Top picks Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist face off on November 9 (Jennifer Pottheiser/ Getty).
On Thursday night, the NBA released its full schedule for the 2012-13 season. Yahoo!'s own Marc Spears has noted some of the biggest matchups, including the customary high-impact games on opening night (Oct. 30) and Christmas Day. But the strength of the NBA season is that there can be several very watchable games full of storylines and intrigue on any given night. Below, check out 10 not-so-marquee games worth your time.
Washington Wizards at Cleveland Cavaliers, Oct. 30. The other two opening night games (Celtics at Heat and Mavericks at Lakers) are big ones, particularly given the history between those teams over the past two postseasons. However, fans shouldn't sleep on this contest available on League Pass (which, as usual, will have a free preview for the season's first week). The Wizards have retooled around John Wall with rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal and veterans such as new center Nene and have hopes of making the playoffs, while reigning Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving has shown that the Cavs aren't terribly far from a post-LeBron resurgence. At the very least, watching this game will be a great way to spend an hour before TNT takes over the night.
Charlotte Bobcats at New Orleans Hornets, Nov. 9. Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are different players with different strengths, but their becoming the first two college teammates to be selected with the NBA draft's first two picks means that they'll be tied together for the rest of their careers. This game marks their first matchup of their pro careers. It's early enough in the season that both players can't be expected to wow us too much, but it's hard to imagine a more intriguing rookie matchup in 2012-13. Expect a few highlights that will make fans very optimistic about the future.
Denver Nuggets at Memphis Grizzlies, Nov. 19. Sometimes NBA games don't need special storylines to be watchable — they just require two very good teams likely to produce a watchable game. The Nuggets and Grizzlies are exactly that. Both teams will expect to make the playoffs this season, and they're also deep enough that a different player can star on any given night. The key matchup in this one should be in the frontcourt, where the Nuggets will hope improving youngsters JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried can keep the Grizzlies' Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in check.
Minnesota Timberwolves at Portland Trail Blazers, Nov. 23. Brandon Roy retired last December with the goodwill of the Blazers behind him; injuries kept him from having the Hall of Fame career the fans hoped he'd have, but he always represented the team in an inspiring manner. Now that he's back in the league with the Wolves, it remains to be seen how Portland will welcome him as a visiting player. It'll likely be a warm reception, but there should also be a bit of awkwardness. (Note: This game is also notable as the first time Blazers forward Nicolas Batum will play the team he desperately wanted to sign with this summer.)
Houston Rockets at New York Knicks, Dec. 17. For some unclear reason, Jeremy Lin's return to the city that spawned Linsanity will air on NBA TV, not one of the more readily available cable networks. Nevertheless, it's hard to imagine a more buzzworthy matchup between two teams that have won a combined one playoff series in the last 12 years. New York will almost surely cheer the still-popular Lin, and maybe even stage an informal protest if the Knicks struggle without him over the season's first month. (The reception for new Rocket and former Knick Toney Douglas will probably be less enthusiastic.)
Orlando Magic at Brooklyn Nets, Jan. 28. As options dwindle, it looks increasingly likely that Dwight Howard will not be traded before the start of the season. That makes his two trips to Brooklyn this season important, especially as opportunities for Nets fans to show him some love and put pressure on Orlando GM Rob Hennigan to make a deal. The first visit takes place on Nov. 11, but the recent extension for Nets center Brook Lopez means that he can't be used in any trades until January. The second game, then, could carry a lot of weight as the trade deadline draws nearer. If the Magic decide to trade Howard at all, this game could be the first against his old team or the last time he plays in his preferred destination before switching sides.
Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns, Jan. 30. Steve Nash is as widely liked as any player in the NBA. However, his departure from the Suns for the supposed rival Lakers might not sit well with many fans in Phoenix, particularly as they enter what should be a very difficult season. Many fans should cheer Nash upon his return, but it's possible that this game will mark one of the few times that NBA fans actually boo him. Either that, or the crowd will beg him to come back and save the franchise again.
Denver Nuggets at Washington Wizards, Feb. 22. Over 3 1/2 seasons with the Wizards, JaVale McGee was as ridiculous a player as we've seen in the NBA in quite some time — if a week went by without a laughable gaffe, it was considered a success. In just a few months in Denver, he established himself as a potential All-Star center, a guy with enough promise to earn a considerable contract extension this summer. If McGee continues to improve, this game could serve as a reminder to the Wizards that a dysfunctional environment might have arrested his development. And while the Wizards intend to make the playoffs this season with a new-look roster, the wounds of the prior era might not be entirely healed.
Miami Heat at Chicago Bulls, March 27. Derrick Rose is going to miss most of the season as he recovers from the ACL tear he suffered in the first game of the playoffs, and the Bulls have little chance of contending because of it. Yet, with Rose likely returning some time in March, Chicago can still hold some hope that they can sneak into the postseason and make some noise as a dangerous low seed. If Rose returns in time for this matchup with the reigning champs, we could get a good sense of the extent of his recovery and how much more he has to go to recapture his All-NBA form.
Los Angeles Clippers at Sacramento Kings, April 17. This is the last night of the NBA season — it's possible that the Clippers won't play their most important players with playoff seeding locked up, and the Kings should be a lottery team despite having an exciting frontcourt with DeMarcus Cousins and Thomas Robinson. This game is worth everyone's time, though, because it could be the last one in Sacramento. As the Maloof family continues to look for ways to move the franchise and the city's options dwindle, a change could come sooner rather than later. It's an awful situation, particularly due to shady dealings and broken promises on the parts of the Maloofs. Their great fans deserve much better. And if the NBA does say goodbye to Sacramento, the least we can do is pay them our respects.
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