2022-23 NBA schedule release: 15 must-watch matchups

The NBA released its regular-season schedule for the 2022-23 season, which will begin Oct. 18 and end April 9. Teams will play between 12 and 15 back-to-backs and between seven and 12 stretches of three games in four nights. You can find complete listings for all 82 games from each of the 30 teams here.

The league previously leaked its opening night and Christmas Day schedules. The NBA also announced it will not host games on Election Day, “encouraging fans to make a plan to vote during midterm elections.”

The league’s play-in tournament, featuring the seventh through 10th-place teams in each conference vying for the seventh and eighth seeds, returns April 11-14, and the playoffs are scheduled to being on April 15.

The following highlights the 15 must-watch matchups of the upcoming season.

Minnesota Timberwolves at Utah Jazz

Dec. 9: Wolves at Jazz, 9 p.m. ET (NBA League Pass)

Feb. 8: Wolves at Jazz, 9 p.m. ET (NBA League Pass)

The frosty relationship between Jazz stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert was an open secret until both of them publicly declared in some form or another, Well, teammates don’t have to like each other. It was clear after a third first-round playoff exit in four years that incoming Jazz executive Danny Ainge was going to break up the pairing, and sure enough, he traded Gobert to the Timberwolves for a massive haul.

It is unclear if Mitchell will still be in Utah when the season opens, considering the Jazz are reportedly shopping the three-time All-Star guard, but that would make Gobert’s homecoming a lot more dramatic. Regardless, Gobert was a fan favorite in Utah, and Salt Lake City’s embrace of the three-time Defensive Player of the Year will be a fun scene, so long as the Jazz can still give the Timberwolves a decent game.

New York Knicks at Dallas Mavericks

Dec. 27: Knicks at Mavericks, 8:30 p.m. ET (NBA League Pass)

The lottery-bound Knicks made no secret of their interest in acquiring both Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson and Utah’s Mitchell when members of New York’s front office sat courtside for their first-round playoff meeting. Brunson’s four-year, $104 million contract from the Knicks seemed like a foregone conclusion before free agency even opened, and he ultimately never even gave the Mavericks a chance to re-sign him.

You see, Knicks president of basketball operations Leon Rose hired Brunson’s father, Rick, as an assistant coach. Rick was Rose’s first client back when he was an agent. Jalen is represented by Rose’s son, Sam. Those familial relationships are now subject to a tampering investigation by the NBA, and the league does not launch such an inquiry without a formal complaint, and we are well aware who should feel aggrieved.

All of it makes us more interested to watch how Dallas will receive Brunson, who in four years developed from a second-round pick into an invaluable member of a team that reached the Western Conference finals. That includes MVP frontrunner Luka Doncic, who might feel slighted by Brunson bucking the Mavericks.

Philadelphia 76ers vs. Miami Heat

Feb. 27: Heat at 76ers, 7 p.m. ET (NBA TV)

March 1: 76ers at Heat, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBA League Pass)

April 6: Heat at 76ers, 7:30 p.m. ET (TNT)

Speaking of tampering investigations, there is also one being conducted into the Sixers’ signings of James Harden, PJ Tucker and Danuel House. Harden declined a $47.4 million option for this season to take a $15 million pay cut that facilitated the signings of Tucker and House, and rivals reportedly suspect Philadelphia executive Daryl Morey of already having “a handshake agreement” in place to reward Harden down the line.

Tucker is an underrated loss for the Heat, as his defensive toughness and versatility filled a position of need. He is expected to do the same for the Sixers, who are coming off a six-game, second-round series loss to Miami. How much Tucker alone could swing their positions in the Eastern Conference is intriguing.

What’s more, Heat star Jimmy Butler joked in response to Tucker’s heartfelt Instagram farewell to Miami, “F*** you and Joel Embiid. Yeah I brought him into this.” It may have been all laughs between the former teammates, but you know when they take the court against each other, they’ll set their friendships aside.

Golden State Warriors vs. Boston Celtics

Dec. 10: Celtics at Warriors, 8:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

Jan. 19: Warriors at Celtics, 7:30 p.m. ET (TNT)

The NBA Finals rematch could give us a pair of glimpses into whether the aging Warriors have taken a step back or the young Celtics have taken a step forward. While Golden State lost rotational contributors Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr., Boston added veterans Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari to its core, and that might be just enough to tip the balance of power in what was an evenly matched championship series.

