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2019-20 NBA schedule release: 10 best season-openers include Zion Williamson’s debut, first Lakers-Clippers clash

The NBA makes a point of kicking off its season with a bang, and the 2019-20 campaign will be no exception. Rather than holding all of its marquee matchups for showcase occasions like Christmas and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the league is giving fans some of the biggest games of the season right off of the bat. 

The battle for Los Angeles will be played on opening night. The league’s most anticipated rookie in years, Zion Williamson, will start his career against the NBA champion Toronto Raptors. Virtually every team of note will be tested in their season-opener, and these are the 10 best games on that initial slate. 

1. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Los Angeles Clippers

  • Date: Tuesday, Oct. 22
  • Time: 10:30 p.m. ET
  • Location: Staples Center — Los Angeles
  • TV: TNT
  • Streaming: fuboTV (Try for free)

As tempting as it would have been to force the Lakers and Clippers to wait until Christmas to play, there is a nice symmetry to forcing them into battle on opening night. They share a city, and after all, the prevailing opinion is that these teams will meet up during the playoffs. It’s only fitting that if one of these teams ends the other’s season, they should both begin against one another as well. Even if Paul George misses the game while recovering from shoulder surgery, seeing Kawhi Leonard face the Lakers team that he spurned in free agency represents one of the most compelling matchups of a player versus a team in the entire NBA. 

2. Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers

  • Date: Wednesday, Oct. 22
  • Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
  • Location: Wells Fargo Center — Philadelphia
  • TV: ESPN

Boston was Philadelphia’s kryptonite over the past two seasons, but the biggest reason for that, Al Horford, is now a 76er. The Celtics still fancy themselves contenders in the Eastern Conference, but the drop-off from Horford to Enes Kanter defensively will be significant. Their new center will be thrown into the fire against Horford and Joel Embiid in the season-opener for both teams, and if he can’t at least contain them, it could be a long season for the Celtics. 

3. Milwaukee Bucks vs. Houstons Rockets

  • Date: Thursday, Oct. 24
  • Time: 8 p.m. ET
  • Location: Fiserv Forum — Milwaukee
  • TV: TNT
  • Streaming: fuboTV (Try for free)

The last three NBA MVPs will share the floor in this game, an extreme rarity even in the era of player movement. Giannis Antetokounmpo figures to be in the driver’s seat this season with James Harden and Russell Westbrook splitting votes, but as far as the regular season goes, Houston’s new duo is far more concerned with snatching Milwaukee’s place atop the league’s standings. The Bucks will be Harden and Westbrook’s first true test together. If they can score against one of the NBA’s best defenses, they can do so against anyone. 

4. New Orleans Pelicans vs. Toronto Raptors

  • Date: Tuesday, Oct. 22
  • Time: 8 p.m. ET
  • Location: Smoothie King Center — New Orleans
  • TV: TNT
  • Streaming: fuboTV (Try for free)

This game doesn’t have quite the appeal it would have with Kawhi Leonard in place, but even if the Finals MVP had remained with the Raptors, he wouldn’t have been the star of the show here. Zion Williamson making his debut is among the most anticipated rookie openers in years. That he gets to do so against the NBA champions and get a glimpse of what winning at that level will take is merely a bonus. 

5. Los Angeles Clippers vs. Golden State Warriors

  • Date: Thursday, Oct. 24
  • Time: 10:30 p.m. ET
  • Location: Chase Center — San Francisco
  • TV: TNT
  • Streaming: fuboTV (Try for free)

The Clippers open their season with a Staples Center clash against the Lakers, but there is no rest for the weary in this league. Two days later, they will travel to San Francisco to try to spoil the opening of the Chase Center for the Warriors. The Clippers may not have George and the Warriors certainly won’t have Klay Thompson, but there is still enough star power between these two teams to be one of the best games of the early season. 

6. Denver Nuggets vs. Portland Trail Blazers

  • Date: Wednesday, Oct. 23
  • Time: 10 p.m. ET
  • Location: Moda Center — Portland
  • TV: ESPN

The Nuggets engineered their own destruction last season. They rested starters against the Trail Blazers in a late-season game ostensibly with the goal of getting Portland onto their side of the bracket rather than having to face the Houston Rockets. That plan backfired when the Blazers beat the Nuggets in a highly competitive seven-game series in the second round. Now the Nuggets are out for revenge, and won’t underestimate the Blazers again. 

7. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Utah Jazz

  • Date: Wednesday, Oct. 23
  • Time: 9 p.m. ET
  • Location: Vivint Smart Home Arena — Salt Lake City
  • TV: NBA League Pass
  • Streaming: fuboTV (Try for free)

Chris Paul has moved plenty in his career. Mike Conley has not. Seeing both of them take the floor in their new uniforms is going to be somewhat jarring, and should set the tone for both of their seasons. If the Jazz can kick things off with a statement win, they will be well on their way to contending in the Western Conference. If the Thunder can pull off an upset, however, it could shake up the conference’s establishment and potentially set Paul up for a redemption season with the Thunder. 

8. Dallas Mavericks vs. Washington Wizards

  • Date: Wednesday, Oct. 23
  • Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
  • Location: American Airlines Center — Dallas
  • TV: NBA League Pass
  • Streaming: fuboTV (Try for free)

By the time the season rolls around, Kristaps Porzingis will have gone over 600 days without playing in an NBA game. There is no telling what kind of player he will be when he returns. The Mavericks bet their future on him being a superstar. If he proves them right in this game, the next decade in the NBA looks different. There may not be a more talented young pairing in basketball than Porzingis and Luka Doncic. If they remain healthy and develop chemistry, championships are a reasonable goal. 

9. Miami Heat vs. Memphis Grizzlies

  • Date: Wednesday, Oct. 23
  • Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
  • Location: American Airlines Arena — Miami
  • TV: NBA League Pass
  • Streaming: fuboTV (Try for free)

While there is no great animosity between these two teams, both sides feature significant debuts. Jimmy Butler will look to get his Miami tenure started on the right foot against a lottery team, but the Grizzlies aren’t going to roll over for him. No. 2 overall pick Ja Morant figures to have a strong first outing against a Heat team that lacks strong defensive guards. Get ready for fireworks in this matchup. 

10. Brooklyn Nets vs. Minnesota Timberwolves

  • Date: Wednesday, Oct. 23
  • Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
  • Location: Barclays Center — Brooklyn
  • TV: NBA League Pass
  • Streaming: fuboTV (Try for free)

Kyrie Irving has big shoes to fill. Without Kevin Durant this season, Irving will need to lead the Nets on his own and prove that they made the right decision in choosing him over D’Angelo Russell. That won’t be an easy task, but it will be an entertaining one. Irving will look to put on a show early to ingratiate himself to his new fan base.