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NBA Schedule: 13 Games to Watch in 2017-18

Nick Whalen

RotoWire's NBA Editor and award winning host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.

With the release of the complete 2017-18 NBA schedule this week, it’s time to sort through the clutter and highlight the top matchups of the season.

As you’ll notice in a matter of seconds, each game is rated in five categories on a scale of 1-10. The categories -- Entertainment value, Bad Blood, Competitiveness, Star Power, and Hype Factor -- are as much straightforward as they are completely arbitrary, so if you believe Bulls/Hawks should have more than a zero Hype Factor, feel free to disagree.

With that, let’s get to the list. We’ll start at the beginning:

Celtics at 76ers -- Friday, Oct. 20 (7:00PM ET)

Entertainment value: 9
Bad blood: 2
Competitiveness: 7
Star power: 8
Hype factor: 10

The Sixers’ home opener was making this list no matter what -- that the Celtics are the opponent is irrelevant, but adds another dimension to what should be an incredibly entertaining matchup. Philly will have already played one game -- the Sixers open in Washington on Wednesday, Oct. 18 (ESPN) -- but this will mark the debut of the F.E.D.S. -- if that’s still a thing? I kind of want it to be a thing -- in front of a raucous crowd that couldn’t be more thrilled with the end result of The Process.

Adding even more intrigue is the fact that Philadelphia traded with Boston to move up and acquire Markelle Fultz. So while that doesn’t necessarily qualify as “bad blood,” Boston essentially said nah, we’re good when Fultz was sitting on a platter in front of them.
If Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Fultz can each stay even relatively healthy, the Sixers will be must-watch television, perhaps even into late-April.

Pelicans at Kings -- Thursday, Oct. 26 (10:30PM ET, TNT)

Entertainment value: 4
Bad blood: 1000000
Competitiveness: 3
Star power: 6
Hype factor: 7

Look, I’m not saying I’d bet on DeMarcus Cousins rappelling down from the rafters and unleashing an RKO on Vlade Divac during the first TV timeout. That said, it’s not completely out of the question.

This is a unique “revenge game” in that the environment should be a welcoming one. I’d be shocked if Cousins is boo’d -- reputation aside, Cousins remained a fan favorite and was active, particularly behind the scenes, in the community. Cousins may have been the most divisive star in the league, but he was Sacramento’s star and was far and away the best player the franchise had since the end of the Bibby-Stojakovic-Webber era (sometimes known as the Lawrence Funderburke era, depending who you ask).

Of course, Cousins hasn’t been shy about how his time in Sacramento ended, and if his lone post-trade matchup against the Kings in New Orleans last season was any indication -- 37 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 assists in a 28-point victory -- the big man won’t be pulling any punches.

Warriors at Thunder -- Wednesday, Nov. 22 (8:00PM ET, ESPN)

Entertainment value: 8
Bad blood: 8
Competitiveness: 7
Star power: 9
Hype factor: 6

Nothing will top Kevin Durant’s initial return to Oklahoma City last February, but it’s difficult to imagine the Warriors cruising nearly unscathed to a title with Durant taking home the Finals MVP has smoothed any tensions. The Thunder have surrounded Russell Westbrook with better talent this time around, and the home crowd will be eager to show Durant how content they are with his superstar replacement.



Lakers at Kings -- Wednesday, Nov. 22 (ESPN, 10:30PM ET)

Entertainment value: 6
Bad blood: 2
Competitiveness: 7
Star power: 5
Hype factor: 9

Circle this one on the calendar as a game that will entail no shortage of hype -- probably too much hype. The Lakers are going to play several “Lonzo Ball vs. ______” games this season, but this one might be the most anticipated. In the public’s eye, Ball has been dodging Fox since being outplayed in a Sweet 16 loss five months ago, but that hasn’t stopped the Lonzo hype train from rolling right along after a stellar summer league showing. The subplot is that both of these franchises are seemingly back on the right track and should be infinitely more fun to watch than they’ve been in recent years.

Thunder at Pacers -- Wednesday Dec. 13 (7:00PM ET, ESPN)

Entertainment value: 7
Bad blood: 9
Competitiveness: 2
Star power: 7
Hype factor: 7

As of mid-August, this certainly doesn’t feel like it’ll be anything close to a LeBron-back-in-Cleveland or Durant-in-Oklahoma-City situation, but the Pacers won’t exactly be rolling out the red carpet for George’s return.

While there’s some truth to the notion that George’s transparency may have saved Indiana from losing him for nothing, his public affection for Los Angeles also sapped his value on the open market and was somewhat of a slap in the face to LA-antithesis Indiana. Expect some boo’s, a few cheers, and likely a victory for the Thunder.

