As of this writing, there are 68 days until the 2017-18 NBA season begins, and every 24 hours that passes is an exercise in holding onto every single bit of pertinent information to carry us over the finish line. Today’s real struggle was helped by the NBA, which released the matchups for both the opening games and the Christmas Day games, typically the best of the season. Here’s our instant breakdown of the good, the great, and the best.
Opening Night (October 17)
Celtics vs. Cavs: TFW You Find Water in the Desert
Uggetti: Bring your fanciest napkin, your finest silverware, and your most treasured china. Sit at the table and take in this hearty appetizer to open the season. With or without Kyrie, the Cavs will be surrounded by intrigue as they begin their death march toward LeBron’s seemingly inevitable departure. This team is trying to win a title, but it’s also trying to not be forgotten in the East, where a 1-seed is as important as ever since the Celtics, with an upgraded roster, will be gunning for home-court advantage in an Eastern Conference rematch. We’ll get a first look at the Gordon Hayward–Brad Stevens duo in action, while Isaiah Thomas will begin his contract-year quest and will likely wear Brink’s truck shoes or something. Can this please begin tomorrow?
Rockets vs. Warriors: A Western Conference Finals Preview?
O’Shaughnessy: We’re anxious to see whether a James Harden–Chris Paul backcourt can be effective against the Warriors — and now the NBA is serving up a glimpse on opening night. Whereas the point guard duo might not be fully meshed by then — with only the Drew League, the Olympics, and preseason as in-game experience together — the Warriors will be the same NBA champions they exited the season as. But if the Rockets can hang, opening night will feel like tossing out the appetizer and heading straight to the main course.
BONUS: The Perfect Leftovers (October 18)
Uggetti: On ESPN’s opening night, one day after TNT’s, Jimmy Butler’s debut as a member of the Timberwolves will come against Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs, while the Wizards will get their first crack at the revamped (and hopefully healthy) Sixers. New faces in new places, and old faces in other places besides the injury list. Or something like that.
A Song of Cold Rivalries and Hot Takes (October 19)
Lakers vs. Clippers
Uggetti: This is a good pairing if only because these two teams are perfectly adept at straddling the line between irrelevant and fascinating. As the East Coasters try to stay up late, we’ll begin to get answers to some pressing offseason questions: How will the Clippers look without CP3? Is Lonzo for real? Can Blake lead? Is Brandon Ingram making the leap? It’s a matchup explicitly built for irrational opinions based on small sample sizes, which is exactly what we will do come opening nights. What a perfect start to the season.
Sixers vs. Knicks: Could Be Great, Could Be Coal
O’Shaughnessy: Pitting two historic franchises against each other on a holiday is my Platonic ideal of the Christmas spirit, but Knicks vs. Sixers might be a dud. Everything is still TBD about New York, perhaps soon without seven-season leader Carmelo Anthony and with an offense no longer confined by three-sided geometry. Even scheduling a Kristaps Porzingis–Joel Embiid matchup isn’t a sure thing, given their health issues. The same can be said about Ben Simmons, though in a more positive timeline, both he and backcourt partner Markelle Fultz could be in the running for Rookie of the Year by then. Many ifs need to go the right way for this game to be a worthwhile excuse to sneak away from your great aunt.
Cavs vs. Warriors: The Preview That Will Mean Nothing (or Everything)
Uggetti: Look, if I had to bet the hard-earned money that I haven’t yet spent on coffee, I’d say we’re probably getting a fourth straight installment of Warriors-Cavs in the Finals. This Christmas Day matchup, however, will be the third straight time they’ve faced off on the holiday. The past two times, the winner has gone on to lose in the Finals. Take that for what you will, and by that I mean, if you’re a fan of the losing team, make sure you opine that this game does matter. If you’re a fan of the winning team, hold your applause, or say that it doesn’t matter. Perspective is a beautiful thing.
Wizards vs. Celtics: The Ghost of Playoffs Past
O’Shaughnessy: In what would be a highly inappropriate Funeral Game (second to only, um, Easter), the friction between these two could make for the most well-matched contest of the spread. John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter Jr. couldn’t squeeze past the Celtics last playoffs, and Boston’s addition of Hayward won’t make that feat easier for an unchanged Wiz squad. Still, a budding rivalry will be the perfect palate cleanser between what could be a sad Cavaliers-Warriors matchup and a Russell Westbrook–James Harden showdown.
Rockets vs. Thunder: The Real Marquee
Uggetti: Talk about a loaded game. Cavs-Warriors will be the headliner, but I’d venture to argue this will be the far better matchup. CP3 and James Harden vs. Russ and Paul George. Precision vs. Potential. One team will likely function throughout the season as humming machinery; the other will be like a 10-second car in Fast & Furious. If you long for defensive stops, low-scoring affairs, and good old fundamentals, skip this and flip on over to ABC Family, where I’m sure you can find a perfectly decent Christmas movie to appease you. First to 120 wins?
Wolves vs. Lakers: Don’t Sleep on It
O’Shaughnessy: This is a nightcap worth watching, whereas in years past, staying up for these two franchises might have felt more like NyQuil. Even with Minnesota's additions of veterans Butler, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, and Jamal Crawford, Wolves vs. Lakers still feels like two squads of young guns: Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins vs. Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, the gift that keeps on passing.