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Here are eight NBA games this season you won’t want to miss

Jayson Tatum and the Celtics visit the Bucks in Milwaukee on March 30.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The NBA has done a masterful job hyping its schedule release, much like the NFL.

There is little mystery, besides dates and length of road trips and homestands. Every team plays 82 games, 41 at home, two against each opponent from the other conference, four against division opponents, and three or four against other teams in its conference.

It’s not complex, but it’s still compelling. The NBA has marketed Christmas Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and its Saturday night national television package. Here are eight games to watch this season, for a variety of seasons:

▪ Oct. 19, New Orleans at Brooklyn — Why? Because we still have no idea if Kevin Durant will be a member of the Nets two months from now. Will he be on the Opening Night roster? Will he hold out if he’s not traded? Will he decide to play? And we haven’t even mentioned Kyrie Irving. What happens with him? The Nets have some decisions to make over the next few weeks and Durant isn’t backing down from his trade demand. If they don’t move him, he may force their hand. Oh, and this will be the first game in nearly two years for Zion Williamson, the Pelicans’ former No. 1 overall pick who missed last season but is apparently in shape and ready to contribute to a playoff team.

▪ Nov. 22, Brooklyn at Philadelphia — It will be Ben Simmons’s first game in Philadelphia since his abrupt departure last February. Simmons held the 76ers responsible for his poor playoff series against the Hawks in 2021, vowed he would never play for them again, and then backed up his promise. The question is, who will be on the floor with Simmons for the Nets? Will Durant and Irving be there? Will the Nets be contenders in the Eastern Conference? Will Simmons return to form?


▪ Nov. 23, Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State — Don’t sleep on the Clippers. If they are healthy, they could push the Warriors and Suns in the Western Conference. Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, John Wall, and Marcus Morris make for an intriguing core, and this will be their first game against the Warriors and an opportunity to send a message. The Warriors bring most of the core back from their title team, along with signees Donte DiVincenzo and JaMychal Green. This game means more to the Clippers than the Warriors.


Rudy Gobert returns to Utah with his new team on Dec. 9.Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

▪ Dec. 9, Minnesota at Utah — It will be Rudy Gobert’s first time back in Utah with his new team. The Timberwolves traded four first-round picks and a just-drafted player for Gobert in hopes of finally breaking through in the West. It wasn’t working in Utah, but how will the combination of Gobert and All-Star forward Karl-Anthony Towns fare? We should know a little more by the time they reach Salt Lake City. It should be an emotional night for Gobert.

▪ Dec. 13, Boston at Los Angeles Lakers — It’s the Celtics’ annual visit and it should be an exciting game. The Celtics were awful on their West Coast road trip last season and this season’s trip is treacherous, beginning in Brooklyn and with visits to Toronto, Phoenix, Golden State, and the Clippers before the Lakers game, so it will be a test of will. The Lakers will be looking to prove they are among the elite teams in the West.


▪ Jan. 11, Phoenix at Denver — By this time, the Nuggets should be fully healthy with Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., and if Denver wants to be considered a serious contender in the West, this is a game to prove it. The Suns bring back the same team that reached the NBA Finals two years ago and lost in the conference semifinals last season. The Suns won’t be favorites to make it back to the Finals, but they are still a very good team with Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and newly re-signed Deandre Ayton.

▪ March 9, Golden State at Memphis — This will not be the first matchup of the season between these teams, but it could be the most important. Both will be jockeying for the No. 1 seed in the West and the Grizzlies should have center Jaren Jackson Jr. back from offseason surgery. Ja Morant will also be in the MVP conversation if he stays healthy, and he’ll be primed to show Stephen Curry he’s not far from catching him as the best guard in the NBA.

▪ March 30, Milwaukee at Boston — This could be a showdown for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks will be better thanks to a healthy Khris Middleton, who missed last season’s epic conference semifinals series against the Celtics. They also added Joe Ingles, the former Utah sharpshooter coming off a knee injury. Milwaukee brought back key free agents Bobby Portis, Pat Connaughton, and Wesley Matthews with hopes of overtaking Boston.



