The NBA released the first half of their 2020-21 schedule on Friday. Which games will be must-see for me?

We have games on paper, people! The NBA released the first half of their 2020-21 schedule on Friday afternoon. That is, they only revealed dates for games played from December 22, 2020 through March 4, 2021. This makes sense because, in these Unprecedented Times, the schedule is definitely subject to change. Those changes will likely factor into how the second half of the schedule looks.

So with the dates set, I decided to look through the schedule and pick out the games I’m most eager to watch. Full truth, this was actually a difficult article to write. It’s hard to pick which games I’m EXCITED about when I intend to watch as many games as possible anyway!

Still, I figured I would give this exercise a go. Here are the 35 games I’m most excited to watch during the first half of the 2020-21 NBA season. Are you excited about the same games I am? If not, which ones are you looking forward to the most? Let me know in the comments!

(CT = Central Time)

Dec. 22: Opening Night

Warriors at Nets, 6:00 PM CT (TNT)
Clippers at Lakers, 9:00 PM CT (TNT)

Oh, you know I’m going to be there for the first games of the season! I get that we didn’t have to wait an entire summer for Games That Count to return. In fact, by season’s start, it will only have been two months and 11 days since Game Six of the Finals. Still, the prospect of a fresh campaign full of possibilities is always exciting!

Dec. 23: Pelicans at Raptors, 6:30 PM CT

This is the Toronto Raptors’ “home” opener, even though they’ll be 1,341 miles away from Scotiabank Arena. Due to travel restrictions, the Raptors will not be able to play in Canada to start the season. Instead, they will call Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida home. Rather or not they can return to The North at all this year will depend on how the pandemic develops over the coming months.

I’m a huge fan of games played in neutral or alternate locations, so I will be watching simply for the spectacle of an NBA team playing outside of their home arena. It’s also pretty quirky that they’re opening the season with the exact same opponent they did to kick off the 2019-20 season. They won that game in overtime. So despite the change of venue, I’m sure the Raptors will work to ensure that history repeats itself in Tampa.

Dec. 23: Hawks at Bulls, 7:00 PM CT

I am a Bulls fan. Thank you for your condolences and well-wishes. However, I’m pretty optimistic that this season will be a step in the right direction. There is now basic competence in the front office and on the sidelines! So even if the Karnisovas Era doesn’t end up being a complete success, it won’t be a for a lack of concerted effort. Before we can even project how things will turn out, though, the era has to actually begin. Hopefully the Bulls are victorious against Trae Young and his new, more formidable group of friends.

Dec. 23: Jazz at Trail Blazers, 9:00 PM CT

My two-and-a-half seasons covering the Trail Blazers for Hoops Habit gave me the opportunity to follow a franchise that had some sense while my team was going through its Dark Days. Since moving on from that position, however, I still enjoy keeping up with and pulling for Rip City. It’s a shame that they won’t have Kevin Calabro on the mic moving forward, but after an offseason of substantial acquisitions, there is still plenty of excitement to be had in Portland.

Dec. 25: Christmas Day Hoops!!

Pelicans at Heat, 11:00 AM CT (ESPN)
Warriors at Bucks, 1:30 PM CT (ABC)
Nets at Celtics, 4:00 PM CT (ABC)
Mavericks at Lakers, 7:00 PM CT (ABC & ESPN)
Clippers at Nuggets, 9:30 PM CT (ESPN)

I won’t be able to spend time with my family this year due to COVID, so I might as well take in all the basketball I can. If you followed this blog or my Twitter during the seeding rounds in the Bubble, you know I can sustain long stretches of hoops. A quintupleheader full of top-tier matchups will be slight work for me.

Jan. 8: Hornets at Pelicans, 6:30 PM CT (ESPN)

It’s the first matchup between the Ball Brothers: New Orleans’ Lonzo vs. Charlotte’s LaMelo. This will definitely be must-see TV! First off, they’re both electric passers, so there should be plenty of highlights to go around that evening. The sibling rivalry should bring out the best in both of them. Also, both franchises have rosters that will be jockeying for playoff positioning, so it should be a competitive matchup beyond the brothers. Let’s hope all parties deliver on this Friday night in the Big Easy.

Jan. 15: Warriors at Suns, 8:00 PM CT

Kelly Oubre returns to Phoenix! He was only there for 96 games over a year-and-a-half, but it really felt like he was a key part of the Suns culture. The backcourt duel of Stephen Curry & Andrew Wiggins vs. Chris Paul & Devin Booker is also going to be a lot of fun. Like the Ball Bowl above, this matchup is between two franchises that are working their way back to contender status. So I’m hoping for a lot of energy and hustle in this game.

Jan. 17: Jazz at Nuggets, 7:00 PM CT

These two teams last met in an epic seven-game first round series that featured a high-scoring duel between each team’s star guard, Utah’s Donovan Mitchell and Denver’s Jamal Murray. The Jazz went up 3-1, but the Nuggets fought back and won the series. You know these division rivals won’t be letting up when they meet again. Hopefully we’ll get a repeat of Mitchell’s and Murray’s stellar performances.

