NBA opening day to feature Rockets vs. Warriors; Christmas Day lineup has Finals rematch

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The NBA is starting the season about 10-days earlier this season — and they are starting it out with a bang.

The league announced the national television schedule for the league’s opening week, as well as Christmas Day — and if the NBA is good at one thing, it’s stacking their best games and stars into the biggest spotlights.

Opening night will feature a TNT doubleheader of (arguably) the top two teams in each conference, in what could be a crazy early Conference Finals preview:

Boston Celtics at Cleveland Cavaliers (8 p.m. ET)
Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors (10:30 p.m. ET)

That means Chris Paul and James Harden can be on hand to watch the Warriors raise a banner then get their rings. That will come after our first look at Gordon Hayward in Celtics’ green as they get an early test against LeBron James and… maybe Kyrie Irving? Either way, these are the two top teams in the East.

As for the rest of the nationally televised games on opening week, the young stars in Philadelphia and Minnesota are getting their time in the spotlight:

Oct. 18: Philadelphia 76ers at Washington Wizards (ESPN)
Oct. 18: Minnesota Timberwolves at San Antonio Spurs (ESPN)
Oct. 19: New York Knicks at Oklahoma City Thunder (TNT)
Oct. 19: Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers (TNT)
Oct. 20: Cleveland Cavaliers at Milwaukee Bucks (ESPN)
Oct. 20: Golden State Warriors at New Orleans Pelicans (ESPN)

As has been the tradition for a few years now, the NBA will have five games on Christmas Day, highlighted by a Finals rematch (this year, because it is a Monday, the NBA will go up against two NFL games).

This is the third year in a row the Cavaliers and Warriors will face off on Christmas. Here is the Christmas Day lineup, with the times (Eastern):

Noon: Philadelphia 76ers at New York Knicks (ESPN)
3 p.m.: Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors (ABC)
5:30 p.m.: Washington Wizards at Boston Celtics (ABC)
8 p.m.: Houston Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder (ABC)
10:30 p.m.: Minnesota Timberwolves at Los Angeles Lakers (TNT)

The NBA is good at stacking its big showcase days.

The full NBA schedule is expected to be released next week.

Watch Curry, Klay in 3-point shooting contest in Japan. Yeah, they’re good at this.

NBA Japan Games Saturday Night
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The NBA went to Japan to promote the brand, play a few games in a huge market — Japan specifically but Asia as a whole — and put on a show.

Is there a better show than Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson draining 3s? Here they are in a 3-point contest during a basketball exhibition (there were some pro dunkers) in Tokyo on Saturday.

Stephen Curry, was there any other possible outcome?

It’s preseason and they are the defending champs — they should be having fun, playing with some joy.

Thompson took part in the shooting contest but is not playing in either of the exhibition games in Japan as the Warriors ease him back into play this season. It’s a marathon of a season and the Warriors need the best version of Klay starting in April, not October.

Report: Pelicans, Nance agree to two-year, $21.6 million extension

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Larry Nance has been a stabilizing influence in New Orleans since coming over mid-season as part of the trade for CJ McCollum. Nance is a versatile player who can play the four or the five, knocks down his threes, is very strong on the glass, can be a disruptive defender in passing lanes, and fits in — and he has the veteran attitude of work this team needs.

So the Pelicans have reached an extension to keep the 29-year-old around for two years past this coming season, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a signing that should make Pelicans fans happy. Importantly, it makes CJ McCollum happy — they are tight and this is something McCollum wanted to see. The money on this deal seems fair, about the league average for a solid rotation player.

Nance is the kind of veteran this team needs considering its young core of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram (just turned 25), Herb Jones, and guys like Trey Murphy III, Jose Alvarado, and others. Nance compared it to the young Lakers teams he was on, but noted that team lacked the same level of veteran leadership this Pelicans team has.

We may see more Nance at the five lineups — small ball with Zion at the four — to close games this season in New Orleans, that could be their best lineup because Nance can defend but also spaces the floor for Zion on offense. Coach Willie Green has a lot of different players and matchups to experiment with.

And now he has the stability of Nance for a few more years.

Durant tired of talking Nets dramatic offseason: ‘I didn’t miss any games’

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No team had an offseason quite like the Brooklyn Nets. First, they would not give a long-term extension to Kyrie Irving, which sent the star guard looking for a new team (but there were no offers that worked for everyone, so he opted in with Brooklyn). Then Kevin Durant asked for a trade, and to gain a little leverage reportedly threw down an ultimatum of him or the coach and GM. No trade could be found — how much the Nets wanted one is up for debate — so he is back in Brooklyn. And all that is not even getting into the return of Ben Simmons, a trade for Royce O’Neal, or anything else.

The Nets drama and how they move past it has been the talk of training camp. The only talk at training camp, it feels like.

When asked Friday if there were any inaccuracies in the reporting of the Nets summer he would like to clear up, Durant sounded weary of rehashing the summer.

The only thing that will start to move the conversation in a new direction is the Nets playing and winning games (they open the preseason Monday against the 76ers). And even those wins will have the shadow of the offseason cast over them. Durant and Irving made this bed.

Part of the fascination is the Nets remain the team hardest to predict in the league. They arguably have the most talented roster in the league and, if everything comes together just right, they can contend for a title. It’s also possible the wheels fall off early and by Christmas the Nets are looking to trade Durant again. Both things feel possible (even if reality most likely lands somewhere in the middle).

That uncertainty about the Nets’ future is the drama that will keep eyeballs on them — which also means more questions about this past offseason. Durant can choose not to answer them, but the questions aren’t going away.

Highlights from Clippers preseason win fueled by Luke Kennard

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No Kawhi Leonard. Or Paul George. Or John Wall, Norman Powell, Reggie Jackson and Nic Batum. The Clippers decided to rest six key rotation players in their preseason opener in Seattle against Maccabi Ra’anana, a game played in Seattle.

All those guys are expected to suit up Monday when the Clippers play the Portland Trail Blazers in a preseason game also in Seattle, the first NBA exhibition game played in the city since 2018.

Against Maccabi, it was the Luke Kennard show as he had 16 points.

The Clippers also got 14 points and 13 boards from Moses Brown. As a team, the Clippers cruised and put up a few highlights.

The Clippers have great depth, which should allow them to survive a season where both Leonard and George are expected to get their share of load management nights off. Leonard missed all of last season coming off a torn ACL, and George played in just 31 games due to a few injuries, including a shoulder issue. Still, the Clippers finished eighth in the West with a 42-40 record and had a top 10 defense in the league.

Adding Leonard and George to that mix is why the Clippers are considered title contenders out West. Monday night against the Blazers we should get our first look at the real Clippers team for this season. But Los Angeles is 1-0 this preseason.