James makes plans for future

LeBron James will remain a Laker after signing a two-year deal.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

LeBron James agreed to a two-year contract extension worth $97.1 million, ensuring he’ll be a Laker until his 40th birthday, and also likely be with the franchise when son Bronny enters the NBA Draft after one post-high school season.

James remains one of the top five players in the game, despite turning 38 in December. He has been hampered by lower-extremity issues over the past few years, but they’ve been more freak injuries than a sign of physical decline.

James remains one of the league’s more imposing figures, spending more than $1 million each offseason on his conditioning. James’s goal, other than growing his off-court brand, is to become the most durable and impactful athlete in sports history.

Tom Brady, who just turned 45, is entering his 23rd NFL season and has set the standard for a prolonged, dominant career. James wants to challenge that, and he is in good enough shape and possesses enough motivation to do so.

“LeBron is a generational basketball player who has proven to be even more impactful as a human being,” Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said in a statement. “We are thrilled to continue our partnership with him, ensuring he’s a driving force of Lakers culture for years to come. The Lakers platform has proved again and again to be an ideal place for the game’s all-time greats to thrive and achieve. We are thankful LeBron has experienced the power of that. With his transcendent talent, unrivaled passion, and dedication to causing powerful change in our society, LeBron continues to cement his legacy in Los Angeles and around the globe.”


What this extension does is ensure the Lakers play for the present, even though they don’t have enough talent to win now. James is unquestionably the Lakers’ No. 1 scoring option, but by now that was supposed to be Anthony Davis, who has yet to take that mantle even though he’s eight years younger than James and supposedly in his prime.

Russell Westbrook was acquired to be that elite third player, but he had a miserable first season in Los Angeles and Pelinka has been unsuccessful in trying to move him this summer. The financial commitment to James means the Lakers will try to win every year that he is on the roster, which may mean trading assets such as good young players and draft picks to improve.

Yet, this is no surprise. James’s impact and power over his franchises has existed since he signed with the Heat. He has a say in how organizations are run, players acquired, and players discarded. The Lakers have decided to extend this commitment, mostly because James still puts fans in the seats and keeps the Lakers relevant.

Los Angeles is a city that feeds off star power. There was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and then down times, only to have Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant save the franchise. The Lakers have no idea who’s coming next, so they’ll hold on to James and hope he becomes the NBA’s version of Brady.


Sparks’ season a disappointment

Little has gone right for the Los Angeles Sparks this season.Ronald Martinez/Getty

A season that began with so much hype, the signing of franchise center Liz Cambage, a healthy Chiney Ogwumike, and other notable additions, turned into a disaster for the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks.

Coach Derek Fisher was fired. Cambage left the team and Los Angeles blew a chance to steal a playoff spot by losing nine of its final 10 games under interim coach Fred Williams. Williams is a WNBA lifer who has coached four franchises over 22 years. But even his savvy and experience couldn’t change the course of the Sparks’ season.

The WNBA is becoming more popular, and the teams are getting better. The Sparks were one of the dominant franchises of the 2010s, but Candace Parker was inexplicably allowed to sign with her hometown Chicago Sky (at Fisher’s urging) and gifted scorer Chelsea Gray signed with the Las Vegas Aces.

Fisher was given the keys to the rebuild, but he never showed the ability to lift the Sparks to anything past a second-rate team. Fisher was 27-27 from 2020-21 before exiting this season after a 5-7 start. The Sparks were 8-16 under Williams despite a talented roster that contained two No. 1 overall picks — Nneka Ogwumike and sister Chiney.

What’s more, of the 14 players who logged minutes this season for the Sparks, 12 were taken in the first round of the draft. Talent wasn’t the issue but chemistry appeared to be, and the Sparks went through the season without a GM after Fisher departed.

Meanwhile, as the Aces, Sky, Connecticut Sun, and Seattle Storm rule the league, the Sparks are relegated to rebuilding. And as many of those franchises play in front of sellout crowds in smaller, more hospitable arenas for WNBA games, the Sparks continue to play in 20,000-seat Arena. They averaged 5,652 fans this season.

Chiney Ogwumike played 26 of the Sparks’ 36 games this season, averaging 7 points. On June 23, when the Sparks were blasted at home by the Sky, 82-59, she was in Brooklyn working for ESPN on NBA Draft coverage.

She is a free agent, and the Sparks will have to decide whether to bring her back.