Jan. 18: MLK Day, With Bonus National Games!

Magic at Knicks, 11:00 AM CT (NBATV)
Timberwolves at Hawks, 1:30 PM CT (NBATV)
Suns at Grizzlies, 4:00 PM CT (TNT)
Bucks at Nets, 6:30 PM CT (TNT)
Warriors at Lakers, 9:00 PM CT (TNT)

Oh my! Normally, MLK Day features just a tripleheader on TNT. I was fully prepared to sit down on the couch late Monday afternoon to tune in to some hoops. Perhaps the special, time-crunchy nature of this season necessitated having more games on this day. Maybe the league is just trying something new with expanding the MLK Day coverage. Either way, I’m all in favor of another full slate of basketball.

Feb. 13: Nets at Warriors, 7:30 PM CT (ABC)

Kevin Durant returns to The Bay! By this point, and after already facing Golden State on Opening Night, he will hopefully be acclimated with his team. If so, we could get an electric performance out of him. However, I also have a feeling that they could pull up to the Central Basin in a burning ship. By this point, chemistry issues between KD or Nash or Kyrie Irving or whatever other Net wants beef could be tearing this team apart. I hope that won’t be the case. I’m strongly rooting for this game to be much more entertaining on the court than off of it.

Feb. 15: Rockets at Wizards, 6:00 PM CT (NBATV)

This game is a new add to my list! On Wednesday night, the Rockets and Wizards swapped their star point guards almost straight-up for each other. When something like that happens, you have to seek out when these two franchises are set to meet again.

Now, the answer to that question is January 26th in Houston. I’m sure that will be a good game, but I’m way more interested in the return fixture. February 15th is the scheduled date for John Wall‘s homecoming to the city where he spent the first decade of his career. It will be an emotional event, for sure.

On top of that, we got a pretty wild game the last time these squads linked up. Their Oct. 30, 2019 matchup in Washington was a shootout to end all shootouts. The Rockets secured a 159-158 victory in regulation. James Harden had a game-high 59 points while Bradley Beal paced the Wizards with 46. My fingers are crossed that this game will turn out even a third as insane as that!

Lakers vs. Everybody

Dec. 28 vs. Trail Blazers, 9:00 PM CT (NBATV)
Jan. 8 vs. Bulls, 9:00 PM CT
Jan. 15 vs. Pelicans, 9:00 PM CT (ESPN)
Jan. 21 at Bucks, 6:30 PM CT (TNT)
Jan. 23 at Bulls, 7:00 PM CT
Jan. 30 at Celtics, 7:30 PM CT (ABC)
Feb. 1 at Hawks, 6:30 PM CT
Feb. 4 vs. Nuggets, 9:00 PM CT (TNT)
Feb. 14 at Nuggets, 6:30 PM CT (NBATV)
Feb. 18 vs. Nets, 9:00 PM CT (TNT)
Feb. 20 vs. Heat, 7:30 PM CT (ABC)
Feb. 26 vs. Trail Blazers, 9:00 PM CT (ESPN)
Feb. 28 vs. Warriors, 7:00 PM CT (ESPN)
Mar. 2 vs. Suns, 9:00 PM CT (TNT)

As I started listing games I was excited about, I realized a bunch of them featured the Los Angeles Lakers. So I’m just going to put all those games that weren’t already covered here.

Hey, when you’re on the mountaintop, it’s going to be intriguing to see how other teams attempt to knock you off of it. How will the Finals rematch against the Miami Heat look? Will another captivating chapter be added to Lakers vs. Celtics, the league’s most storied rivalry? How will the likes of Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Zion Williamson, etc. hold up against the favorite team to win the 2021 title?

Every team is going to give the Lakers their best shot. This makes almost every game they play this season a marquee game.

Mar. 4: Kings at Trail Blazers, 9:00 PM CT

De’Aaron Fox vs. Damian Lillard should be a great point guard duel. However, I’m not excited about this game because of who’s playing. I’m excited because it’s the last scheduled game of the first half of the season.

If we get to this game, as scheduled, it means the NBA was able to navigate the treacherous waters of COVID-Era America and maintain a coherent operation in the face of a dangerous, nebulous virus. That would be a major triumph for the league, and would hopefully be indicative of a triumph for the country at-large.

Perhaps this nation will have finally found a way to reign in the spread of the virus, thus allowing the NBA to keep their tenuous schedule rolling. Maybe the All-Star Break will truly be a break where teams and fans can rest easy as opposed to it being six days of questioning if the second half will be able to continue as planned. One can only hope.

But there is a lot of ball to be played between now and then. If we get to this game as intended, it means that, thankfully, something went right. Now that we have a schedule in place, I’m just anxious for them to finally get this season going.