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Here are the top 20 must-see games on the NBA calendar for the 2021-22 season

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Three days after the NBA announced its Christmas and opening week games, the league released the full 2021-22 schedule on Friday.

The NBA returns to an 82-game schedule per team after pandemic-shortened seasons in 2019-20 and 2020-21.

This season begins Oct. 19, pauses for the Feb. 20 All-Star Game in Cleveland and the regular season ends April 10. The play-in games are April 12-15 with the playoffs beginning April 16 and the Finals starting June 2.

Other schedule tidbits:

  • Travel has been reduced to an estimated 43,000 miles per team, down from an estimated 46,000 miles in 2019-20, the most recent season with 82 games scheduled per team. It’s a record low for a season with 30 teams and 82 games.

  • Single-game road trips are down 28% from the 2019-20 season. Teams will have an average of 7.1 single-game road trips compared to 9.9 scheduled single-game road trips two seasons ago.

We take a look at the top 20 must-see games for next season (not including Christmas games and opening-night games):

For the first time in two seasons, the NBA will play a full 82-game schedule.
For the first time in two seasons, the NBA will play a full 82-game schedule.

Celtics-Knicks: Oct. 21, 7:30 p.m., ESPN

Knicks new point guard Kemba Walker gets a chance to show the division rival Celtics they made a mistake by trading him.

Sixers-Bucks: Nov. 9, 7:30 p.m., TNT

The Sixers were extinguished in the second round, and while the playoffs complete the story, games like this will help fill in the blanks of what the Sixers’ season will – or will not – be.

Pistons-Rockets: Nov. 10, 7:30 p.m., ESPN

The 2021 No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham and No. 2 pick Jalen Green meet for the first time, but which team picked the better player won’t be known for at least a few seasons.

Warriors-Nets: Nov. 16, 7:30 p.m., TNT

Even two years after his free agency, the intrigue surrounding Kevin Durant’s time in Golden State and subsequent departure remains intriguing.

Heat-Bucks: Dec. 8, 7:30 p.m., ESPN

Adding Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker to Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson should put the Heat back in a spot to compete with the Bucks for the East title.

Suns-Trail Blazers: Dec. 14, 10 p.m., TNT

Just about two months into the season, Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard should know know if he has the kind of team he thinks can compete for a title under first-time head coach Chauncey Billups.

Sixers-Nets: Dec. 16, 7:30 p.m., NBA TV

The Sixers and Nets were 1-2 in the East last year and both should be competing for that top spot again this season.

Jazz-Nuggets: Jan. 5, 10 p.m., ESPN

Two small-market teams hope that continuity and elite big men (Utah’s Rudy Gobert, Denver’s Nikola Jokic) will help them remain competitive in a crowded Western Conference landscape.

Lakers-Nets: Jan. 25, 7:30 p.m., TNT

Sandwich between a game at Miami and at Philadelphia, the Lakers get the Nets in Brooklyn during a six-game road trip.

Heat at Raptors: Feb. 3, 7:30 p.m., TNT

Longtime Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, now with the Heat, makes his return to Toronto where he will be warmly received for his tenure with the franchise, which included a 2019 championship.

Mavericks-Hawks: Feb. 6, 6 p.m., ESPN

It never becomes old to see two top picks in the 2018 NBA Draft face off in Dallas’ Luka Doncic (No. 3) and Atlanta’s Trae Young (No. 5).

Hornets-Bulls: Feb. 9, 7:30 p.m., ESPN

This game will yield bragging rights within the Ball family, with Lonzo, who signed a free agent deal with the Bulls last month, hoping that his experience can trump LaMelo’s talent.

Lakers-Clippers: Feb. 25, 10 p.m., ESPN

This might not spark the same sizzle as the past two years, but the L.A. series always produces fireworks and emotions.

Bulls-Bucks: March 4, 7:30 p.m., NBA TV

The Bulls made major moves, acquiring DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball to put next to Zach LaVine and Nik Vucevic, and the Bulls are out to prove they’re among the top teams in the East.

Lakers-Warriors: March 5, 8:30 p.m., ABC

For the first time ever, both California teams could finally have enough healthy star power for this matchup to become an actual rivalry.

Suns-Bucks: March 6, 3:30 p.m., ABC

It may no longer be an NBA Finals preview, but it will capture how each team has progressed since playing each other for the title last June.

Pelicans-Grizzlies: March 8, 7:30 p.m., TNT

By the time this matchup rolls around, featuring two of the major stars of 2019 draft – Zion Williamson and Ja Morant – both teams will know how close to making the playoffs they are.

Knicks-Hawks: March 22, 7:30 p.m., TNT

A rematch of last year’s first-round series won by Atlanta, featuring two teams on the rise in the East with a mixture of young talent and solid veterans.

Nets-Bucks: March 31, 7:30 p.m., TNT

This late-season contest may have an impact on the No. 1 seed in the East. Either way, it’s another star-laden potential playoff matchup between the defending champs with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the team trying to win a championship with Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.

Lakers-Suns: April 5, 10:30 p.m., NBA TV

It won’t exactly rectify their first-round loss to Phoenix, but the Lakers could be facing the Suns with a healthy LeBron James and Anthony Davis in a late-season game with playoff implications.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Top 20 must-see games on the NBA calendar for the 2021-22 season