During the doldrums of the NBA offseason (Aug-Sept), I'm pretty hoops starved. I'm so pumped for the 2017-18 NBA season that I would probably sit down and watch an entire Nets/Magic game if it was on right now. Really...I would....even if it wasn't in HD...I'm talking 480p...on one of those seedy quasi is-it-legal stream sites...with popup ads...lots of them...that's how hoops starved I am.
Just like every season, the opening night games and the Christmas day games are typically the most entertaining, and this season is no exception. It's also great to see that every game on this list is actually nationally televised. That's right ladies and gentleman, you won't need a ridiculously priced LP subscription for these!
Here's my annual list of the top 10 must see games of the 2017-18 NBA Season:
10. Minnesota Timberwolves at Chicago Bulls, Feb 9th, 2018 (ESPN) - If you think I'm throwing the Bulls a crumb here, I'm not. On draft night, Jimmy Butler was unleashed from a bad situation in Chicago, and from the clutches of the bizzaro, duel managed, moniker known to Bulls fans as, "GarPax". Chicago basically gave away a top 15 NBA player in his prime for a guy with a torn ACL (Zach Lavine), a 2nd year guard who had a ROUGH rookie season (Kris Dunn) and a draft pick they wasted on an iffy project power forward (Lauri Markkanen), all while Malik Monk was still on the board. The baffling moves Chicago made that evening kept me up for nights. I'm still angry about it! But since this trade reunited Jimmy Butler, Tom Thibodeau, and later Taj Gibson, I can't stay mad. The Wolves are going to be fun. Really, really fun. Karl Anthony Towns might be the best 2 year center since Shaq....but he can shoot. Andrew Wiggins is growing into one of the most athletic SF's in the league. Jeff Teague is finally back in a great situation. Taj Gibson is going to provide some dirty grit down low and of course Jimmy Butler is going to do it all. The Bulls will be nothing more than a bottom feeding tank job this season and I can't wait to see Thibs and Jimmy together again, handing it to their old team.
9. Cleveland Cavaliers at Los Angeles Lakers, March 11th, 2018 (ESPN) - Remember back at the beginning of the 1997-98 season when Phil Jackson gave all the players on the Bulls a yearly program and on the front it said "The Last Dance?" Well, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are basically in the same boat this season. Is this the end? All of the signs over the past 2 months point to yes. If this really is the last year of the King in Cleveland, the Cavs better put some good pieces in place for the playoffs and for the future. Will Kyrie Irving be traded? I don't know. At this point I feel like he's going to awkwardly have to buckle down and play with LeBron, at least for the first part of the season. However, the Cavs are weary to be in the same place they were in back in 2010—a team that was built around LeBron, but quickly became an island that Antawn Jamison found himself stranded alone on. Incidentally, the team most aligned with LeBron James free agency next summer is the Los Angeles Lakers. Missing the ESPY's for a summer league game to scout out Lonzo Ball? No coincidence. It's not. The Lakers may have traded away a future superstar in D'Angelo Russell but they got in return one of the league's best 3 point shooting centers last season in Brook Lopez. Also, adding Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson to the mix ain't bad. If LeBron wanted to bolt to Hollywood for his closing act, he now has good reasons. All eyes will be on this match-up solely because of next summer, and it's totally okay to gawk.
8. Los Angeles Lakers at Sacramento Kings, Nov 22nd, 2017 (ESPN) - Man, this is a rivalry I'm excited to get started again. Those conference finals back in the early 2000's can never be repeated but hell, this could potentially be just as good a few years from now. After trading way DeMarcus Cousins immediately following the 2017 NBA All Star Game, the Kings were right back in rebuild mode. However, by obtaining Buddy Hield that evening and drafting UK stud, De'Aaron Fox on draft night, the future doesn't look so grim anymore. The rivalry between Fox and Ball appears to be something that we'll want to tune in to. The future is super bright for both of these California franchises and on November 22nd, a new era begins.
7. Oklahoma City Thunder at Cleveland Cavaliers, Jan 20th, 2018 (ABC) - There's nothing better than a Saturday matinee right in the thick of the NBA season and this one is going to be great. The Paul George trade to OKC sent shock waves through the league and deflated the Eastern Conference in a very profound way. Will the gamble pay off for the Thunder? Only time will tell, but seeing last year's overachieving MVP, Russell Westbrook, with an even bigger chip on his shoulder with another talent like George should be entertaining as hell...especially against a team like the Cavs...especially since Paul George and LeBron James could be teammates in Los Angeles next summer.
6. Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors, Oct 17th, 2017 (TNT) - The second game of TNT's opening night double-header is one that the fans on the east coast will definitely stay up for. It's also ring night for the Warriors. That always seems to piss off the visiting team a little. They have what you want...it's only natural. Golden State is a monster and Darryl Morey is trying harder than any other GM to create the same thing in Houston. We all kind of knew that Chris Paul was done in L.A. He was never able to get over the hump and James Harden was a runner up MVP last season who turned the ball over a little too much. Seems like a match made in heaven right? I sure hope so. I want another three competitive years out of CP3, however, I have this pit in the back of my stomach that's reminding me of the time Steve Nash teamed up with Kobe and Dwight Howard. Having a clear talent like Clint Capela on a rookie deal helps with the salary cap, however, if Houston swings a trade for Carmelo Anthony, I'm not sure what pieces can be added to make this team better than the Warriors. Mike D'Antoni's offense vs. Steve Kerr's is fun regardless. Opening night is going to be pretty awesome.
