Christmas Day ‘Battle of L.A.’ among 8 NBA games to mark on calendar

Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) drives around Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23). (Frank Gunn/CP)

The NBA released its full 2019-20 regular-season schedule on Monday with a number of highlights including the return of many stars who changed teams in the off-season and one of the most anticipated Christmas Day games in recent memory.

Here’s eight games to mark on your calendars for the coming season:

Dec. 25: Clippers vs. Lakers

Christmas Day won’t be the first meeting between these two teams this coming season (they’ll square off on opening night on Oct. 22), but it’ll likely be the most significant, at least unless they see each other in the playoffs.

Both the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers are, seemingly for the first time ever, both considered primetime teams with equal star power on both sides in LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the Lakers and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the Clippers.

It’s a “Battle for L.A.” we’ve never seen before on the NBA’s most important regular-season day in the marquee timeslot of 8 p.m. ET.

This will be a game where a statement is made by either club.

Nov. 14: Mavericks vs. Knicks

Though it’s only been about six months, given the rapid nature of movement in the NBA, Kristaps Porzingis’s trade demand and subsequent move to the Dallas Mavericks feels like a lifetime ago, especially because he hasn’t played since Feb. 6, 2018 recovering from an ACL injury.

Regardless of his checkered-looking health, the Mavericks still signed the 24-year-old seven-footer to a five-year, $158-million max contract. It was a surefire sign of confidence his health woes will be put behind him and, along with 2019 rookie of the year Luka Doncic, will restore Dallas’ former glory.

On the flip side of this equation, the Knicks will likely be hoping for the exact opposite to happen. New York traded Porzingis for, essentially Dennis Smith Jr., a bunch of spare parts and additional cap space to try to lure a marquee free agent in the off-season of which they failed.

Porzingis’s return to Madison Square Garden will be very interesting because he was probably the one thing the Knicks could bank on as hope for their future before allegedly requesting a trade.

Porzingis will get a crack his first crack at revenge on Nov. 14 and get a chance to leave Knicks fans bawling like that kid who did the same when New York first drafted him in 2015.

Nov. 15: Jazz vs. Grizzlies

As the old expression goes, “If you love someone, let them go.”

That’s exactly what the Memphis Grizzlies did when they traded franchise icon Marc Gasol to the Toronto Raptors at the trade deadline to give him a shot at winning a championship (of which he made good on) and did so again in early July when they dealt Memphis’s other basketball legend, Mike Conley, to the Utah Jazz.

It’s still unclear if Conley’s Utah chapter will go as well as Gasol’s has in Toronto, but being added to a Jazz team as something of the missing piece to what looks like a championship contender this season is a pretty good start.

When Conley returns to Memphis for the first time on Nov. 15, unlike other contests listed here, expect a very warm welcome from the Grizzlies faithful as it’s pretty well understood that where Conley is in his career doesn’t align with the rebuild the Grizzlies is undertaking, anchored by 2019 No. 2 overall pick, and Conley heir, Ja Morant.

Conley is one of the best players in Memphis history and will be celebrated appropriately because of it.

Nov. 27: Nets vs. Celtics

If you’re looking for a game this season that features a hostile atmosphere, look no further.

It’s been well reported that Kyrie Irving’s Boston Celtics tenure wasn’t the best, with multiple reports of toxicity and chemistry issues abound with some of Boston’s young rising stars trying to co-exist with the six-time all-star (maybe-flat-earther).

As a result, the championship aspirations the Celtics were dreaming of when they traded for Irving in 2017, while also adding Gordon Hayward, went up in smoke with many pointing the finger to Irving. It makes his departure from Boston to the Brooklyn Nets in free agency this summer something of a welcome sight for Boston fans.

Now they can boo and jeer Irving without worry because he doesn’t plays for their team, and on Nov. 27 they’ll get first crack at it.

Nov. 27: Lakers vs. Pelicans

Putting the New Orleans Pelicans in a lame-duck position when he informed management he had no intention of signing a contract extension with the club and requesting a trade back in January, Anthony Davis did finally get his wish and was dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers to pair up with LeBron James.

In the aftermath, it would seem as if the Pelicans came away pretty well, extracting major value for Davis, who is set to become a free agent in the summer of 2020, in the form of promising young players like Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram as well as three first-round picks. Additionally, the Pelicans won the draft lottery and got the right to take Zion Williamson first overall.

So, all in all, things aren’t that bad in NOLA.

However, Davis definitely ruffled some feathers and upset a lot of people in New Orleans on his way out. So when he does make his return to the team that originally drafted him No. 1 overall in 2012 on Nov. 27, expect the crowd to be more in a mood of throwing stones his way instead of beads.

Dec. 22: Clippers vs. Thunder

As the Kawhi Leonard saga from earlier this summer was playing out and we all discovered he had signed with the Los Angeles Clippers, it was then reported that alongside him would be Paul George coming in a trade.

Like the New Orleans Pelicans with Anthony Davis, Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti came out looking amazing for his team in the deal that sent George to L.A., acquiring solid pieces in Danilo Gallinari, Canadian Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, five first-round picks and the rights to two more pick swaps.

However, no matter what kind of haul Presti managed to get for George, there still has to be some bitter feelings over the last-minute demand the six-time all-star levied on Presti and the Thunder. Oklahoma City was obviously looking ahead to another season of the George-Russell Westbrook combo and then had to completely shift course.

Expect a negative welcome from OKC fans when George makes his return for the first time to Chesapeake Energy Arena on Dec. 22.

No matter how strong the Thunder look positioned for the future, George’s demand did, essentially, end the Westbrook era in Oklahoma City, something that won’t be forgotten.

Jan. 9: Rockets vs. Thunder

Another likely feel-good return for a beloved star. Russell Westbrook should expect a standing ovation on Jan. 9 for his accomplishments and loyalty shown to the Oklahoma City Thunder faithful, becoming the true face of the franchise even when Kevin Durant opted to leave for the Golden State Warriors.

What might be more interesting about this game is the response James Harden gets from the OKC fans. Harden was traded from the Thunder to the Rockets in 2012 and any bitter feelings fans may have had for him when he left should’ve already subsided. As such, it’ll be intriguing to see how Thunder fans respond to seeing both Westbrook and Harden – a couple of MVPs who used to play for their team – playing with each other again.

You’d have to think there’d be some conflict over “what if” scenarios along with a sense of “this is cool to see these two playing together again in this arena.”

Jan. 10: Pelicans vs. Knicks

This is real simple: Zion Williamson vs. R.J. Barrett for the first time in their pro careers.

The two former Duke freshmen phenoms will go toe-to-toe in the first of what is expected to be many matchups over their careers on Jan. 10.

For Barrett, a Canadian, this is a matchup he’ll be licking his chops for as, despite being one of the best players in all of college basketball last season, he was nearly completely eclipsed by the sheer star power of Williamson and his gravity-defying, nearly-inhuman above-the-rim game that saw him doing a jaw-jobbing feat of athleticism basically every day.

If Barrett can come away with a win or just perform better than Williamson in this first matchup, it might go a long way to shift the perception he was a just a No. 2 guy at Duke to Williamson.

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