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2020-21 NBA season mega-preview: All you need to know from hot takes to important dates

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It takes some cognitive dissonance to be a sports fan in 2020. The majority of NBA players are not far removed from being housed for as many as four months inside a bubble environment on the Walt Disney World campus in Orlando, Florida, amid the coronavirus pandemic and protests against racial injustice.

For the next seven months, those same players are scheduled to play 72 games in front of mostly empty arenas in 28 different cities as the pandemic continues to rage. The NBA is taking extraordinary precautions to ensure employee safety, the benefit of a billion-dollar corporation’s access to testing it partially funded, but there can be no doubt players, coaches and league personnel are risking physical and mental health for our entertainment and their financial gain. Regardless of those billions, that can all be difficult to reconcile.

The cloud of protection has cleared, revealing an uncertain landscape. There are bound to be coronavirus outbreaks among teams, and we are left to hope that the next one does not claim someone’s career or add to a nationwide death toll that exceeds 300,000. There is no more worrisome NBA example of this than the status of coaches of an at-risk age who will be traveling freely through airports and hotel lobbies six months after serious debate about whether they should even be allowed to fully participate in a protected bubble.

[Goodwill: NBA coaches pragmatic about how pandemic could alter season]

This baggage is stored out of sight so we can watch from home. Once the ball is tipped, the pandemic is supposed to fade, along with empty seats, into the background, and the thrill of competition will take center stage for most. For others, like Karl-Anthony Towns, who has lost seven relatives to the virus, or Mo Bamba, who is still battling its effects six months after his initial diagnosis, the burden is omnipresent.

This is more than just a downer. All of 2020 has been nightmare fuel, but in this 2020-21 NBA season also lies hope. The hope we can return to work safely. The hope a vaccine will open more doors. The hope we, too, can gather inside an arena and celebrate the joy of live basketball collectively. The hope of normalcy.

While we are asked to mask up, social distance and avoid family gatherings this holiday season, NBA players will be breathing down each other’s necks and banging bodies, flopping sweat. To them, good luck, stay safe, and I am hopeful it is the right choice to cautiously forge ahead with basketball’s economy in tow.

So, I will follow suit, watch the NBA, write about the NBA, talk about the NBA, preview the season ahead, and share in this hope that the end of the 2020-21 campaign will be brighter than the beginning. Bummer be gone. Basketball is back, and these are all the dates, developments and storylines you should know before crossing your fingers, plopping down in front of your television or tablet and enjoying the NBA again.

LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers begin their title defense on Tuesday. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers begin their title defense on Tuesday. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

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12 things you need to know before the 2020-21 NBA season

We packaged the hits here for you, complete with analysis, but before you dive in, sample the rundown:

  1. The Los Angeles Lakers won the offseason.

  2. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are back.

  3. The Milwaukee Bucks traded for Jrue Holiday.

  4. Klay Thompson tore an Achilles.

    [Sohi: Klay Thompson’s injury breaks your heart]

  5. Russell Westbrook and John Wall were traded for each other.

    [Goodwill: Westbrook-Wall trade indicative of where both now stand]

  6. The Philadelphia 76ers reworked their roster.

    [Sohi: How far can Daryl Morey take the Sixers?]

  7. The Phoenix Suns acquired Chris Paul.

    [Sohi: Both teams won the Chris Paul trade]

  8. The Atlanta Hawks went for it in free agency.

  9. The Charlotte Hornets paid Gordon Hayward a ton.

  10. Kemba Walker and Kristaps Porzingis are still rehabbing.

  11. The Portland Trail Blazers improved on the fringes.

  12. The Detroit Pistons had a really weird offseason.

[Posted Up: Biggest offseason storylines with Chris Haynes and Vincent Goodwill]

As is always the case when creating a list before the holidays, you forget one item and a few more arise. We should mention that Toronto denied the Raptors permission to play in Canada, forcing the 2019 champions to become the Tampa Bay Raptors for at least the start of the season. Plus, two more developments have dominated the NBA conversation in recent days (click on the links for our Vincent Goodwill’s breakdowns):

  1. Giannis Antetokounmpo committed longterm to the Bucks.

    [Rohrbach: What next for Giannis suitors?]

  2. James Harden is making a mess of his forced exit from the Houston Rockets.

For a deeper dive on the offseason, check out our draft grades and free-agency winners and losers.

2020-21 NBA awards predictions

(Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports)
(Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports)

Tuesday’s opening night

  • Brooklyn Nets 125, Golden State Warriors 99

  • Los Angeles Clippers 116, Los Angeles Lakers 109

Kevin Durant had a triumphant return to the NBA in his Nets debut against his former team, and the Clippers beat the Lakers on opening night for the second-straight year.

[Goodwill: Kevin Durant is back and ready to rule the NBA]

[Sohi: Despite beating Lakers, the Clippers can’t be trusted]

The 26 remaining teams will all open their season on Wednesday, including two nationally televised games: Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics, 7:30 p.m. (TNT); Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns, 10:30 p.m. (ESPN). As usual, the league will not host any games on Christmas Eve in advance of the traditional Christmas slate.

Hot Takes We Might Actually Believe

The 2020-21 NBA season is upon us, Hot Take SZN is here, and at the end of another eventful offseason we will once again see how close to the sun we can fly and still stand the swelter of these viewpoints:

Christmas Day

  • New Orleans Pelicans at Miami Heat, 12 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Golden State Warriors at Milwaukee Bucks, 2:30 p.m. (ABC)

  • Brooklyn Nets at Boston Celtics, 5 p.m. (ABC)

  • Dallas Mavericks at L.A. Lakers, 8 p.m. (ABC)

  • L.A. Clippers at Denver Nuggets, 10:30 p.m. (ESPN)

The NBA’s Christmas schedule features multiple regular-season and/or Finals MVP winners LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. Check out a closer look here.

We also listed the nine must-watch games from the first half of the 2020-21 schedule (Dec. 22 to March 4).

Teams will play three games against each of their conference opponents over the course of the season, plus two games (one home and one away) against each foe from the other conference. In order to reduce travel, arenas will host visiting teams for consecutive games on 57 occasions through March 4. Among the 37 or 38 games each team plays in the first half of the season, an average of seven of them will fall on the second night of a back-to-back, and on 32 total instances a team will play a fifth game in seven nights.

2020-21 NBA calendar

  • Dec. 22: Opening night

  • Feb. 6: Newly signed free agents can be traded

  • Feb. 23: Teams can begin signing players to 10-Day contracts

  • Feb. 27: Standard NBA contracts become guaranteed for the season

  • March 5-10: NBA All-Star break (the 2021 All-Star Game will not be played)

  • March 11: Second half of regular season begins

  • March 25: NBA trade deadline

  • May 13-15: Class of 2020 Hall of Fame enshrinement

  • May 16: Regular season ends

  • May 18-21: Play-in tournament

  • May 22: NBA playoffs begin

  • July 22: Last scheduled day of NBA Finals

2020-21 NBA playoff predictions

(Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports)
(Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports)

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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