5. Boston Celtics at Utah Jazz, Mar 28th, 2018 (ESPN) - If you're a Utah Jazz fan, your boy Gordon Hayward did you dirty on the Fourth of July. You kinda knew he was going to do you dirty, but part of you hoped he might be that player that stays with one franchise his whole career. He seems like that guy, right? Why would he leave Utah when the Jazz are clearly becoming a hip team to root for again? Has Utah ever been a hip to root for? Well he left and now your best player is Rudy Gobert. A player who's destined to win multiple DPOY trophies in solitary. At least you have that, Utah! Jazz fans 10 years from now might be saying "what if" but Gordon Hayward probably made the best career choice he could on July Fourth. Hayward has reunited with his college coach/super best friend, Brad Stevens. Their rise from a small college in Indiana to the big leagues is a story for the ages. Also, the Boston Celtics already made a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals last season without Hayward. Since the East has been almost completely depleted of superstars, the Celtics are basically a shoo-in for a rematch with the Cleveland Cavaliers in late May. If LeBron moves west next summer, the Celtics can cruise to at least one NBA Finals in 2019. There was no way the Jazz—no matter how hip and cool they may have been—were going to overtake the Spurs, the Rockets or the Warriors as is. Hayward knew this.....it was sad but true. Quinn Snyder is a great coach, Rudy Gobert is a great defensive anchor. If they bottom out, there's a pretty fantastic draft coming up next season. The future is still bright, Utah! However, on March 28th, 2018, the fans are going to let Gordon Hayward hear it, and Hayward is going to do what he does best...dominate quietly.
4. Philadelphia 76ers at Los Angles Lakers, Nov 15th, 2017 (ESPN) - Way back 16 years ago, the 76ers and the Lakers met up in the NBA Finals. It wasn't exactly a beat down or anything but it was definitely a David vs. Goliath sort of match up. Peak Shaq, pre-peak Kobe vs. the generously listed, 6 foot guard, Allen Iverson. These weren't super teams, but they had super players and the Lakers had one more than Philly had. It was the only time they'd meet during the Phil Jackson/Lakers dynasty but it was a very memorable series in a post Michael Jordan era. This was the last time the 76ers would be relevant for a long time. Flash forward to 2012. The 76ers GM Sam Hinkie (hail Hinkie) made a blunder of a trade by acquiring the never-to-really-play-again Andrew Bynum. The trade backfired severely and after losing in the Conference Semis to the Boston Celtics, Hinkie devised a strategy that no one had ever really thought of. Star players weren't coming to Philly in free agency. so playing the draft was the only strategy. Sure, teams had tanked before, but tanking deliberately for 4 straight seasons? Putting your fans through a half decade of meh? That crazy Sam Hinkie was onto something. Hinkie traded away (at the time) valuable assets such as Jrue Holiday and Michael Carter Williams, acquired draft picks for future seasons, drafted injured (with high upside) players such as Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid, swapped Elfrid Payton for Euro stud Dario Saric and was on the cusp of winning the NBA draft last summer before being unceremoniously canned. In the summer of 2016, the 76ers drafted the one and done, Ben Simmons, who then broke his foot during training for the upcoming season and didn't see one minute of playing time. Joel Embiid finally saw his first NBA action after sitting out his first two seasons. He only played in 33 games but was incredible in those 33 games and really gave the city of Philadelphia hope. Dario Saric also had a great season after Embiid's injury. Needless to say, the 76ers bottomed out again and traded their draft pick to the Celtics for the #1 overall pick. The 76ers drafted Markell Fultz. Now Philadelphia is chock full of young talent and even added J.J. Redick to the mix via free agency. The Lakers drafted the polarizing, Lonzo Ball. Joel Embiid has already fired warning shots all over Twitter....this could be a show for the next decade and I can't wait to watch.
3. Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers, Jan 15th, 2018 (TNT) - The Warriors are 4-2 in regular season contests during their intense three year rivalry with the Cavaliers. These games don't really mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. It's not like they're in the same division vying for playoff seeding. However, by the time this game happens in mid-January, the Christmas game will be over and we'll be approaching All-Star break. Both teams are really going to want this one and, by God, we're all going to watch it.
2. Boston Celtics at Cleveland Cavaliers, Oct 17th, 2017 (TNT) - The very first game of the 2017-18 NBA Season and Gordon Hayward's debut as a Boston Celtic....you'll watch it and you'll love it. These guys are going to go at it 3 times this season and there WILL be playoff implications. Boston has leveled the playing field since they last met and I hope they bring it opening night. It's also worth mentioning that this will be the only true Eastern Conference rivalry the entire season, so savor it, because it's all you've got.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors, Dec 25th, 2017 (ABC) - For the 3rd straight year, we're getting the only match up that really matters on Christmas, and at 3:30 p.m.! Presents will already be opened, and dinner won't be quite ready yet, so this is a brilliant time slot this year. It'll also likely be the last Christmas day game the Cavs get to experience for a long time if LeBron does decide to depart. Cleveland is also going to be revenge thirsty in an arena that REALLY doesn't care for them. This is the kind of game I absolutely love; teams that hate each other in the modern era! I long for the days of petty behavior, and boy this match up just really gets me excited! Will LeBron dunk on Draymond? Will Draymond kick LeBron? Will everyone be healthy? Will Kyrie actually be playing for the Cavs? Who knows, but get excited because this could be the last time these teams clash on Xmas for a long time.
Sean Mackey is a co-host of the 48 MINUTES podcast and can be found complaining about NBA League Pass @Sean_Mackey.