Just over three weeks after the NBA's Board of Governors approved a 22-team competitive format for the restart of the 2019-20 season, the full 'seeding games' schedule was released.
The 88 seeding games - which will count towards regular season records and statistics - will be played between July 30th and August 14th across three courts (HP Field House, Visa Athletic Center, and The Arena) at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
MORE: FAQ on the NBA's detailed plan to restart the season
Here's a quick look at the eight most interesting games on the schedule:
Utah Jazz vs. New Orleans Pelicans - July 31, 4:00 AM IST
NBA BASKETBALL IS BACK!
A couple of All-Stars in Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert lead the Jazz against a young Pelicans squad led by the rookie sensation Zion Williamson. Honestly, it wouldn't have mattered which teams competed in this first game because it symbolizes a lot more than.
It would be the first NBA game in 141 days since the season was suspended on March 11th.
LA Clippers vs. Los Angeles Lakers - July 31, 6:30 AM IST
We saw these two contenders last face off on March 8th, just a few days before the season was suspended.
This game is possibly a Conference Finals preview, it's the battle for Los Angeles just not in Los Angeles.
It's the first game on the schedule for either team, so how rusty would both teams be especially the superstars? What will the rosters and rotations look like? What would normally have been a game with a playoff atmosphere, how will this one feel without the fans? How will the players react to that difference?
Plenty of firsts in this exciting star-studded clash headlined by the Kawhi Leonard-LeBron James matchup.
Memphis Grizzlies vs. Portland Trail Blazers - August 1, 1:30 AM IST
Despite this being just the first seeding game for either team, it is of tremendous value. The young Grizzlies, currently eighth in the West, will begin their defence for that final playoff spot against the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Blazers, currently ninth in the West, welcome back a couple of valuable big men in Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins from injury. Those two coupled with Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Hassan Whiteside and Carmelo Anthony could play the role of spoiler down in the Orlando bubble.
Miami Heat vs. Denver Nuggets - August 1, 10:30 PM IST
Both these franchises, jostling for seeding in their respective conferences, have among the toughest schedules.
The Heat play seven of their eight games against existing playoff teams while the Nuggets play six of their eight against such opponents. After this first game, Miami has a three-game stretch against the Raptors, Celtics, and the Bucks. On the other hand, the Nuggets cap off their seeding game schedule with a three-game stretch against the Lakers, Clippers, and Raptors.
What remains to be seen, especially over the latter half of the schedule, is how teams that have locked in seeding approach their final tune-up games ahead of the playoffs. The Nuggets and Heat are among teams that could have wild swings in playoff seeding depending on how their eight games play out and therefore, this is a big one for both.
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Houston Rockets - August 3, 6:00 AM IST
"I want somebody that's going to pass the ball."
That was the rationale used by 2019 MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo when he passed on 2018 MVP James Harden at the All-Star draft back in February. Harden of course fired back while offering up a not-so-subtle jab at the Greek Freak.
"I wish I could just run, [be] 7 feet and run and just dunk," Harden said. "Like, that takes no skill at all. I gotta actually learn how to play basketball, how to have skill. I'll take that any day."
Well, then! The two have not played since the comments made by Harden which makes this duel between the last two MVPs even more juicy.
The Rockets have lots to play for with respect to the seedings in the West. The Bucks, on the other hand, are looking to seal the East's top seed as quickly as possible as they enter Orlando with a 6.5 game lead over the Raptors.
Memphis Grizzlies vs. New Orleans Pelicans - August 4, 4:00 AM IST
Marking the second game between the top two picks of the 2019 Draft - Zion Williamson and Ja Morant - this contest is vital to deciding which team has the best chance to grab the final playoff spot in the West.
In a best-case scenario for the Grizzlies, if everything goes right, a win in this game could possibly mean a mathematical elimination for the Pelicans who are three games back of the Grizzlies in the loss column. The Pelicans won each of the first two meetings this season.
Also potentially in play? The race for Rookie of the Year. Morant's had a strong season from the start and remains the favourite but faces a surge by Williamson who has captivated and then some with an absurd first 19 games to open his career. Would a strong performance by Zion accompanied by a Pelicans playoff push be enough to change the narrative and sway voters?
Toronto Raptors vs. Milwaukee Bucks - August 11, 4:00 AM IST
A matchup between the top two teams in the East towards the end of the seeding games schedule could be a preview for the Eastern Conference Finals series.
In their previous two regular-season games, the Bucks came out victorious both times. Can the defending champions pull one back, but more importantly, would anybody noteworthy suit-up in this game if both teams' seeds are already locked up?
Even if several key starters sit, consider this the opening salvo of the chess match between head coaches Nick Nurse and Mike Budenholzer.
Toronto Raptors vs. Philadelphia 76ers - August 13, 4:00 AM IST
This Raptors game is the only contest that the Philadelphia 76ers have against any of the top eight teams (top four from both Conferences).
The Sixers enter Orlando as possibly the greatest unknown with a roster talented enough to win the whole thing and a lack of consistency which could result in a first-round flameout. Philadelphia went just 12-18 during the regular season against teams at or above .500 and are also just 10-24 away from home (29-2 at home). The Sixers remain an enigma unlike anything else across the league
Having possibly sealed their spot, would the Raptors play their starters heavy minutes in this one? Either way, picking up wins and capping it off against the Raptors would be critical for much-needed momentum leading into the playoffs, for a 76ers squad that has struggled to grab some for a couple of months before the season's suspension.
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