These are the major milestones on the road to the title
If you can watch only 10 NBA games this season, well, you probably need to look at adding a little flexibility to your schedule. Still, we're here to help, not judge. After all, with 1,230 regular-season games on the schedule for 2015-16, no mortal can be expected to watch them all. So here's a start -- 10 games that will help tell the story of the upcoming NBA season, which starts Tuesday night.
NBAE/Getty ImagesAndrew D. Bernstein
Pelicans at Warriors: Oct. 27, 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)
There are three games on opening night, with two Eastern Conference tilts serving as a nice appetizer to the main entree. New Orleans and Golden State will offer up a rematch of their first-round playoff matchup from 2015, which the Warriors won easily. More important, this is a meeting of the reigning MVP, Stephen Curry, and one of the top contenders to take home that hardware this season, Pelicans big man Anthony Davis. The Brow is set for a meteoric rise in 2015-16, and opening night is a good time to get in on the ground floor. And to top it all off, Tuesday night will see the return of reporter Craig Sager to the sideline after overcoming his most recent bout with cancer.
NBAE/Getty ImagesNoah Graham
Clippers at Mavericks: Nov. 11, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
In a different life, this would be a reunion between DeAndre Jordan and his former team. Instead, the Dallas faithful will be ready to give Jordan an earful after he backed out of a potential deal with the Mavericks this offseason and returned to the Clippers. Unfortunately for Mavs fans, Dallas is facing injury concerns and the possible continued decline of Dirk Nowitzki. It'll take a Herculean effort from the Mavericks to send the home crowd off into the night with a Dallas win. It'll certainly help if Chandler Parsons is healthy for the Mavs -- and after all the time he spent recruiting Jordan to come to Dallas, Parsons' participation would heighten the entertainment value, too.
APJae C. Hong
Spurs at Blazers: Nov. 11, 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Nov. 11 will be a busy night for NBA fans. After the Clippers and Mavericks square off, LaMarcus Aldridge will make his return to Portland. You can't blame the former Blazers big man for heading to San Antonio this offseason; at this point in his career, Aldridge wants to win. The Spurs offered him the best opportunity to do that. Still, Aldridge told Blazers fans several times that his heart was in Portland and that he wanted to become the greatest Trail Blazer in team history. It's hard to live up to that goal when you switch teams.
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Spurs at Rockets: Dec. 25, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Ah, the annual smorgasbord that is the NBA's Christmas Day slate. And tucked in the five-game marathon is this Western Conference gem. The battle for L.A. and a Finals rematch will draw most of the day's eyeballs, but this could be the most meaningful game. It'll offer NBA fans a glimpse at two of the West's potential title contenders, and seeding in this year's playoffs could come down to games such as this one. You'll have plenty of chances to watch the Warriors and Cavaliers all season long. As the calendar creeps toward a new year and the NBA starts to come out of football's shadow, it'll be worth checking out how James Harden, Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard and the rest of these two teams are doing.
Timberwolves at 76ers: Jan. 4, 7 p.m. ET
They can't all be winners. At some point this season, you're probably going to watch some bad basketball. And you're going to have to go out of your way to catch this one, as it won't be on national television. But in the wintery middle of the season, why not check out two of the league's youngest teams -- and two of the NBA's top three picks in the 2015 draft? Karl-Anthony Towns (right) and Jahlil Okafor (left) will have had a couple months to adjust to the speed of the NBA, but this will be early enough in the season that neither player should yet be subject to the rookie wall. Post play is something of a lost art in today's game, but these two young guys could help redefine what it means to be a top-flight big man.
Thunder at Warriors: Feb. 6, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Did you think we forgot about Oklahoma City? How could we, with Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka at the heart of such a spectacular team? There might be some hiccups for OKC's Billy Donovan in his first season as an NBA coach, but we have faith he will be a step up from Thunder coaching over the past few seasons. If that holds true, and if healthy, the Thunder will be a legitimate threat to Stephen Curry and the Warriors in the West. This midseason matchup should give us a glimpse into how the teams stack up. And we never need an excuse to watch Westbrook and Curry, arguably the league's top two point guards, go back and forth.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY SportsKyle Terada
Lakers at Pacers: Feb. 8, 7 p.m. ET
How will Roy Hibbert be greeted by his former home crowd? That's the question in this one. On the one hand, Hibbert was an integral part of some rather successful Pacers teams. On the other, his tenure in Indiana ended with a whimper. It seems fair to expect some half-hearted applause and lukewarm appreciation for Hibbert's time with the team, but it wouldn't be a complete surprise if he were greeted with a standing ovation -- or boos, for that matter. Once that's out of the way, keep your eyes on Paul George. The NBA was a little bit worse last year with George out for most of the season. If he's healthy and able to lead a faster-paced Pacers offense, it will be a lot of fun to watch PG-13 battle Kobe Bryant.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY SportsGary A. Vasquez
Cavaliers at Lakers: March 10, 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)
The Lakers' regular-season finale on April 13 will be must-watch fare as well, since it could be Kobe Bryant's last game in purple and gold. But before the 2015-16 season ends, you're also going to want to check out the season's final meeting between Bryant and LeBron James. In all honesty, we're not going to believe Kobe is retiring until we see it. But with that said, there's not a chance in the world we're risking missing out on this one. The respect between these two megastars is apparent. With little on the line in terms of wins and losses, their one-on-one battles should be something to see. You know, just in case.
Getty ImagesHarry How
Clippers at Warriors: March 23, 10:30 p.m. ET
This is the last of four meetings between these two teams in 2015-16, but that doesn't mean the trash talk will have subsided in the slightest. All offseason, both teams took jabs at the other side. The Warriors were lucky to win the title! The Clippers couldn't handle their business! On and on it went, and hopefully, it never stops. It's incredibly entertaining when these two squads are jawing, and that animosity manifests itself when they step on the court. Perhaps some of the earlier games between the Warriors and Clippers will have more dramatic tension. But at this point in the season, every possession counts. And the higher stakes will make Los Angeles and Golden State a powder keg waiting to explode.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY SportsGary A. Vasquez
Bulls at Heat: April 7, 8 p.m. ET (TNT)
The common assumption is that the Eastern Conference belongs to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Sure, it makes sense. The team with LeBron James is the prohibitive favorite. But if the Cavs can't get healthy, or if things click for one of these teams, the East could get a lot more interesting. That's not to say the Bulls and Heat are perfect. Miami can't shoot 3-pointers, Chicago has a new coach and a new rotation, and both teams have health questions of their own. Yet when Chicago and Miami meet up in the regular season's final week, we'll have clarity on many of those concerns. And if this season reaches its potential, this game should be a test of which team has the best chance of knocking off the King in his own conference.