NBA's second-half schedule offers plenty of must-see matchups
By Melissa Rohlin
FOX Sports NBA Writer
The second half of the NBA schedule was released Wednesday, and there are quite a few games to circle on the calendar.
Some teams definitely have an easier road ahead to cap off the shortened, 72-game season, while others will have to make up postponed games in nearly the same time period.
After the season finishes May 16, a play-in tournament in each conference will be held May 18-21 before the first round of the playoffs begin.
Here are some matchups to get excited about:
Phoenix Suns vs. Portland Trail Blazers: March 11 and May 13
What do the Suns and Trail Blazers have in common? They have the two most disrespected players in the league, respectively, in Devin Booker and Damian Lillard. At least, that's what LeBron James thinks. He took to Twitter to announce that to the world Tuesday after neither Booker nor Lillard made the All-Star team. The league announced Wednesday that Booker would be a reserve, replacing the injured Anthony Davis. And as much as those players are overlooked, so are their teams. Both squads could easily cause some major upsets down the line in the Western Conference.
Brooklyn Nets at Utah Jazz: March 24
Remember how the Jazz lost to the Nets — who were playing without Kevin Durant — by 34 points on Jan. 5? Well, mark my words: The Jazz will be hyped for this one. All of their selflessness and passing and defense will be on full display following their embarrassing no-show against the flashiest team in the league. The Jazz want to show the NBA world that they belong — and what better way to do it than by avenging that mortifying blowout?
Boston Celtics vs. Milwaukee Bucks: March 24 and 26
The Celtics are loaded with talent in Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker, but they've been struggling recently, losing seven of their past 10 games. Can they turn things around? Meanwhile, the Bucks have the two-time reigning MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo, but they can’t seem to get far in the playoffs. [Last season, Antetokounmpo reinjured a sprained right ankle in Game 4 of the Bucks' second-round series against the Miami Heat, and his team went on to lose the series.] But Antetokounmpo has faith that the Bucks can go all the way, and he signed a long-term contract with the team at the top of the season. Both of these teams have something to prove, which always makes things intriguing.
Los Angeles Lakers at LA Clippers: April 4
There was so much hype last season about a potential Hallway Showdown between the Clippers and Lakers in the playoffs. It was supposed to be the first postseason meeting between the darling of the league and its neglected stepchild, which covers up its rival's then-16 NBA championships during home games at Staples Center. Well, that long-awaited meeting never happened. The Clippers, who have never made it past the second round of the playoffs in their 50-year history, once again defeated themselves in the playoffs, this time by way of an epic implosion against the Denver Nuggets in the second round, in which they blew a commanding 3-1 series advantage. Well, there's always a chance we'll get the showdown this season, right? If for no other reason, tune in to this game to see the Morris twins play each other and Jared Dudley go against Paul George, whom Dudley recently acknowledged provided the Lakers with added motivation last season after saying he thought he and Kawhi Leonard were the top duo in the league.
Los Angeles Lakers at Brooklyn Nets: April 10
When these teams played on Feb. 18, they were both hobbled. The Lakers were without Anthony Davis (right calf strain), and the Nets were without Kevin Durant (left hamstring strain). So even though the Nets won 109-98, how much does that really count? Also, it was a weird night. How weird? Well, the Nets, who have one of the worst-rated defenses in the league (26th of 30 teams), beat the Lakers (who have the top-rated defense) with defense. The Nets have turned things around on the defensive end recently, but with Davis on the court, we'll see if they're as effective as they were last time.
Brooklyn Nets at Philadelphia 76ers: April 14
Who is the top dog in the East? This game could answer that question. Currently, the Nets are riding the hottest streak in the league, with seven straight wins. The second-place Nets (21-12) are now only a half-game behind the first-place 76ers (21-11). Sure, home-court advantage doesn't matter nearly as much as it used to, without fans or with limited numbers of them allowed in arenas because of the pandemic, but if the race in the East remains tight, this game could affect who gets to stay home first -- and potentially last -- if these teams meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. Also, watching Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons go up against Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden sounds interesting as heck.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Utah Jazz: April 17 and 19
Where did this Jazz team come from? They don't have a starter in the All-Star game. Are they really able to get in the way of LeBron James, the face of the league, and the defending NBA champions? At age 36, James is clearly on a mission to get his team in position to compete for another title. And who would ever bet against the guy who took the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers to the Finals in eight straight seasons? But this Jazz team (with two All-Star reserves) is clicking on all cylinders behind Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell and could present some interesting challenges for the Lakers.
Dallas Mavericks at Golden State Warriors: April 27
The last time these teams played was one of the most fun games of the season. The Mavericks won 134-132 in a ridiculously high-scoring duel that featured stellar performances from Luka Doncic (42 points) for Dallas and Stephen Curry (57 points) for Golden State. "What a display of basketball out there," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle told reporters after that game. Kerr called it one of the most impressive performances of Curry's career, which has included five NBA Finals appearances and three championships. Said Kerr: "He's never played better."
Denver Nuggets at Utah Jazz: May 7
These teams have had some fun battles, and in one of the final games before the playoffs, hopefully they'll have another one. The Nuggets overcame a 3-1 deficit to beat the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs last season. And now that the Jazz have the best record in the league, they'll surely want to stick it to the Nuggets, right? So far, the teams have split their meetings this season. Their next one could be fun.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA reporter for FOX Sports. She has previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.