2021-22 NBA schedule: Nets-Lakers, Bucks-Suns Finals rematch among 15 must-watch games this upcoming season

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With the 2021-22 NBA schedule released, it’s only right we dissect the six months of regular-season games to see which matchups are already worthy of getting excited over at this point in time. Between old teammates facing each other for the first time to rematches of last year’s playoff series and battles between championship contenders, the NBA schedule is ripe with heavily anticipated matchups from start to finish. 

There’s so much action to keep track of, so we broke down the 15 most-exciting matchups to keep an eye on when the season starts on Oct. 19, with games from each month on the schedule. 

The reigning champions tip off the season by hosting the Brooklyn Nets, who should be at full strength, unlike during last season’s playoffs when these two teams squared off. This matchup has several storylines going for it, from watching the Bucks receive their championship rings and raise their banner inside Fiserv Forum to a potential lookahead to what the Eastern Conference finals could be. When the Bucks got past the Nets en route to their championship last season, they did do with Brooklyn down both Kyrie Irving and James Harden at times, leading Kevin Durant to carry the Nets throughout a hard-fought, seven-game series. This time around, though, Brooklyn will be healthy and it’ll be looking to spoil Milwaukee’s championship celebration to kick off the season. 

Though Klay Thompson won’t make his return just yet — he’s targeting a Christmas Day return — that doesn’t make this matchup any less enticing. The Lakers will be debuting new pieces in Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony, while the Warriors will be looking to make a statement to the rest of the league that they’re back to competing for titles again on the strength of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and eventually Thompson. We’ll also get our first look at seeing if the trade to land Westbrook was worth it for L.A. There’s obvious strengths to landing a player of Westbrook’s talents, mainly easing some of the playmaking responsibilities off LeBron James and providing some additional energy to power this team through the regular season, but the cons — namely his efficiency and 3-point shooting — are areas of concerns. 

Trae Young and Luka Doncic will we tied to each other for the entirety of their careers after the draft-night trade that landed them on their respective teams. So every time these two young superstars line up against each other will be must-see television so everyone can dust off the age-old conversation of who won the trade. Now that both the Hawks and Mavericks are expected to be consistent playoffs teams, it’ll make this game even more entertaining and competitive. 

Oct. 22 — Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers

After the Suns made a surprising run to the NBA Finals last season, which started with bouncing the heavily favored Lakers in the first round, this postseason rematch will have a lot of eyes on it. Phoenix is out to prove that last season’s run was no fluke for anyone who still doesn’t believe in this talented team. Meanwhile, the Lakers will want to exact some revenge against the Suns. With some new additions to both rosters, and Anthony Davis and Chris Paul hopefully at full health this time around, we should expect a close, competitive contest.

After finishing last season as the No. 1 seed in the East, the Sixers were expected to at least make it to the conference finals. So it came as a huge surprise when the Hawks came in and burst that bubble and bumped Philly from the postseason in the second round. The Sixers didn’t make many moves in the postseason to change their positioning in the Eastern Conference, and are still playing the waiting game on Ben Simmons’ future, but there should be tons of motivation for them to get up for this game against a Hawks team that — on paper — looks like it could compete for a top-4 seed in the East. 

In celebration of the NBA’s 75th anniversary, the league will be holding “classic matchups” throughout the course of the season to commemorate the first season of the league’s existence. The first of those matchups will be between the Knicks and the Raptors, to mark the 75th anniversary to date of when the NBA held its first regular-season game between the Knicks and the Toronto Huskies. It’s a cool milestone moment for the NBA, and there will surely be some special content to go along with this important matchup.

This will be the first matchup between the top two picks in the 2021 NBA Draft — No. 1 Cade Cunningham and No. 2 Jalen Green — giving us our first taste to see which player has the edge over the other early on in their professional careers. There’s also some added fuel to the fire after Green said he wanted to go No. 1 overall, but didn’t want to play in Detroit. Luckily for Green, this game will be on his home floor, but you can assume that when he heads to Detroit for the first time he won’t be receiving a welcoming reception after his comments. 