Plus, we’ll see what Warriors’ Draymond Green says when given another chance to trash talk the Celtics’ Grant Williams, who has maintained, “I will still say confidently, confidently, they were not the better team.”

Jayson Tatum and the young Boston Celtics earned the respect of Stephen Curry and the veteran Golden State Warriors in the 2022 NBA Finals. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Jayson Tatum and the young Boston Celtics earned the respect of Stephen Curry and the veteran Golden State Warriors in the 2022 NBA Finals. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Golden State Warriors vs. Memphis Grizzlies

Dec. 25: Grizzlies at Warriors, 8 p.m. ET (ABC/ESPN)

Jan. 25: Grizzlies at Warriors, 10 p.m. ET (ESPN)

March 9: Warriors at Grizzlies, 10 p.m. ET (TNT)

March 18: Warriors at Grizzlies, 8 p.m. ET (NBA TV)

Somehow, the Grizzlies talked more trash to the Warriors than the Celtics, even after Golden State eliminated Memphis in the second round of the playoffs. To be fair, the Grizzlies were without All-NBA point guard Ja Morant for half the series, but the point is that we got some much-needed new basketball beef.

It all started when Memphis big man Jaren Jackson Jr. tweeted “Strength in numbers” — an ode to an old Warriors slogan — when Memphis beat Golden State in a battle of two injury-depleted teams on March 28.

When the Warriors won the title, Klay Thompson used his press conference to remind Jackson, “‘Strength in numbers’ is alive and well.

“There was this one player who tweeted ‘strength in numbers’ after they beat us in the regular season, and it pissed me off so much,” Thompson said. “I can’t wait to retweet that thing. Freaking bum.”

Morant responded on Twitter by insinuating his Grizzlies have “got a lot of real estate” in the Warriors’ heads, to which Green responded, “We traded that real estate in. The property value was higher in Boston.” It all ended with Morant and Green hoping the two teams could settle their differences on Christmas Day.

Boston Celtics vs. Milwaukee Bucks

Dec. 25: Bucks at Celtics, 5 p.m. ET (ABC/ESPN)

Feb. 14: Celtics at Bucks, 7:30 p.m. ET (TNT)

March 30: Celtics at Bucks, 7:30 p.m. ET (TNT)

The Celtics and Bucks are the clear favorites in the East. They met in the second round of the playoffs, and Boston needed seven games to eliminate a prideful Milwaukee team that was without All-Star forward Khris Middleton. His healthy return could mean the difference, even if the Celtics have since made improvements.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best player alive, so he is must-watch TV no matter the opponent, but we can expect Jayson Tatum to enter the MVP conversation if he and the Celtics play as they did in the second half of last season, and their performances opposite each other could ultimately determine that award.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Brooklyn Nets

Nov. 13: Nets at Lakers, 9:30 p.m. ET (NBA League Pass)

Jan. 30: Lakers at Nets, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBA TV)

The NBA’s dream scenario last season — and an oddsmaker’s favorite, too — Lakers vs. Nets is now the disaster duel. It’s like the Titanic and Hindenburg headed straight for each other, only we have no idea who will be driving, or even if anyone will be at the wheel. We just have to watch what happens when they meet.

The futures of superstars LeBron James and Kevin Durant hang in the balance. Durant reportedly wants out of Brooklyn, and the newly extended James reportedly wants Russell Westbrook out of Los Angeles, preferably in exchange for Durant’s friend and current Nets teammate Kyrie Irving. And who knows how precarious All-Stars Anthony Davis and Ben Simmons, both represented by the same agency as James, will factor into this strange saga.

Would it surprise you more if all of them were on their same teams when they meet this season or none of them? Either way, it’ll be fascinating to see if either roster can emerge a challenger when the dust settles.

LeBron James is chasing a 39-year-old NBA record and Father Time this season for the Los Angeles Lakers. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

LeBron James is chasing a 39-year-old NBA record and Father Time this season for the Los Angeles Lakers. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Los Angeles Lakers vs. TBA

Sometime after January

LeBron trails Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s career scoring record by 1,325 points entering this season. He averaged 30.3 points per game last season and didn’t hit 1,325 points for the year until he scored 56 points in a win over the Warriors on March 5, partly because he missed 17 games due to ankle and knee injuries.

