The NBA released schedules for all 30 teams last week. Every team has at least four nationally televised games, but there are great matchups you won’t find on ESPN, ABC, TNT, or NBATV.
LaMelo Ball, the reigning rookie of the year, has just eight nationally televised games despite a flashy playing style that caters well to big audiences. Zion Williamson also has a game fit for entertainment, and despite his New Orleans Pelicans finishing lower in the playoff standings than Ball’s Charlotte Hornets, he has nearly twice as many national games as Ball.
NBA League Pass is the only way fans can legally watch games of teams outside of their local market. This list will highlight not only the underrated games, but some intriguing storylines. Here are six to watch.
Oct. 21: Bucks at Heat
Seeing this fail to make the nationally televised slate for opening week was a big surprise. Milwaukee is the defending champion, but while the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns and Brooklyn Nets each got two opening-week games, the Bucks were awarded one.
In the 2019-20 playoffs, the Heat beat the Bucks so badly that Giannis Antetokounmpo’s future in Milwaukee was in question.
A lot has changed since then, but Miami’s Bam Adebayo is still regarded as one of the best at guarding Antetokounmpo, plus P.J. Tucker left Milwaukee and joined Miami in free agency. The Heat also added Kyle Lowry at point guard.
Oct. 30: Magic at Pistons
Prize rookies Jalen Suggs (picked No. 5 in the draft by Orlando) and Detroit’s Cade Cunningham (No. 1 by Detroit) had fantastic college basketball seasons and followed it up with strong performances at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. These two guards will probably have their careers compared for the next 15 seasons — along with the Houston Rockets’ Jalen Green, the No. 2 pick last year.
When their teams meet Oct. 30, Suggs and Cunningham will be working their ways into similar backcourts. Orlando has Cole Anthony and Markelle Fultz, and Detroit drafted Killian Hayes last season. If the two rookies are starting, this could be an early statement game.
Nov. 1: Nuggets at Grizzlies
This doesn’t appear to be the most entertaining game on paper, but look closer and you can spot the intrigue. It will feature two of the NBA’s best dunkers and two big men who refuse to be punished in the paint.
The Grizzlies’ Steven Adams vs. the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic will be like two 18-wheelers colliding. Both set tough screens and carve out space with pure strength. Consider this an NBA version of the World’s Strongest Man competition.
Ja Morant has tried to dunk on half of the NBA by now, and since the Nuggets like to play drop coverage with Jokic, he’s bound to try the MVP soon enough. Stay tuned on Nov. 1.
Nov. 29: Hornets at Bulls
Another surprising omission for the national slate was the battle of the Ball brothers on Nov. 29. Chicago’s Lonzo and Charlotte’s LaMelo Ball will guard each other and play point guard for two teams hoping to make the postseason.
While LaMelo is looking like he has a more promising trajectory, Lonzo is finally getting recognition for his game and has the chance in Chicago to be a true point guard and run the show like he did at UCLA.
Feb. 17: Mavericks at Pelicans
Zion Williamson and Dallas’s Luka Doncic are probably the two most-hyped players under 25. This meeting right before the All-Star break could provide an exclamation point before their trip to Cleveland for the festivities.
The Suns showed that a roster featuring young talent with veterans mixed in can make a run, and the Mavericks and Pelicans hope to duplicate that.
It’s not just Doncic and Williamson. Both teams have young All-Stars on the roster. Brandon Ingram’s role as a playmaker is going to be even bigger for the Pelicans without Eric Bledsoe and Lonzo Ball, and Kristaps Porzingis is fighting to find comfort in Dallas.
April 2: Jazz at Warriors
This game in San Francisco has all the makings for some juicy late-season storylines. The Utah Jazz were the No. 1 seed last season and the Warriors are anticipating Klay Thompson’s return after he missed the last two seasons. This late-season game figures to have an effect on the Western Conference standings.
Also, there’s the defensive player of the year race. Draymond Green believes he’s the best defender in the league, but Rudy Gobert has three DPOY wins to Green’s one. Green recently said there isn’t a defensive situation for which he isn’t wanted on the floor, which some perceived as a shot at Gobert’s ability to guard in space. If the Warriors are as good as expected and Gobert has his typical season, they’ll both be contenders.