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.

Must watch: Lonzo Ball halfcourt alley-oop to Zion Williamson

Lonzo Ball Zion Williamson
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Damn. This is just a thing of beauty.

Lonzo Ball and Zion Williams have a connection on the court and the Grizzlies got a look at it up close and personal Monday.

NBA TV has another angle

In a must-win game for 0-2 New Orleans, Zion played more in the first half than we have seen recently, but he was still under 10 minutes total. He had 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting, leading an energized Pelicans team that led by seven at the half.

Thunder’s Dennis Schroder leaves bubble for birth of child

Dennis Shroder child
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Dennis Schroder was not in uniform when Oklahoma City lost to Denver Monday. He wasn’t even in Orlando.

Schroder left the bubble to be with his wife for the birth of his child, something the team knew was coming but came up suddenly Monday morning, coach Billy Donovan said pregame (reporting from ESPN’s Dave McMenamin inside the bubble).

 

“I’m not gonna leave my wife by herself while she’s having a second baby,” Schroder said when he talked about this with reporters previously. “(Dennis) Jr. is still 17 months old, so I’m for sure gonna go there and support her and try as much as I can to be there for my family.”

Congratulations to the Schroder family, we hope everyone is happy and healthy.

The Thunder will miss Schroder while he’s gone. He is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate averaging 19 points per game while shooting 38.1% from three. The Thunder are at their most dangerous when Schroder is paired with Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a rotation that we will not see for a while.

The first round of the playoffs starts Aug. 17. Schroder can return to the team, the question is how long he will be in quarantine when he does. If Schroeder has a negative coronavirus test for seven consecutive days before his return, he will be in quarantine for four days. If he does not get tested, or if he exposes himself to the virus unnecessarily while outside the bubble — for example, picking up wings from a strip club for dinner — he will have a 10-day quarantine.

The Thunder could use him for what will be a tight first-round playoff series in a very balanced West. Schroder may or may not be there, he has higher priorities right now.

Oklahoma state Rep. threatens to increase Thunder’s taxes for kneeling during national anthem

Oklahoma City Thunder kneel during national anthem
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The Oklahoma City Thunder – like all NBA teams (minus a few individuals) – kneeled during the national anthem.

That powerful protest calls attention to racism, particularly through police brutality. It is highly patriotic to work toward ending those shameful practices. Though some have distorted the underlying message, the protests have largely worked. In the years since Colin Kaepernick first kneeled, Americans have developed a heightened sensitivity to racism and police brutality.

Of course, there are still many opponents of anthem kneeling. The demonstration causes a visceral reaction (which is also why it has been so effective). At this point, it’s hard to stand out among the critics of anthem kneeling who keep making the same, tired arguments.

Oklahoma state representative Sean Roberts found a way.

Roberts, via Oklahoma’s News 4:

“By kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, the NBA and its players are showing disrespect to the American flag and all it stands for. This anti-patriotic act makes clear the NBA’s support of the Black Lives Matter group and its goal of defunding our nation’s police, its ties to Marxism and its efforts to destroy nuclear families.

If the Oklahoma City Thunder leadership and players follow the current trend of the NBA by kneeling during the national anthem prior to Saturday’s game, perhaps we need to reexamine the significant tax benefits the State of Oklahoma granted the Oklahoma City Thunder organization when they came to Oklahoma. Through the Quality Jobs Act, the Thunder is still under contract to receive these tax breaks from our state until 2024.

Perhaps these funds would be better served in support of our police departments rather than giving tax breaks to an organization that supports defunding police and the dissolution of the American nuclear family.”

This is outrageous.

It’s outrageous that the Thunder get such a targeted tax break. The franchise is a private company that should succeed or fail based on its own merits. While it’s easy for NBA fans (like readers of this site) to get caught up in the league, professional basketball isn’t actually important for the greater good.

It’s outrageous that a company’s tax status could depend on how its employees exercise their freedom of expression. The First Amendment still exists.

Ultimately, Roberts almost certainly doesn’t have the power to do what he’s threatening. This is grandstanding for political gain. It gets Roberts into national headlines and little else. Mission accomplished, I guess.

So, Roberts builds a reputation as another big-government politician – someone who wants to use the heavy hand of government to dissuade free expression.

NBA referee Brent Barnaky explains standing for the national anthem

NBA referee Brent Barnaky
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Magic forward Jonathan Isaac, Heat big Meyers Leonard and Spurs coaches Gregg Popovich and Becky Hammon drew plenty of attention for standing during the national anthem while nearly all NBA players, coaches and referees kneeled.

Referee Brent Barnaky also stood.

Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

This isn’t much of an explanation. Nor does it need to be. Barnaky explained that he wasn’t countering the message of kneeling players (opposing racism, particularly through police brutality). That’s sufficient for Barnaky to maintain his neutral positioning – important for an official.

For decades, nearly everyone stood for the national anthem. For many people, that was just about following norms. Even NBA players espousing social-justice messaging previously stood for the national anthem.

But Colin Kaepernick’s brave defiance caused some people to thoughtfully consider their national-anthem posture. So, while many people continued to stand for the national anthem because that’s just was done, some made deliberate choices based on their own values. Sometimes, that led to kneeling. Sometimes, that led to standing.

The thoughtful standers blended into the crowd… until kneeling became widespread in the NBA. Now, they’re the noticeable outliers within the league.

It can take courage to go against the grain. I commend Barnaky for that – and for voicing his support for social justice and peaceful protest.

Barnaky made a personal choice that can stand alone. It doesn’t undermine what anyone else is doing.