Ten must-watch games from new NBA schedule

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It’s the reason broadcast networks are paying ungodly sums of cash to secure rights to leagues like the NBA — you need to watch live. This isn’t Top Chef where you can set the DVR and then watch it later in the week, when it comes to sporting events you need to carve out the time to watch the games.

But what games are good enough you tell your girlfriend you have to work late that night, and then head to the bar with your buddies to watch because you don’t want to miss them? (Remember, do not post pictures of yourself at said bar to social media that night.)

That’s why we’re here. The following are 10 games you do not want to miss this coming season.

• Oct. 27, New Orleans Pelicans at Golden State Warriors: The championship banner is going up at Oracle Arena, the first title for the Golden State franchise since before Led Zeppelin broke up. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and the entire Warriors band are back to defend the title. Well done by the NBA to set the Pelicans as the opponent — their new coach is Alvin Gentry, who last season masterminded the Warriors’ offense. Also, Golden State swept New Orleans out of the first round of the playoffs, but this is going to be a better Pelicans team.

• Oct. 28, San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder: I can sum up why to watch this game in five words — how does Kevin Durant look? The former MVP battled foot injuries last season but is back and expected to be ready opening night. While you’re at it, see how LaMarcus Aldridge looks in Spurs black and gray. 

• Nov. 11, San Antonio Spurs at Portland Trail Blazers: There was only one big time free agent that switched teams last season — Aldridge, who jumped from Portland to San Antonio, where he teams up with and becomes the heir apparent to Tim Duncan. But he’s got to go back to Portland some time, and that is Nov. 11. How will Blazers fans treat Aldridge? You can be sure Damian Lillard will be pumped up to get the win.

• Nov. 11, Los Angeles Clippers at Dallas Mavericks: I know how Mavericks fans are going to treat DeAndre Jordan, who first said he would come there as a free agent then changed his mind. The Clippers were already one of the more hated teams by many fans around the league, this just played right into that narrative.

• Nov. 23, Philadephia 76ers at Minnesota Timberwolves: Who did you think should go No. 1 last draft, Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor? Flip Saunders had the only vote that counted and he cast it for Towns, and while that may be the right call long term (I think it will be) Okafor will be the better rookie. Watch these two young bigs go head-to-head (on League Pass because the Sixers are not on national television once this season).

• Nov. 30, Los Angeles Lakers at Boston Celtics: There has been no better rivalry in NBA history than the Celtics and Lakers, and Kobe Bryant has added to that with a must-watch Finals series. Kobe very well may walk away from the NBA after the season, and if so this will be his final game in the Boston Garden. That will be emotional.

• Dec. 23, Dallas Mavericks at Brooklyn Nets: Deron Williams returns to Brooklyn. The Nets paid a lot of money for him to turn their franchise around in a Chris Paul kind of way, and they did not get their money’s worth. So they just paid him to go away. Now he returns, and he should not expect a love-in from Nets fans.

• Christmas Day, Dec. 25, Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors: Were you not entertained by the NBA Finals? It had Stephen Curry and LeBron James, and that helped draw the biggest NBA television ratings since the Jordan era. The NBA puts its biggest stars on its biggest stages, and this is that. The difference is this time LeBron has Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love healthy.

• Jan. 18, Los Angeles Clippers at Houston Rockets: The Clippers were up 3-1 on the Rockets in the second round of the playoffs, and were in total control of Game 5. And then the wheels came off. The Rockets played better, the Clippers looked exhausted (worn down by an epic series with the Spurs the round before), and Houston came back to take it. This eats at Chris Paul like you would not believe. Clippers/Rockets is becoming a real rivalry and all their meetings this season will be entertaining.

• April 13, Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Lakers: Is this Kobe’s final game? It will be the last game of the season for the Lakers (who are unlikely to make the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference). Kobe does not know right now, and there’s a chance he may not know when this game tips off, or at least not be saying publicly. But this game could be the end of one of the great careers in NBA history, and that is as must watch as it gets.

Suns, Crowder agree he will sit out training camp while they seek a trade

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Jae Crowder wants out of Phoenix and the Suns have been looking for a trade to accommodate that.

It hasn’t come together, so the Suns and Crowder agreed he should sit out training camp while they find one (this team does not need another distraction in camp).

We knew this was coming because Crowder himself announced it a couple of days ago. While he deleted the Tweet, nothing ever completely disappears online.

Two quick thoughts on this news.

First, it means Cameron Johnson will start at the four, something that was likely anyway as the Suns look to add shooting to help space the floor.

Second, this news does not help the Suns’ leverage in getting a trade. It’s understandable that Crowder didn’t want to be in camp and that the Suns didn’t want the distraction, but now everyone knows the pressure on the Suns to get a deal done and they will lowball their offer.

There are a few potential landing spots out there. Crowder hinted online he would welcome a return to Miami, and the Heat need help at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly. The Heat would base a trade around Duncan Robinson, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig or after Jan. 15  — and that seems unlikely.

Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Boston (but it’s tough to make the salaries match up), and even a team like Minnesota could work. The challenge is the Suns are a win-now team and will want a player who can help them this season and all those teams are in the same space. Right now there may not be an offer available. As camps open and teams start to understand what they do and don’t have, a deal could come together.

Crowder will be home waiting for that to happen, not with the Suns team.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says Stephen Curry is the best player in the world

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is at the top of pretty much every “best player in the world” list right now.

Except his own.

For Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world is the one that leads his team to the title, so today, it is Stephen Curry (hat tip to Lance Allen of NBC Milwaukee).

It’s easy to see where Antetokounmpo is coming from, but basketball is a team game. The best player may not be on the best team, despite his skill set, and that team may not win. Curry was spectacular in leading the Warriors to their fourth banner since he arrived, he’s near the top of the best in the world list, but it’s not all about winning.

The takeaway from what Antetokounmpo said is how much he wants to win — he wants a second ring.

The Bucks enter the season as one of the favorites to win that ring, but it’s going to take a lot of things going right for that to happen.

Including Antetokounmpo showing he is the best player in the world.

 

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.