NBA schedule release: 11 games we can’t wait to watch

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History. Star power. Return games.

Those are some of the games we circle when the NBA schedule is released, as it was on Friday. Below are some of the games we can’t wait to watch as they come up this season.

First, two notes on this season:

• Travel is down. Unlike the condensed schedule of last season, the league was back to building some rest into the schedule. No team is scheduled to play four games in five nights, and the number of single-game road trips is down 28% from the last full NBA season. Overall, the average miles traveled by a team this season is 43,000 per season, which is down 3,000 a team compared to the last full season.

• What about COVID? What happens if a team is unable to field enough players for a game due to the coronavirus? Will the games be rescheduled, or will the NBA follow the path of ACC football and say that a franchise that can’t field a team forfeits? The league doesn’t have an answer for that yet. The NBA is still formulating its COVID protocols for the coming season, and those will be announced at a later date.

Now, on to the games you can’t miss:

Oct. 19, Nets at Bucks.

Watch the first banner go up in Milwaukee since 1971, watch Giannis Antetokounmpo and company get their rings, then watch Kevin Durant try to spoil the party. The ring ceremony is always worth watching (the second game that night, the Warriors at the Lakers, is worth tuning into, also).

Nov. 1, Raptors at Knicks.

The first game in NBA history was the New York Knickerbockers vs. the Toronto Huskies on Nov. 1, 1946. In celebration of that moment, the Knicks will host the Raptors on Nov. 1, 2021, the official 75th anniversary of the start of the NBA.

Nov. 10, Pistons at Rockets.

They faced each other in Summer League and put on a show, but the real first NBA game between No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham and No. 2 pick Jalen Green comes in the fourth week of the NBA season (and on national television, of course).

Nov. 21, Mavericks at Clippers.

Luka Doncic putting up ridiculous numbers but not beating the Clippers in a playoff series has become a postseason tradition, and Luka will be looking for some revenge. These games are always entertaining.

Dec. 25, Nets at Lakers.

Does it get any more high profile than this? Kevin Durant. LeBron James. James Harden. Anthony Davis. Kyrie Irving. Russell Westbrook. Christmas is the day for the NBA to break out its biggest stars and best matchups, and this could well be a start-studded Finals preview (*knock on wood everyone stays healthy*).

The rest of the Christmas Day slate is strong as well: Knicks at Hawks (Trae Young vs. the Knicks is always entertaining), Bucks at Celtics, Suns at Warriors, and Jazz at Mavericks.

Jan. 7, Hawks at Lakers.

The longest winning streak in NBA history is 33 games by the 1971-72 Lakers (Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, the team that won the franchise’s first L.A. title), a run snapped by the Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 7, 1972. In honor of that, the Hawks will fly to take on the Lakers on Jan. 7, 2022, the 50th anniversary of the streak being snapped.

Jan. 21, Nets at Spurs.

Patty Mills was the ultimate San Antonio development project, brought along slowly by Gregg Popovich and company, who helped turn the Australian guard into a quality NBA point guard. Mills has one NBA ring from San Antonio and will return for the first time to the city in a Nets uniform, in which he is chasing another ring.

Feb. 3, Heat at Raptors.

Kyle Lowry, the face of the Raptors’ franchise for nine years and a key part of the 2019 championship, returns to Toronto in a Heat jersey for the first time.

Feb. 10, Bucks at Suns.

The last time Milwaukee played Phoenix, it hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy and soaked a locker room in champagne. The Suns would like some revenge for that. It’s surprisingly late in the season, but this is the first Finals rematch of this coming season. Phoenix visits Milwaukee on March 6.

March 2, Knicks at 76ers.

This game takes place on the 60th anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game, a contest between Philadelphia and New York. I wouldn’t bet on Joel Embiid equaling that feat.

March 19, Lakers at Wizards.

Russell Westbrook makes his return to Washington wearing the colors of the Los Angeles Lakers. He probably shouldn’t expect a warm and loving embrace from the fans.

Steven Adams inks two-year, $25.2 million extension with Grizzlies

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Steven Adams signed a two-year, $25.2 million contract extension with Memphis, which will keep him tied to the team through the 2024-25 season. ESPN’s Adrian Wojanrowski broke the news on Saturday.

Adams has been crucial to the Grizzlies’ recent success. He’s coming off his first season with the team, where he averaged career-highs in rebounds (10.0) and assists (3.4). He also helped them lock up the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference and make it to the Conference Semifinals, where they lost to the eventual-champion Warriors 4-2. Despite the improved numbers, a lot of his value is from intangibles that don’t show up in the box score.

Adams spent the first seven years of his career with the Thunder before being traded to New Orleans in the four-team deal that sent Jrue Holiday to Milwaukee. Adams was moved again to Memphis in a package for Jonas Valanciunas.

Adams has found a new home with a young Grizzlies team that is looking to win a championship. The team is built around Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane, but Jackson Jr. is expected to miss time after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left foot. Memphis will rely on Adams more than ever to begin the season.

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.