If healthy and averaging better than 25 points per game, as he has done for 18 straight years, James could catch Abdul-Jabbar in early February. The record may be all the Lakers have to aspire to at that point, but it is worth celebrating, since it will have been 39 years since Abdul-Jabbar broke Wilt Chamberlain’s mark.

Los Angeles Lakers at Cleveland Cavaliers

Dec. 6: Lakers at Cavaliers, 7:30 p.m. ET (TNT)

We realize this is far too much Lakers for most tastes, but LeBron will loom large over this season, which also serves as a countdown to an all-time great’s career marks and his potential free agency in 2024.

Over the next two seasons, rumors will link James to any number of possible landing spots, especially another return to Cleveland. He welcomed that speculation in February, when he told The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd, “The door’s not closed on” a third stint with the Cavaliers. You can guarantee there will be similar nuggets dropped in the lead-up to his one and only trip to Cleveland this season. And if James’ son, Bronny, takes an official college visit to Ohio State, the chatter will increase a few decibels. LeBron has a player option to enter free agency when his son becomes draft eligible following his freshman year of college.

Would the Cavaliers be interested in bringing LeBron back into the fold of a young and talented roster on the rise? Cleveland’s fans will most certainly make their opinion heard when the Lakers come to town.

New Orleans Pelicans vs. Brooklyn Nets

Oct. 19: Pelicans at Nets, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBA League Pass)

Presumably, Zion Williamson and Ben Simmons will make their long-awaited returns opposite each other.

Williamson has not played an NBA game since May 4, 2021, when he was two months removed from his first All-Star appearance and averaging 27 points on 61% shooting in 33 minutes a night. His return from the foot injury that cost him all of last season will be a momentous occasion for a sport that hyped him as the most promising prospect since LeBron, if only for the chance to see if he still carries that potential.

Williamson signed a five-year maximum extension with the Pelicans in July, which reportedly includes a weight clause that requires him to maintain a combined weight and body fat index below 295. That contract can reach $231 million if he makes an All-NBA team or wins the MVP award this season. With that in mind, Williamson’s new personal chef recently told SB Nation that their mutual goal is for him to be the MVP.

That alone is worth watching, but Williamson’s integration into a team that coalesced without him will be even more interesting. The Pelicans recovered from a 3-16 start to finish 36-46 last season. They beat the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers in the play-in tournament to capture the West’s No. 8 seed, and they gave the 64-win Phoenix Suns all they could handle in six games of their first-round playoff series. The trade deadline addition of CJ McCollum helped Brandon Ingram reach another level of stardom, and the addition of Williamson to that mix could either disrupt that chemistry or turn New Orleans into a threat.

Simmons, like Williamson, once was billed as “the next LeBron,” but he last played on June 20, 2021, when he passed up a game-tying layup in the waning moments of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The fallout from that loss led him to request a trade from the Sixers. When they did not immediately grant his request, Simmons held out of training camp and the first few months of last season, first citing mental health concerns and subsequently revealing a back injury. Philadelphia ultimately traded him to Brooklyn in a package for James Harden, but Simmons has yet to play for the Nets, undergoing back surgery in May.

What the Nets will look like on opening night remains in question. It would not be surprising if Durant and Irving do not open the season in Brooklyn. It would not even be surprising if Simmons were no longer on the roster, either. Everything is in play, including the possibility that all three are in uniform for a contender.

Still, we have no idea whether Simmons will be mentally prepared to play on opening night or at any point(s) during the season, or whether he will join his co-stars on the trading block, which is why we didn’t include his return to Philadelphia on this list of must-watch matchups. We’ll tune in if and when he ever plays there.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Orlando Magic

Nov. 1: Magic at Thunder, 7:30 p.m. ET (TNT)

Jan. 4: Thunder at Magic, 7 p.m. ET (NBA League Pass)

There was much debate about who the Magic should and would select with the No. 1 overall pick, and they took Paolo Banchero, a polished and powerful 6-foot-10 playmaker. The Thunder nabbed Chet Holmgren, a wiry 7-foot shot blocker and creator, with the No. 2 pick. Neither disappointed on the court at the Las Vegas summer league, but Orlando robbed us of their first showdown by resting Banchero against Oklahoma City.

When asked pre-draft who he believes to be the best player in the NBA, Holmgren replied, “Myself in two months.” Likewise, Banchero told reporters in mid-June, “I feel like I am the best player in the draft, and I feel like I showed that throughout the year.” We’ll get our first two chances to find out who’s right this year.