“All I’m saying is I go where my sister goes,” she said. “We’re two for one at this point. Our dream is to win a championship together, and Los Angeles has been a second home for me. I know the last few years have been rough, but you have to go through it to get to it.”

The Sparks have tried improving through the draft and the belief was that Cambage would make them a championship contender. Instead, she was never a good fit in the offense, brooded when she didn’t get the ball, and at times didn’t get back on defense.

She agreed to a contract divorce and her WNBA future is in question. Cambage had a history of being disgruntled in previous stops. She left the Aces, who went on to become the No. 1 seed in the playoffs and a championship favorite.

Liz Cambage (right) decided to step away from the WNBA in July.Keith Birmingham/Associated Press

“I was having a conversation with my agent and she was saying there’s always waves when it comes to organizations in basketball,” Chiney Ogwumike said. “A couple of years ago it was Phoenix and LA and Minnesota that were constantly pushing the boundaries with winning championships and making each other better, and now there’s a new wave with Vegas, Chicago, and you even put Connecticut up there. I know the Sparks, with what we’ve been through the last four years, I really feel like we’re able to create a great foundation for getting back to where we need to go no matter what happens.”

With the league’s growth, increasing salaries, a schedule that will expand to 40 games next season, and booming television interest, there’s added pressure on big-market teams such as the Sparks to succeed. The New York Liberty and Sky have improved over the past few years with strong free agent signings, drafts, and astute coaching hires.

The Sparks have one WNBA title in the past 20 years, in 2016 with Brian Agler, who also led the Storm to a title. Agler stepped down after the 2017 season.

“Sometimes it’s good to have a harsh reset, meaning you see things for what it is,” Chiney Ogwumike said. “By the end of the year we now know what our priorities are and we have standards for where we want to go, how we want our practices to go, how we want games to go, how we want our brand to look. We’re finding people that subscribe to that standard. It could only be upward with the standard we have.”

Nneka Ogwumike is also a free agent, and she said she wants to return to the Sparks. She has been one of the model players for the WNBA, but the Sparks’ lack of success in placing scoring around her has taken its toll. She led the club in scoring, rebounding, and field goal percentage.

“I’m all about having a good squad,” she said. “It’s not about having one player who’s doing it all. I know at times there are situations where the team is going to lean on me and I feel I can certainly manage that well. Just really having a team with people can understand that it can be anyone’s day.”

It’s become obvious the franchise needs an overhaul and it would likely start with the hiring of a new GM.

“I would describe this season as living in a house you didn’t build,” Nneka Ogwumike said. “So next year we can build our house. I know the floor plan next year.”


Udonis Haslem will announce Sunday whether he'll return to the Heat for a 20th season.Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

The Heat’s roster has included Udonis Haslem for the last 19 years, and the spiritual leader of the club will wait until Sunday to announce whether he will return for a 20th season. Haslem’s days as a useful reserve are long in the past, with his last season in the rotation 2014-15, but he serves as another assistant coach, mentor for younger players, and all-around leader. While Haslem could join Erik Spoelstra’s coaching staff, he has remained in good enough shape to occupy a roster spot … Former Celtic Isaiah Thomas is still waiting for offers to join his next NBA team. He finished last season with the Hornets, making a positive impression as a backup point guard and team mentor. The Hornets have a gaping hole as the backup to LaMelo Ball and are considering bringing aboard Thomas or Hornets great Kemba Walker. Walker was traded by the Knicks to the Pistons to make space to sign Jalen Brunson, and then was waived by the Pistons. Walker has never been the same player since experiencing knee issue during his Boston tenure, and his homecoming to New York was short-lived after coach Tom Thibodeau benched Walker. There should be a place in the NBA for Walker as a backup point guard, but it could be hard for him to find work considering his health the past two years. Thomas wants to return to Charlotte and showed the Hornets he could accept a bench role and be a positive influence on his teammates … Former Celtic Dennis Schröder remains a free agent after a stint with the Rockets after leaving Boston. Schröder could help a club as a reserve guard, but he is likely to make less than the $5.9 million he earned last season. Schröder reportedly turned down an $84 million extension with the Lakers prior to last season.

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @GwashburnGlobe.