Friday’s NBA schedule release is a great time for marking the calendar, taking note of the top matchups to watch in the coming season. With the NBA going back to an 82-game slate for the first time since 2018-19, there are loads of exciting matchups from October through April.
While some games are must-watch, there are others among the 1,230 in the coming season that fans can probably skip on League Pass.
It's tough to pin down the least-exciting teams -- and least-exciting games -- in the NBA. Even the worst teams have something worth watching since they are the ones that land the top young prospects in the draft. However, it is that draw of tanking for a coveted lottery position that entices teams to actually aim for the bottom of the standings.
The worst games in the regular season don't always involve the worst teams, either. Otherwise intriguing matchups will inevitably lose their shine due to injury, load management or a lopsided score. Matchups between great teams and bad teams offer a great chance at a lopsided score, but they also make for a greater possibility of a star erupting against a weak opponent.
Here, we will be looking at five matchups involving the 10 teams with the lowest projected win totals in 2021-22, courtesy of our partner, PointsBet.
Orlando Magic vs. Cleveland Cavaliers, Nov. 27, 5 p.m. PT
This matchup features two top-five draft picks in Orlando’s Jalen Suggs (No. 5) and Cleveland’s Evan Mobley (No. 3).
Beyond that? Yeesh.
The Magic finished second-to-last in the Eastern Conference last season and the Cavs finished just one spot higher in the standings. The 2021-22 season isn’t looking much better for either side as both teams are projected to win under 30 games.
Neither team made notable acquisitions this offseason beyond the draft. Cleveland brought in Ricky Rubio to join an already perplexing backcourt situation and inked Jarrett Allen, who the team traded for last season, to a staggering five-year, $100 million deal. Orlando, on the other hand, are banking on the eventual returns of Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac to serve as boosts after completing a fire sale of its veteran players at the 2021 trade deadline.
As for the possibility of a close game, Orlando swept the season series last season with an average margin of victory of 12 points per game.
Washington Wizards vs. Detroit Pistons, Dec. 8, 4 p.m. PT
The Wizards overcame a grueling start to the 2020-21 season to make the playoffs, earning the No. 8 season before being dispatched by the top-seeded Sixers in the first round. Their offseason then underwent a seismic shift when they traded Russell Westbrook to his hometown Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the 22nd pick in the 2021 draft. The deal places a deeper supporting cast around Bradley Beal, but Westbrook was the driving force behind Washington’s second-half playoff push.
The Pistons, on the other hand, have a new savior in Cade Cunningham. The top overall pick in the 2021 draft showed off his potential in the Las Vegas Summer League and will be the face of the team moving forward. The overall roster is devoid of impact, veteran players, though. Olympic gold medalist Jerami Grant and big man Kelly Olynyk are the only players besides Cunningham making more than $10 million this coming season. After finishing dead last in the Eastern Conference last season, it could take a while before the Pistons push for a playoff spot.
Washington won the season series 2-1 in 2020-21 and no game was decided by fewer than 14 points.
Charlotte Hornets vs. San Antonio Spurs, Dec. 15, 5:30 p.m. PT
This is no shot at LaMelo Ball or Eric Collins, the Hornets’ electric play-by-play broadcaster.
Charlotte, coming off a blowout Play-In Tournament loss to the Pacers, just is not expected to take a leap in 2021-22. The team gets Year 2 of Ball, the return of Gordon Hayward, the addition of Kelly Oubre Jr., the selection of James Bouknight and … a 36.5 over/under win total for the coming season. The two teams below them in the standings last season, the Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors, are also in line to bounce back in 2021-22, making the 10th-seeded Hornets the first potential team left out from last season’s Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Then there are the Spurs, the West’s No. 10 seed from last season. Their year also ended with a Play-In Tournament loss, and their roster is in flux after a busy offseason. DeMar DeRozan was sent to Chicago in a sign-and-trade that did not yield a potential star player in return. The team brought in Zach Collins and Doug McDermott while drafting Joshua Primo out of Alabama with the No. 12 pick. Even with Gregg Popovich at the helm, the Spurs are in danger of winning fewer than 30 games for the first time since 1996-97.
Charlotte and San Antonio split the season series in 2020-21, with each team winning at the opponent’s arena.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Minnesota Timberwolves, Jan. 5, 5 p.m. PT
The Western Conference is stacked with playoff contenders, but these two squads are not among them.
The Thunder were tanking from the jump last year. As the season went on, the team even put Al Horford and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on ice to plummet further in the standings. All that work netted the team a 22-50 record and the No. 6 overall pick, which was used on Josh Giddey. After dealing Horford and buying out Kemba Walker, SGA is left to lead a roster without a single player older than 30.
Minnesota’s 2020-21 season was all about Anthony Edwards. The 2020 No. 1 overall pick provided some eye-popping highlights as he battled through some rookie ups and downs. With the focus more on development than contention, Karl-Anthony Towns and Co. failed to make the playoffs for the third straight season. The team is bringing in some defensive intensity with Patrick Beverley, but Minnesota will need more improvements across the board to push for a play-in spot.
There is precedent for exciting regular season action between these two teams, most notably when Andrew Wiggins nailed a near-halfcourt buzzer-beater to lift Minnesota over Oklahoma City in 2017. The Thunder won the season series 2-1 in 2020-21 with all three games decided by single digits.
Houston Rockets vs. Sacramento Kings, Jan. 14, 7 p.m. PT
Houston and Sacramento know OKC and Minnesota’s pain. Together, the four teams finished with the four worst records in the Western Conference last season.
The Kings are desperately hoping for a bounce-back season. If they miss the playoffs in 2021-22, the franchise will reach a record-setting 16-year playoff drought. The team has a high-flying point guard in De’Aaron Fox, a strong second-year point guard in Tyrese Haliburton and an exciting rookie guard in Davion Mitchell. Along with Buddy Heild and Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento is banking purely on potential with no recent success to lean on.
The Rockets’ 2020-21 season was doomed from the start as James Harden forced his way out of town. With a massive haul of draft picks and little to play for, Houston tanked and emerged with the No. 2 pick in the draft. Houston selected Jalen Green in that spot, and he played like an elite scorer in the Summer League. As for the rest of the roster, John Wall, Christian Wood, Kevin Porter Jr. and Co. have a long way to go to get back into the playoff mix in a loaded Western Conference.
Houston won two matchups against Sacramento at the start of last season before Sacramento fended off a season series sweep with a win on March 11.
Editor's note: All odds are provided by our partner, PointsBet. PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.