA has scheduled a blockbuster slate for the first three nights of the 2020-21 season.
When the league tips on Dec. 22, the Brooklyn Nets will host the Golden State Warriors at 7 p.m. ET before the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers do battle at 10 p.m. ET. Both games will be broadcast on TNT and are obviously subject to unforeseen changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
On Dec. 23, the Milwaukee Bucks will visit the Boston Celtics at 7:30 p.m. ET on TNT before the Dallas Mavericks visit the Phoenix Suns at 10:30 on ESPN. The league announced the national-broadcast games on Wednesday while confirming a five-game Christmas Day slate reported on Tuesday featuring many of the league’s biggest stars and top contenders.
The rest of the schedule is yet to be revealed. The league plans to announce the schedule for the rest of the first half of the season on Friday.
Storylines for opening night
The schedule-makers pitted Kevin Durant against Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and the Golden State Warriors for the first time since Durant left the organization in 2019 free agency. Durant missed all of last season with the Achilles injury he suffered as a member of the Warriors in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals.
Friction between Durant and Green was widely reported during the 2018-19 season. Infamously, Durant challenged Green over a last-minute possession of an early-season game. In the locker room afterward, Green reportedly called Durant a “bitch” multiple times and dared the superstar to leave in free agency. Before 2019 free agency even opened, Durant agreed to a four-year, $164 million contract from the Nets.
Durant has since publicly suggested he did not feel welcomed into Golden State’s inner circle. Curry took some issue with that statement, publicly responding, in part, “At the end of the day, whatever he needed to do to make that decision and however he wants to explain that — that’s just what’s gonna happen.”
Despite the natural chemistry imbalance of a team starting four All-Stars, the partnership between Durant and the Warriors was wildly successful, resulting in the final three of five straight trips to the Finals. Durant won back-to-back Finals MVPs en route to consecutive championships, and they were poised to win a third straight before Durant and Klay Thompson suffered serious season-ending injuries late in the 2019 Finals.
How they all respond to one another will be fascinating to watch on opening night. Durant engaged in several on-court confrontations with ex-teammate Russell Westbrook after leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Warriors in 2016 free agency, and Green is one of the league’s most relentless trash-talkers.
This is all before the Lakers accept their championship rings and raise a 13th banner (12 won in L.A. and one reflecting the five Minneapolis titles) in front of the rival (and banner-less) Clippers at their shared arena, the Staples Center. It is a rematch of last year’s season opener. The two teams were favored to meet in the Western Conference finals before the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the second round.
Following the season, Clippers big man and reigning Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell left the Clippers to join the Lakers on a two-year, $19 million contract — a move that took his ex-teammates by surprise.
So long as everyone stays healthy between now and opening night, the NBA’s Dec. 22 slate will feature eight recent All-Stars: Durant, Curry, Green, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. Curry and Irving also suffered season-ending injuries last season that have left fans without highlights from the game’s flashiest playmakers since October 2019 and this past March, respectively.
Enjoy the show.
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