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NBA schedule is out, here are 15 must-watch games

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I feel like Steve Martin yelling “the new phone books are here” — the NBA schedule for 2017-18 is out.

There is big news here — the NBA has built a lot more rest into the schedule in an attempt to limit DNP-rest games for stars in marquee games. What we learned with the schedule being released is there is not one four-games-in-five-nights stretch in the entire schedule for any team. In the 2014-15 season there were 70 of those, last season there were 20, but the league listened to the players — and their medical staffs — and cut those out. Which should help players be more rested and reduce the number of healthy DNP-Rest games.

There are a lot of quality games on the schedule — in a deep Western conference matchups like the Clippers vs. Nuggets or Trail Blazers vs. Pelicans could have playoff implications even early in the season. That’s why the NBA has given flex scheduling to all the networks, so they can put on games that matter more as we move through the season.

Factoring in returns, rivalries, and big days, here are our 15 games must-watch games this season, the ones you need to set the DVR for… if you still have a DVR. Otherwise, go over to your parents and set theirs, you know they still have one.

Opening night, Oct. 17: Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors (TNT). This is the first of 40 — 40! — times the Warriors will appear on national television this season. That is almost half their games. Don’t tune into this one just to see the banner go up and JaVale McGee get a ring… actually, you do want to see McGee get a ring. More than that though, tune in to get a first look at the Houston Rockets with Chris Paul and James Harden.

Oct. 26: New Orleans Pelicans at Sacramento Kings (TNT). DeMarcus Cousins makes his first visit to Sacramento since he was traded last season to New Orleans. Kings fans were frustrated with Cousins while he was there, plenty turned on him, and he is going to hear it.

Oct. 27: Denver Nuggets at Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta starts the season with a five-game road trip, then returns home to find Paul Millsap wearing the powder blue of the Denver Nuggets to meet them. The Hawks moved on from Millsap more than he from them, but how will Atlanta fans respond.

Nov. 15: Philadelphia 76ers at Los Angeles Lakers (ESPN). The 76ers and No.1 pick last June Markelle Fultz take on the Lakers and No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball in the first meeting between these two point guards.

Dec. 13: Oklahoma City Thunder at Indiana Pacers (ESPN). Paul George makes his only visit to Indiana this season, the only place the four-time All-Star had played prior to being traded this summer.

Christmas Day, Dec. 25: Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors (ABC). This is the first rematch of the last three NBA Finals during the new season. LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant… and who else will be on LeBron’s team at this point in the season? This is the best team in the West against the team likely to come out of the East — LeBron has been to seven straight Finals for a reason — and that is always worth watching.

Christmas Day, Dec. 25: Houston Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder (ABC). With all due respect to LeBron and Curry, this is the best game on Christmas Day. James Harden and Chris Paul against Russell Westbrook and Paul George. We know the Rockets will be an impressive offensive team, but the Thunder should have one of the best defenses in the NBA this season. That makes this an interesting clash of styles.

Jan. 15: Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors (TNT). The second and final meeting of the season between these two powerhouse teams is set to highlight the Martin Luther King Jr. Day slate of games.

Jan. 15: Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Clippers (TNT). Chris Paul comes back to Los Angeles to take on the other two parts of Lob City he left behind, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. You can bet DJ is not going to let CP3 just drive the basket without a little physicality.

Feb. 9: Minnesota Timberwolves at Chicago Bulls (ESPN). Jimmy Butler returns to the only city he had played for before being traded this past summer — and he brings with him an impressive team on the rise in Karl-Anthony Towns and the Timberwolves.

Feb. 10: San Antonio Spurs at Golden State Warriors (ABC). This is last year’s Western Conference Finals, and while San Antonio didn’t have a sexy offseason we know they have Kawhi Leonard, and we know they are going to be good. This could well again be the top two teams in the West.

March 11: Cleveland Cavaliers at Los Angeles Lakers (ESPN). LeBron has called Los Angeles home and Tweeted out his love to Magic Johnson, by the time the Cavaliers come to L.A. the “LeBron will be a Laker” rumors will be at a fever pitch. Expect Lakers fans to let him know how much they love him.

