On Monday, the NBA announced its full schedule for the 2017-18 regular season (you can browse the entire schedule here). The Warriors lead the way with 43 nationally televised games across NBA TV, TNT, ABC and ESPN, followed by the Rockets (40), Cavaliers (39), Thunder (37) and Lakers (35). There's also an emphasis across 22 "marquee" national TV games where the league has ensured teams playing aren't at the tail-end of a back-to-back. There will also be no four games in five nights for any teams this year.
We've circled 10 key games to watch this season. Keep in mind, as we wait for potential trades involving Kyrie Irving and Carmelo Anthony to happen before the season starts, Irving's return to Cleveland and Anthony's first game as a visitor at Madison Square Garden will top this list once we find out where they land, if they land anywhere.
Oct. 17: Boston Celtics at Cleveland Cavaliers
A rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals will take place on opening night. The Cavaliers -- with or without Irving -- still hold the upper hand over the rest of the Eastern Conference, but the enter the 2017-18 season with more uncertainty than ever, after some front office upheaval with the departure of general manager David Griffin, an uninspiring offseason where no significant moves were made to close the gap with the Warriors, and of course, the elephant in the room: LeBron James' impending free agency next summer.
Meanwhile, the Celtics landed Gordon Hayward in free agency; return a starting lineup led by Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford and Jae Crowder; and have Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum leading an intriguing crop of young players who might be ready to help Boston challenge Cleveland for the right to represent the East in the Finals. Last year's conference finals was not particularly close, so the Celtics will be looking to measure themselves against the Cavaliers early in the season. No better time to do that than the first game of the regular season.
Oct. 17: Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors
The second game of the opening night slate is even more intriguing, with the defending champion Warriors set to receive their rings and raise their banner on what many believe to be the start of a half-decade dynasty in the NBA. Golden State's dominance last season did little to deter other West teams from loading up themselves, and no more took more of a risk than the Rockets, who acquired Chris Paul in a trade to pair him up with MVP runner-up James Harden. It's the most interesting backcourt experience heading into next season.
Harden and Paul have both had trouble getting past the Warriors individually, with Paul's inability to get out of the second round in his career still a sore subject on an otherwise Hall of Fame resume. How Mike D'Antoni will make this all work offensively remains to be seen, but the Rockets will get a chance to see just how well they stack up against the world champions on opening night.
Nov. 15: Philadelphia 76ers at Los Angeles Lakers
The 76ers-Lakers rivalry is not making national headlines yet, but it might only be a matter of time before it becomes appointment viewing every time. This November matchup at Staples Center gives us an early look at what could shape up to be the Rookie of the Year race between the top two picks of the 2017 draft: Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball. Oh, and there's been back and forth between Joel Embiid and LaVar Ball this offseason that will surely be a talking point heading into this game.
Off-court theatrics aside, the Sixers have aspirations of being a playoff team this season, while the Lakers are hoping their young core can make a leap before front office tries to upgrade the roster by luring superstars via free agency next summer. Not contenders yet, and not quite a rivalry, but it's only a matter of time before the 76ers and Lakers are interesting again.
Nov. 22: Golden State Warriors at Oklahoma City Thunder
There was plenty of hype surrounding Kevin Durant vs. Russell Westbrook last season, and understandably so, but in the end, Durant and the Warriors won all four regular season matchups against the Thunder pretty handily. The hype will be just the same this year, but the narrative will be different, after Oklahoma City surprised everyone by acquiring Paul George from the Pacers.
Westbrook (unless he signs an extension before the start of the season) and George are headed for unrestricted free agency next summer, which adds an extra level of urgency to the Thunder this season. This November matchup will be an early measuring stick of whether Westbrook's new running mate will have made a dent in helping the Thunder move up in the Western Conference standings.
Dec. 13: Oklahoma City Thunder at Indiana Pacers
The Pacers are headed for a full rebuild around 21-year-old center Myles Turner, but on Dec. 13, all of the attention will be on George, who will return to Indiana as a visitor for the first time after seven seasons as a Pacer.
George was outspoken throughout last season at his frustration with the front office and his teammates, and even though he provided Pacers fans with plenty of positive memories, demanding a trade and publicly admitting he wanted to join the Lakers might have rubbed the Indiana fan base the wrong way. We'll see how his former teammates in Indiana greet him in December, and how Pacers fans react.
Dec. 25: Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors
The highlight of this year's Christmas schedule is a Finals rematch between the Cavaliers and Warriors in Oakland. A year ago on Christmas, the Cavs pulled off a fourth quarter comeback at home, Kevin Durant slipped and fell on the final possession and was unable to get a shot off, and we all wondered whether Cleveland had Golden State's number, especially after coming back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Warriors in the Finals. After a dominant 2017 Finals performance, there will be no such conversation heading into this year's Christmas prize fight. Maybe a more relevant question is this: How many losses will the Warriors have heading into this game? Is setting the losses over/under at five a bit high? (Also, the rematch in Cleveland will take place on Jan. 15.)
Jan. 15: Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul's return to Staples Center to face his former team in January is a game everyone should circle on their calendar. Will Doc Rivers and his former point guard -- whose relationship fell apart during their time together in Los Angeles -- share a hug before the game? Will Steve Ballmer be heckling his former franchise player from his courtside seat? How will Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan welcome back their former teammate? Also, by January, we'll have a good sense of how the Clippers are doing without Paul, and whether the Rockets have emerged as a legitimate contender to the Warriors in the West. Add it all up and it will be must watch television.
Feb. 9: Minnesota Timberwolves at Chicago Bulls
Tom Thibodeau's return to Chicago is always an event, and this February, he'll be bringing two former Bulls with him in Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson. There will be plenty of time to reminisce about the good ol' days, as the 'Wolves are trending in the right direction, while the Bulls are in full rebuild mode after trading Butler to Minnesota on draft night. Bulls fans will get an up-close reminder of what could have been.
March 11: Cleveland Cavaliers at Los Angeles Lakers
This would normally be just another regular season game in March, but not in a year when LeBron James is headed toward free agency with rampant reports that he is considering joining the Lakers. Expect to see plenty of customized LeBron Lakers jersey in the stands, and also, March will be a good time to assess where the Cavs are at. Remember, whether they're winning or losing, the Cavs are always at the center of some drama and controversy. That's just how it is when you have LeBron on your team. This game in March should be a spectacle regardless of how well either team is doing.
March 28: Boston Celtics at Utah Jazz
Gordon Hayward had everyone in Utah on the edge of their seats during free agency this summer, taking meetings with Miami, Boston and Utah before deciding to join the Celtics, which left teammates, including Rudy Gobert, feeling spurned on social media. The Utah fans will likely greet Hayward with a rude welcome. We'll see how Hayward responds to being the villain for one night.