The full 2018-19 NBA schedule has finally been unveiled, and these marquee matchups have us itching for the regular season to get underway.
It's a good old-fashioned grudge match between two squads that both feel they're the rightful heir to the LeBron James-less Eastern Conference. The league sees dollar signs in the rebirth of the storied 76ers-Celtics rivalry, booking the matchup in both the season tipoff doubleheader and the coveted Christmas Day time slot. Joel Embiid is a certified troll who loves getting under Boston's skin, and he's likely eager to get another crack at the likes of Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris.
The careers of marksman Trae Young and EuroLeague MVP Luka Doncic will forever be intertwined after the two rookies were swapped during this summer's draft. Their inaugural meeting won't determine which team won the trade, but it will provide the Mavericks and Hawks an up-close look at the prospect they elected to part ways with.
Carmelo Anthony's lone season in Oklahoma City is best stricken from the record. His offensive production was the shoddiest of his career, which is why the Thunder were desperate to purge a contract that would've paid him nearly $28 million. Chesapeake Energy Arena won't be nearly as hostile to Anthony as it was to Kevin Durant, but for the hyped acquisition whose performance fell well below expectations, it may not be the most welcoming environment.
We were robbed of Hayward's much-anticipated return to Salt Lake City last year by his catastrophic leg and ankle injuries. Utah nearly won as many games without him en route to a berth in the second round, easing the blow of losing such a significant part of the roster. Still, there may be many who haven't forgiven Hayward for the perplexing way his 2017 free-agency decision unfolded.
Were it not for Chris Paul suffering a hamstring injury that sidelined the Point God for the final two games of last season's conference finals, perhaps it would've been the Rockets squaring off with the Cavaliers for the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Houston - the only team to take more than a game in the postseason against Golden State the last two years - will look to sock the reigning champions square in the jaw here as a reminder that it's still a force to be reckoned with in the West.
When LeBron returned to Quicken Loans Arena as a member of the Miami Heat in 2010, the homegrown superstar was booed whenever he touched the rock. He eventually redeemed himself by ending Cleveland's lengthy championship drought during his second stint with the Cavaliers in 2016, which is why he's likely to get a hero's welcome this time around. James fulfilled his promise of "bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio," and Cleveland is forever indebted.
The appeal here is the potential beef between C.J. McCollum and Kevin Durant. Their now infamous Twitter exchange following a podcast appearance gone wrong could be in the back of both players' minds, although neither McCollum or Durant would admit that. This game has the potential for some fiery one-upmanship and huge scoring totals.
The Las Vegas Summer League provided a glimpse of DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III, the draft's top two picks, going head to head. Their first clash on the professional level, however, will add a much-needed dose of life to a matchup between bottom-dwelling teams. Bagley's disapproval of Ayton's boasting about being the clear-cut choice to go first overall also adds fuel to the fire.
Paul George was supposed to play the Robin to LeBron's Batman, having convinced the basketball world his move to the Lakers was inevitable. Little did anyone know what a profound impact OKC had on George, who didn't even take a meeting with L.A. before re-upping with the Thunder on a four-year deal. PG13 will get a taste of what could've been on this night as he looks to slow down the King.
Leonard and DeRozan should elicit vastly different responses from their former fan bases. Spurs faithful watched in dismay as their cornerstone Leonard willingly kept himself out of action over an injured quad, ruining his relationship with the franchise. A 2014 Finals MVP and multiple 50-win seasons are now a fleeting memory. DeRozan, on the other hand, will surely garner widespread cheers and adulation at Scotiabank Arena. He loved the city like no Raptor before him and was devastated upon learning of his move.
The Clippers traveled to the Motor City last season to battle the Pistons after the blockbuster trade involving the dunktastic Blake Griffin, but not vice versa. That story has yet to be told, with the face of the Lob City era set to return to Staples Center once again - just not with CP3 looking for him in the air, or DeAndre Jordan by his side in the frontcourt.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)