Spurs at Rockets -- Friday, Dec. 15 (9:30PM ET, ESPN)

Entertainment value: 7
Bad blood: 2
Competitiveness: 9
Star power: 8
Hype factor: 2

Even if the Chris Paul-James Harden pairing takes some time to coalesce, the Rockets indisputably improved from an overall talent standpoint this offseason. But San Antonio was still the second-best team in the West last season and ousted the Rockets in rather embarrassing fashion in the conference semifinals. If the last decade of Spurs basketball has taught us anything, it’s to never take them lightly
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Cavaliers at Warriors -- Monday, Dec. 25 (3:00PM ET, ABC)

Entertainment value: 10
Bad blood: 5
Competitiveness: 8
Star power: 10
Hype factor: 9

This one goes without saying. Regardless of what the Cavs’ roster looks like come Christmas Day, all eyes will be on the 25th matchup between these teams in less than three calendar years. This is far and away the best modern rivalry in the NBA, whether the players accept it or not.



Rockets at Clippers -- Monday, Jan. 15 (10:30PM ET, TNT)

Entertainment value: 9
Bad blood: 4
Competitiveness: 8
Star power: 8
Hype factor: 8

People forget that Chris Paul used to play for the Clippers. He now plays for the Rockets, who by this point will have had nearly three months to figure out how to use Paul and James Harden together. Provided Blake Griffin can stay healthy, the Clippers should still be a playoff team, but Paul’s exit -- even after he was generous enough to execute a sign-and-trade -- lowers LA’s immediate ceiling considerably.

Warriors at Rockets -- Saturday Jan. 20 (8:30PM ET, ABC)

Entertainment value: 10
Bad blood: 2
Competitiveness: 9
Star power: 10
Hype factor: 8

Golden State hosts Houston on Opening Night (Oct. 17, TNT), but that game might not tell us much about what to expect from the Rockets after adding Chris Paul. The teams meet again on Jan. 4 (TNT) before the final of three regular season matchups less than three weeks later. The Warriors shouldn’t miss a beat, but by late-January, we’ll have a much better read on the Rockets, and the Jan. 20 showdown will be Houston’s last chance to test itself against the league’s best before a potential clash in the postseason.

Timberwolves at Bulls -- Friday, Feb. 9 (8:00PM ET, ESPN)

Entertainment value: 4
Bad blood: 5
Competitiveness: 1
Star power: 5
Hype factor: 4

Jimmy Butler will have to wait until February 9 to reunite with his former teammates for what will be the Bulls’ lone national TV (not including NBATV) appearance of the season. The scene should be similar to what Cousins will experience in Sacramento, with any hostility directed toward management, rather than the player. The returns of Butler and Taj Gibson will overshadow the subplot of Tom Thibodeau making his second trip back to Chicago, but those three elements alone make this easily the biggest game on the Bulls’ schedule.

Bulls at Hawks -- Sunday, March 11 (3:30PM ET)

Entertainment value: N/A
Bad blood: 0
Competitiveness: 8?
Star power: 0
Hype factor: 0

The Hawks should be the worst team in the NBA this season. That’s what happens when your best player is… Dennis Schroder? The Bulls will give them a run for their money, though. March 11 brings us the final matchup in a three-part trilogy that could ultimately have major lottery ramifications.

Both teams play road games the preceding Friday and both have Saturday off. A 3:30ET tip after a night out in Atlanta is beyond fitting. For what it’s worth, there’s only been one NBA game since 2005 in which both teams scored fewer than 70 points. Just saying.

Celtics at Jazz -- Wednesday, Mar. 28 (9:30PM ET, ESPN)

Entertainment value: 7
Bad blood: 8
Competitiveness: 7
Star power: 7
Hype factor: 7

Jazz fans basically had a calendar year to prepare for Gordon Hayward’s exit to Boston, but that didn’t ease the pain, especially after Hayward twisted the knife with the Players’ Tribune-iest of Players' Tribune articles explaining his decision.

In Hayward’s defense, it’s been proven time and again that there isn’t a right way to leave one franchise -- particularly in a small market -- for another. But that’ll be the last thing on the minds of fans in Salt Lake City come late-March. The good news for Hayward is there’s a chance the revenge narrative will have worn off by game No. 75, but even then it won’t be a night of warm welcomes.

Timberwolves at Nuggets -- Thursday, Apr. 5 (10:30PM ET, TNT)

Entertainment value: 8
Bad blood: 0
Competitiveness: 9
Star power: 7
Hype factor: 2

Two franchises that have been mostly dormant of late, Minnesota and Denver appear poised to return to the postseason in 2017-18. This game doesn’t carry any salacious storylines or bitter returns, but it’ll be a national TV showcase for two teams with the talent to contend for the 4-7 seeds out West. Karl Anthony Towns vs. Nikola Jokic is only half the draw after both teams swiped All-Stars from the East this offseason in Jimmy Butler and Paul Millsap.