The NFL might be “king of the big 4” sports (that gap is rapidly closing though), but the NBA schedule release is far and away the most anticipated schedule release in sport. 67 days until the regular season starts and the Golden State Warriors begin defence of their title. Many have conceded this year’s championship to the Warriors, others are happy they will not defend it against the Cleveland Cavaliers. So now that you have the full schedule, what do you do? You plan a few weekends around match-ups, you fire up predictions and stat lines that reek of homer’ism then you wait some more. I took it as a chance to reflect.
Proudly Canadian, the Toronto Raptors would readily be on my television but interest in the NBA did not peak until a trip to Colorado in 2011. Working for the Edmonton Rush Lacrosse Club we were flown down to watch a Colorado Mammoth game. The Mammoth share the Pepsi Center with the Denver Nuggets and we were shown the basketball team’s practice floor. A fan was born.
As proudly Canadian as I am, the amount of hate the league faced leaving the Raptors off the Christmas schedule is misguided. Root, root, root for the home team but come on, an entire nation sat back and laughed as the Cleveland Cavaliers embarrassed the Raptors in the playoffs. Aside from regular success the Raptors do not have a leg to stand on. The Knicks and Lakers are guaranteed spots on the big day because of their location then it is down to star power. The biggest star on the Raptors is widely believed to be a one year rental in Kawhi Leonard. That is why I believe the Milwaukee Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Portland Trail Blazers with Damian Lillard punched their ticket ahead of the Raptors.
I began watching Nuggets basketball shortly after the Carmelo Anthony trade. The infuriating three 7-foot centres the Nuggets had at the time – Kosta Koufos, JaVale McGee, Timofey Mozgov and point guard Ty Lawson won me over enough to begin ordering NBA League Pass. Proudly own two Nuggets jerseys, Lawson’s being one of them.
Lawson unceremoniously left Denver prior to the 2015-16 season. That was also the season Jusuf Nurkic fell out of favour with the Nuggets as Nikola Jokic took all his glory. It is still a personal belief that a center should spend more time in the paint than outside the 3-point so this was a transition that was not immediately liked. When Nurkic was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers in 2016-17, it allowed more time to watch Lillard and CJ McCollum. Instead of watching them as foes though, I was watching them as a fan. Well crap, I own all this Denver Nugget stuff but here I am watching the Trail Blazers.
Heading into the 2018-19 season there is now valid reason to choose an Eastern Conference team. With LeBron James finally taking his talents to the West Coast, the dynamics in the East have become wide open. As a fellow who roots for the Trail Blazers and Nuggets you know I can’t just step onto the Boston Celtics bandwagon. No, no, that’s too easy.
In a knee jerk reaction to watching Dwane Casey be outcoached by James in the playoffs, the Raptors fired the man the league voted Coach Of The Year. Casey landed in Detroit. A Pistons fan is born.
Never one to say I cared for Blake Griffin when he was a member of the Los Angeles Clippers (#beatLA), Griffin’s first game as a Piston doubled as my first game watching as a fan. Sure the Pistons finished under .500 with Griffin in the lineup but hope springs eternal that a full training camp under a new head coach rectifies everything.
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GAMES CIRCLED ON MY CALENDAR:
October 18 - Lakers vs Trail Blazers. King James’ first game as a Laker will be a loss, book it!
November 4 - Raptors vs Lakers. King James versus the Raptors is always a treat.
November 14 - Pistons vs Raptors. Coach Casey returns to the ACC.
November 30 - Nuggets vs Trail Blazers. Jokic vs Nurkic, always a fun battle.
December 14 - Raptors vs Trail Blazers. Favorite team versus home country team.
January 3 - Raptors vs Spurs - Kawhi Leonard versus DeMar DeRozan part 1
January 12 - Pistons vs Clippers - Griffin goes to LA.
February 22 - Spurs vs Raptors - Kawhi Leonard versus DeMar DeRozan part 2