Nov. 14 — Milwaukee Bucks at Atlanta Hawks

The Bucks and Hawks will meet for the first time since facing off in the Eastern Conference finals. After a surprising run in the playoffs, Atlanta won’t be entering the season as a surprise team this season as it proved it will be a contender for years to come with superstar Trae Young as its centerpiece. Milwaukee, on the other hand, will have a target on its back as every team in the league will want to dethrone the Bucks all throughout the season. The Hawks will get that chance in November, and this time Young — hopefully — won’t be sidelined with an injury.

Nov. 23 — Los Angeles Lakers at New York Knicks

The league’s two biggest franchises facing off at Madison Square Garden and … the Knicks will actually be good! If last season was New York testing the waters with relevancy, this season will act as its (re)introduction to basketball popularity. With the addition of Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier the Knicks now have some shooters and playmakers to surround Julius Randle with. While they will still be outmatched in terms of talent against the Lakers, the atmosphere of this game will be incredible to watch.

Dec. 25 — Brooklyn Nets at Los Angeles Lakers

This could be a preview of the 2022 NBA Finals with this highly anticipated matchup on Christmas Day. Assuming all the headliners are healthy on both sides, this will be the most exciting game on the five-game day. It pits several formal teammates against each other, with James going against Irving, Durant matching up against Westbrook and Harden going toe-to-toe with Anthony. It pits two of the league’s top superteams against each other in what should be a highly competitive game.

Dec. 25 — Atlanta Hawks at New York Knicks

The other must-watch game on Christmas Day is between the Hawks and Knicks. While it won’t be the first matchup between these two teams since they played each other in the first round of the playoffs last season, the context of this game will be far more entertaining. After creating millions of enemies in the form of Knicks fans, Young will try to act as the Grinch on Christmas and steal a win at Madison Square Garden. That storyline just writes itself. 

Jan. 29 — Brooklyn Nets at Golden State Warriors

While this won’t be Durant’s first time back in the Bay Area since leaving Golden State in 2019, it could be the first time Durant faces a fully healthy Warriors team in San Francisco as Klay Thompson is expected to be back on the floor by then. That could lead to a far more competitive matchup compared to both of last season’s affairs as the Nets blew out the Warriors on opening night (125-99) and repeated that success when they faced off at Chase Center a couple months later (134-117). Though there isn’t any perceived bad blood between Durant and any of his former teammates on the Warriors, an interview he did with Draymond Green where he blamed Golden State’s front office for why he left the franchise might’ve left a sour taste in the mouths of some fans and perhaps some members within that organization. 

Feb. 3 — Miami Heat at Toronto Raptors

After joining the Heat during free agency via a sign-and-trade, Kyle Lowry will return to Toronto for the first time on Feb. 3. It’ll likely be an emotional affair for Lowry, who should receive an incredibly warm reception from Raptors fans as they shower their former franchise centerpiece with praise after bringing the franchise its first championship back in 2019. Pleasantries aside, though, Toronto will try its best to show Lowry he shouldn’t have left the Raptors for the Heat.

Feb. 10 — Milwaukee Bucks at Phoenix Suns

A bit surprising that we’re not getting this Finals rematch earlier in the season, but it’ll be the first time the Suns and Bucks face each other since Milwaukee ousted Phoenix for the 2021 championship. Both teams will be considered title contenders again, so it’ll serve as a good test for both squads right before the All-Star break. Phoenix will come into this game with a bit of a chip on its shoulder after losing to the Bucks, and with this game taking place in Phoenix you can bet that Suns fans will show their full support for this matchup.

It may not be as intriguing of a return as Lowry’s will be in Toronto, but Westbrook will make his return to D.C. toward the end of the regular season. Given he only spent one season with the Wizards, it will be interesting to see what type of reception he receives from fans. He did help Washington get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2018, which should be viewed as a sizable accomplishment for that franchise. But he also requested a trade from the Wizards this summer, and had the Lakers as his preferred destination, so that likely rubbed some fans the wrong way. 

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