Grading NBA's national TV opening week and Christmas Day game selections
The Sixers get a spotlight, the Warriors are everywhere, and... wait, why are the Knicks on this thing?
The NBA announced its national TV matchups for the first week of the 2017-18 season and Christmas Day, giving fans a look at the marquee matchups to start next season and on the league's biggest day. The Warriors and Cavs of course feature prominently. But the Sixers and Wolves also see good representation.
There's a lot more to break down when the full schedule comes out next week, but, for now, how did the NBA do with their big headliner games? Let's take a look and grade them out.
OPENING NIGHT; TUESDAY, OCT. 17
This one was on my list for what the matchups should be, so of course I'm going to give it an A. Boston added Gordon Hayward, and made the Eastern Conference finals last year, even if they were smote from the face of the planet by the King and Co. With the prospect of Kyrie Irving being traded, there's built-in drama and it might be enough to make this an even matchup, depending on if and how a trade goes down.
Moreover, these two teams have a rivalry, it's a marquee historic franchise against James, who has been plagued by Boston for much of his career, and yet the matchup isn't ugly enough to invite hijinks or ugly confrontations. It's a perfect selection.
Rockets at Warriors
OK, well, Warriors play anyone, and you have to for their ratings power and ring night, you need a team people will be intrigued to see for the 16 minutes the game is competitive. Pretty much any Warriors game is very likely going to be a bust in terms of actually being competitive. But this one will at least be interesting., so another A is in line. If you're going to have the
OPENING WEEK; WEDNESDAY, OCT. 18
The Sixers, if healthy, will be must-watch TV with their young talent. Pitting them against the athleticism of Washington with John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, is a good one. It's also a gimme for the Wizards. (And so, therefore, also very much the kind of game the Wizards might lose.) If Joel Embiid is out, it could get ugly, and if the Sixers aren't ready, this one could get out of hand.
Bonus points for putting Wall on the third nationally televised game of the season, though.
Wolves at Spurs
The NBA needed to get the Wolves with Jimmy Butler (and possibly Kyrie Irving?) on national TV the first week. They also needed to get the Spurs on. Plus, the Wolves are the new kids on the expected-playoffs block, so they have to have their rights of initiation as the Spurs, who only have one star and a bunch of guys who are "good, not great," show them the level of execution you need to have to win against the good teams consistently.
OPENING WEEK; THURSDAY, OCT. 19
I get it. New York is a big market. I understand. And sure, there's a chance Kyrie Irving is traded there and that makes it a bit more exciting. But forcing New York on here when there are so many other good and more interesting teams is a crime. Our first look at the new OKC with Paul George and they get... the Knicks? No. Just a big pile of nope. Use the Knicks to boost those dog days in December. Leave them off the opening national TV week.
It's fine. With Lonzo Ball, the Lakers are almost assuredly going to get a near-max number of national TV spots, despite having been one of the worst teams in the league the last three years. So they were always going to be featured this week. And having them against the Clippers means you have good competition but not a top team that's just going to stomp them.
This could turn out to be the "Lakers reclaim the torch in L.A." game.
OPENING WEEK; FRIDAY, OCT. 20
Cavs at Bucks
Last season, quietly one of the most fun games and most impressive performances last season was Giannis Antetokounmpo's 34-point, 12-rebound, five-assist, five-steal performance in a win over LeBron James and the Cavs Putting the Greek Freak in this kind of spotlight on what has been typically one of the most fun nights of the season early on is a great move.
Warriors at Pelicans
CHRISTMAS DAY, DEC. 25
76ers at Knicks
Let's count the number of ways this, the opening game on the NBA's most important regular-season day, can go wrong.
- If Joel Embiid isn't healthy
- If Carmelo Anthony is traded for poor return
- If the Knicks don't land Kyrie Irving
- If the Sixers, young as they are, are just bad
- If the Knicks are the Knicks
I get that markets and marquee talents are what rule the day on Christmas, but putting them together in this kind of game is perilous. This game could be flat-out bad.
Cavs at Warriors
It's the matchup that most people will want to see, so it was unavoidable. It might honestly be better to save this one for another night and have the Finals matchup be fresh in people's mind. Some other matchups might truly be more interesting, but interesting isn't the goal of Christmas, it's ratings, and this will pull huge ratings.
Wizards at Celtics
This matchup is great, it's two really good Eastern Conference teams that hate each other. But Christmas isn't the day for "dressed for a funeral" games or ugly near-fights. There's a good chance of something spilling out and that's not the headline you want on Christmas. But this is going to be one of, if not the, best games on the schedule that day.
Rockets at Thunder
Star power galore, with MVP Russell Westbrook vs. two-time runner-up James Harden, Chris Paul vs. Paul George, and two of the West's top four teams. It's marquee players in a marquee matchup, and the play style differential will make for a good combination.
Wolves at Lakers
The Wolves will be one of the most intriguing teams, and as previously mentioned, the Lakers are going to pull ratings. So it's fine. The Lakers aren't just any other team, that's why they're on TV so much no matter how bad they are. That's why they continue to be featured on Christmas. But even with a young, fun, team, there's a good chance they're bad. But still, this should be a pretty fun game with all the talent involved.
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