Detroit Pistons vs. Houston Rockets

Jan. 28: Rockets at Pistons, 7 p.m. ET (NBA League Pass)

March 31: Pistons at Rockets, 8 p.m. ET (NBA League Pass)

The first time last year’s top two picks were pitted against each other lived up to the hype. Rockets wing Jalen Green drove past Pistons counterpart Cade Cunningham, threw down a dunk and delivered some trash talk to the only player picked higher than him, earning a technical foul. Following Detroit’s victory that night, Cunningham responded, “Nothing that I heard tonight held any weight — it was all for the cameras.”

Now, they have reinforcements. The Rockets added Jabari Smith with this year’s No. 3 overall pick, and the Pistons selected Jaden Ivey fifth. With Alperen Sengun and Saddiq Bey also respectively in tow, Houston and Detroit feature two of the best young cores in the league, and the trash talk only adds to the showcase.

Los Angeles Clippers vs. Denver Nuggets

Nov. 25: Nuggets at Clippers, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBA TV)

Jan. 5: Clippers at Nuggets, 10 p.m. ET (TNT)

Jan. 13: Nuggets at Clippers, 10 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Feb. 26: Clippers at Nuggets, 10 p.m. ET (ESPN)

No teams were more devastated by injuries than the Clippers and Nuggets last season. L.A. lost Kawhi Leonard to a season-long ACL rehab, and Paul George missed all but 31 games with an elbow injury. Denver’s Jamal Murray also spent the entire season recovering from an ACL injury, and Michael Porter Jr. played just nine games before requiring a second season-ending back surgery in his first three seasons.

Both teams should have been in contention if healthy, and both expect to be again. If you want high-level basketball, let these two teams serve as a reminder that the NBA is deeper than ever. The Clippers are loaded with talented wings, and Nikola Jokic makes everyone on the Nuggets better. Whichever roster stays healthier could be the biggest threat to Golden State in the West, so let’s see how they stack up.

Atlanta Hawks at San Antonio Spurs

March 19: Hawks at Spurs, 4 p.m. ET (NBA League Pass)

Is anyone clamoring for Dejounte Murray’s homecoming to San Antonio? He spent his first six seasons with the Spurs, one of which was lost to an ACL tear, developing from a late first-round pick into a 2022 All-Star. They traded him to the Hawks in June for three first-round picks (two unprotected) and a pick swap. His tenure never coincided with the Tim Duncan era, although he played as a rookie on the 61-win team that reached the 2017 Western Conference finals. Within two years, the Spurs were stripped down to the studs.

Now, San Antonio is poised to enter the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes this season. Wembanyama is a 7-foot-3 Frenchman and a transformational prospect in the Class of 2023, not unlike Duncan. We’ll find out just how committed to tanking San Antonio is when Murray rolls into town with a chance to humiliate them.

The Hawks are worth watching for the opposite reason. They are desperately trying to win and invested much of their future draft capital in Murray. Lose to a Spurs organization with no intent on winning, and that won’t exactly breed confidence in Atlanta’s ability to contend before its picks are owed to San Antonio.

Phoenix Suns vs. Indiana Pacers

Jan. 21: Pacers at Suns, 9 p.m. ET (NBA League Pass)

Feb. 10: Suns at Pacers, 7 p.m. ET (NBA League Pass)

The Pacers tried to swipe DeAndre Ayton from the Suns this summer, signing him to a four-year, $133 million maximum offer sheet in restricted free agency. Phoenix quickly matched Indiana’s offer, keeping the 2018 No. 1 overall pick. This came after a yearlong campaign by the Suns not to offer Ayton a max contract, which culminated in his controversial benching in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Meanwhile, Indiana reportedly offered Myles Turner as part of a sign-and-trade package for Ayton, which Phoenix rejected. Turner has been the subject of trade rumors seemingly his entire career. No two players in the league should feel more slighted by their current franchises than Ayton and Turner, which fills their meetings this season with awkwardness. The Suns and Pacers could potentially revisit a trade on Jan. 15, but Ayton holds the right to refuse any proposal this season, which could further fuel that awkwardness.

Keep a close eye on both teams. The Suns’ window for contention gets narrower the older Chris Paul gets, and the Pacers are quietly building a roster that might be an Ayton away from becoming a real problem.

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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