March 28: Boston Celtics at Utah Jazz (ESPN). Gordon Hayward is going to get booed as he returns to Utah and the Vivint Smart Home Arena wearing Celtics green after choosing the Celtics over the Jazz last summer.

April 1: Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs. These are the two teams in the West with their sights set on knocking off the Warriors, but first they are going to have to get past each other in the playoffs. This could have seeding, or at least statement, implications. Plus, watching Kawhi Leonard guard Harden and Paul is going to be fun.

April 3: Golden State Warriors at Oklahoma City Thunder. At this point in the season, teams like these two who plan to make a deep playoff run are shaking off the long-season duldrums and focusing on a strong finish. Especially if this is a potential playoff matchup (second round) there may be teams looking to make a statement.

April 10: Boston Celtics at Washington Wizards. In the final week of the NBA season, two teams looking to climb the ladder and establish themselves near or at the top of the Eastern Conference face off. Plus, John Wall vs. Isaiah Thomas is always a show.

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell wins throwback Dunk Contest with Vince Carter tribute

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LOS ANGELES — The 2018 Dunk Contest went retro.

And it worked.

The throwbacks started with Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. going quick-change to pay tribute to his father, the 1984 winner of the Dunk Contest.

Nance later had the best dunk of the night, but it wasn’t enough in the face of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell‘s strong and consistent night highlight by his throwback dunk — donning a Vince Carter Toronto dinosaur jersey and doing VC’s famed 360 dunk — which got Mitchell the 48 points he needed to hold-off Nance and win the contest. It was over.

“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.

“So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it… But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”

Earlier in the night, Mitchell had done another tribute worn a Darrell Griffith jersey — Utah’s Dr. Dunkenstien, who went to Louisville like Mitchell — for an off-the-side-of-the-backboard jumping over Kevin Hart dunk.

“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of the throwbacks. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it’s just dunking. Whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”

For my money, Nance had the dunk of the night, his first in the Finals, a double off-the-backboard throwdown that you had to see on replay to get (it wasn’t as evident in the building what he had done until it was re-shown on the big screen).

It was a fun contest all night long.

Mitchell (the leader in the Rookie of the Year race) started it off brilliantly — he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Larry Nance Jr. did his tribute to his father with his first dunk, and on his second one came from behind the backboard, going around the world, and threw it down hard. That got him into the Finals.

Oladipo missed all three of his dunks in the first round, which almost doomed his night. He, however, did a dunk wearing the Black Panther mask for his second dunk, which impressed.

Mitchell said he wanted to beat Dennis Smith Jr. because the Mavericks’ point guard had beaten him in dunk contests for years. Smith had one monster dunk, when he went between the legs and threw it down hard and got the full 50. It just wasn’t enough to get Smith to the Finals.

Nance started off the final round by bringing out his father again to throw an alley-oop to a windmill. Mitchell responded with a self-alley-oop to a windmill that was flat-out wicked. That got Mitchell a 50-46 lead after one round of the Finals.

Then Mitchell went to Vince Carter and “it was over.”

Larry Nance Jr. throws alley-oop to himself, throws alley-oop to himself (video)

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LOS ANGELES — Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. immediately motioned for the replay to be shown of this dunk. It was necessary to properly appreciate it.

Best dunk of the night.

Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest, though.

Larry Nance Jr. plays tribute to father — rock-the-cradle dunk in Suns uniform

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LOS ANGELES — Back in 1984, high-flying Larry Nance Sr. won the first NBA All-Star Dunk Contest with this set of dunks — most famously a rock-the-cradle move.

Larry Nance Jr. came into the 2018 Dunk Contest and went nostalgic — all the way back to the Suns’ throwback uniform and the same dunk.

That and a good second dunk got him into the Dunk Contest finals. In that round, Nance Sr. threw an alley-oop to his son for the windmill.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

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LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.