The 2021-22 NBA season is one step closer with Trail Blazers Media tipping off on Monday, Sept. 27.
After two pandemic-shortened seasons, the NBA is returning to a more normal calendar in 2021-22, with each team playing 82 games. That means we have 1,230 total regular-season games ahead of us.
There are a ton of great matchups on the 2021-22 slate, but here are 15 you won’t want to miss.
Brooklyn Nets vs. Milwaukee Bucks, Oct. 19
The reigning champs will kick off the 2021-22 season against the Brooklyn Nets on Oct. 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference second-round series.
With Kyrie Irving sidelined and a hobbled James Harden, Kevin Durant nearly carried the Nets past the eventual champions in the conference finals. But Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks outlasted Durant and Co. in a wild seven-game series.
The Nets were likely wondering what could have been while watching Milwaukee take down the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals. They’ll have their first chance to show they’re the team to beat in the East when they face the Bucks on opening night. But defending NBA champs have historically dominated in the first game of their subsequent season, holding a 58-16 all-time record.
Golden State Warriors vs. Los Angeles Lakers, Oct. 19
The Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers met in the Play-In Tournament last season, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them square off in the West finals this season. Steph Curry and the Dubs are getting Klay Thompson back at some point after a two-season absence. Golden State also added veteran pieces like Andre Iguodala and Otto Porter Jr., as well as a pair of promising rookies.
Meanwhile, the Lakers made a big splash by trading for Russell Westbrook and replenished their depth with several free agent additions, highlighted by Malik Monk, Trevor Ariza, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard. The first of four regular-season matchups between the Western Conference heavyweights follows the Nets-Bucks showdown on opening night at 10 p.m. ET in L.A.
Chicago Bulls vs. Detroit Pistons, Oct. 20
Top overall pick Cade Cunningham will make his NBA debut against the Chicago Bulls on Oct. 20. Cunningham entered the draft as the consensus No. 1 pick, and he looked the part in the 2021 NBA Las Vegas Summer League. The Oklahoma State product averaged 18.7 points on 50% shooting from 3 while flashing tantalizing two-way potential. His first game against the Bulls could be the start of an illustrious career.
Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks, Oct. 20
Former head coach and current GM Brad Stevens put an end to the Kemba Walker era in Boston after two injury-riddled seasons, shipping the 31-year-old point guard, along with his massive contract, to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Walker, who didn’t exactly fit the rebuilding Thunder’s timeline, reached a buyout agreement with OKC, freeing him up to sign with his hometown New York Knicks. Walker will get four cracks at revenge against the Celtics this season, with the first coming at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 20.
Atlanta Hawks vs. Philadelphia 76ers, Oct. 30
The Atlanta Hawks stunned the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round of the 2021 playoffs. Trae Young established himself as a legit superstar as Atlanta upset the East’s top seed in seven games. The Sixers will have their first shot at revenge when they face the Hawks on Oct. 30. Ben Simmons had a nightmarish series against Atlanta, with him passing up a wide-open dunk late in Game 7 being the lasting image from Philly’s playoff collapse. Though it seems more likely than that he’ll be on another team by the time this game rolls around.
Portland Trail Blazers vs. Philadelphia 76ers, Nov. 1
There’s a good chance when the Sixers face the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 1 that it’s just an ordinary regular-season game between two good teams. But it also could be the first time Damian Lillard faces his former team. Lillard’s future is still unsettled in the late stages of the offseason, and the Sixers are rumored to be ready to pounce if and when the six-time All-Star demands a trade. With Simmons reportedly on the trade market, maybe this will also be his revenge game as a member of the Blazers.
Detroit Pistons vs. Houston Rockets, Nov. 10
The top two picks in the 2021 draft will go head-to-head in an NBA game for the first time on Nov. 10 in Houston. Cunningham and Jalen Green already provided a preview for this matchup in Summer League, where both rookies impressed. Green, who feels he should have been the No. 1 pick over Cunningham, was clearly amped up for that head-to-head exhibition game in Las Vegas. You can expect him to bring the same kind of intensity for what should be the first of many battles between the two.
Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets, Nov. 14
Lillard’s future in Portland has been in question ever since his cryptic Instagram post following a first-round playoff loss to the shorthanded Denver Nuggets. And it’s hard to blame him for having doubts after his Trail Blazers couldn’t beat a starting backcourt of Facundo Campazzo and Austin Rivers. Yes, the Nuggets still had MVP Nikola Jokic, but even a 55-point, 10-assist effort from Dame in Game 5 wasn’t enough for Portland to win. So will the Blazers still have Lillard at their disposal when they try to avenge their playoff loss against Denver on Nov. 14?
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics, Nov. 19
As the most storied rivalry in NBA history, Lakers-Celtics is always a must-watch. But this season’s matchups will have a little extra juice after Dennis Schroder traded in his purple and gold for Celtic green. Schroder reportedly turned down a four-year, $84 million deal from the Lakers back in March. L.A. never met Schroder’s demands and instead acquired Russell Westbrook to be their new starting point guard. Schroder couldn’t find the long-term deal he was seeking in free agency, eventually settling for a one-year, $5.9 million contract with the Celtics. Schroder and the C’s will see the Lakers for the first time on Nov. 19 at TD Garden.
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Utah Jazz, Dec. 15
When Kawhi Leonard went out with a knee injury in the playoffs, it looked like the Utah Jazz had a clear path to the West finals. But Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers had other plans, reeling off two straight wins without Leonard to bounce the NBA’s best regular-season squad from the playoffs. It marked the end of another disappointing playoff run for Utah, who fell short of reaching the conference finals once again. Leonard, who had surgery to repair a partially torn ACL in July, probably won’t be ready when the Clippers and Jazz first meet on Dec. 15, but Utah knows not to take this matchup lightly.
Brooklyn Nets vs. Los Angeles Lakers, Dec. 25
LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Westbrook versus Durant, Harden and Irving on Christmas Day? It doesn’t get much better than that. The two teams with the best 2022 NBA title odds, according to our partner PointsBet, will battle in a star-studded showdown on Dec. 25 at 8 p.m. ET. The Lakers and the Nets were also the top two title favorites entering last year’s playoffs, but injuries derailed both teams’ efforts to win a championship. Let’s hope all the stars are available for their Christmas Day showdown.
Chicago Bulls vs. San Antonio Spurs, Jan. 28
In one of the bigger moves of the offseason, DeMar DeRozan joined the Bulls on a three-year, $85 million deal via a sign-and-trade from the San Antonio Spurs. DeRozan, who came to San Antonio as part of the Kawhi Leonard trade, had three strong seasons individually with the Spurs, but didn’t enjoy a ton of team success. The Spurs made the playoffs just once with DeRozan after a 48-win campaign in 2018-19, losing in the first round. DeRozan makes his first visit to San Antonio with the revamped Bulls on Jan. 28.
Miami Heat vs. Toronto Raptors, Feb. 3
Kyle Lowry, the greatest Raptor of all time, makes his return to Toronto on Feb. 3. The 35-year-old point guard made an expected departure from Toronto this offseason via a sign-and-trade, inking a three-year, $85 million deal with the Miami Heat. Lowry spent nine seasons north of the border, making the postseason seven times and bringing the franchise its first ever championship in 2019. His first trip back to Scotiabank Arena will be an emotional one (Lowry has already conceded he’s going to cry).
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Phoenix Suns, Feb. 10
You can bet the Suns will have this one circled on their calendar. The first rematch of the 2021 NBA Finals is set for Feb. 10 in Phoenix. Other than P.J. Tucker leaving the Bucks for the Miami Heat, neither of these teams underwent significant roster changes in the offseason. So this regular-season matchup will closely resemble what we saw in the Finals, where the Bucks came back from a 2-0 series deficit to win the title.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Washington Wizards, March 19
Russell Westbrook will be back in the nation’s capital with his hometown Lakers for the first time on March 19. While Westbrook only spent one season in D.C., he did enjoy some nice moments. The nine-time All-Star broke Oscar Robertson’s all-time triple-double record and helped the Wizards win 17 of their final 23 regular-season games en route to a playoff berth. His counterpart at the point guard spot against Washington will be the newly acquired Spencer Dinwiddie, who signed from the Nets on a three-year, $62 million deal.
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