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10 must-watch NBA games this season

There are several attractive games on this season’s slate, and it appears several teams improved with offseason moves.

LeBron James and the Cavaliers will face the Warriors for the first time since the Finals on Christmas.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images/File 2015

The NBA has done a brilliant job of following the NFL's lead and becoming a 365-day-a-year league.

While August has long been considered a quiet month, the NBA has made news with the release of the schedule, as well as USA Basketball's camp. The opening of training camps is still six weeks away, giving fans a minor respite.

There are several attractive games on this season's NBA slate, and it appears several teams improved with offseason moves, even in the Eastern Conference.

Here are 10 must-watch games, including one involving the Celtics:

1. Timberwolves at Lakers, Oct. 28

Not only do the league's top two draft picks — Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell — face off, but expected back is Kobe Bryant, who has missed most of the last two seasons with leg and shoulder injuries. Bryant is in the final year of his contract and turns 37 Aug. 23. One of the season's biggest story lines will be whether Bryant still has enough game to remain an All-Star-caliber player and whether this will be his final season. Bryant maintains nothing has been decided about his future.

2. Thunder at Rockets, Nov. 2

It's expected to be Kevin Durant's fourth game back from a foot injury, and the Thunder will be tested by the Rockets, who reached the Western Conference finals last season. The Rockets have essentially the same team as last season, other than rookies Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell. The Thunder have a new coach in Billy Donovan and a healthy Durant, along with fellow MVP candidate Russell Westbrook. An intriguing matchup of teams that could make a push in the West but aren't the favorites.


3. Clippers at Mavericks, Nov. 11

It’ll be DeAndre Jordan’s first game in Dallas since pulling out of a verbal agreement with the Mavs and re-signing with the Clippers.Nick Ut/Associated Press

The DeAndre Jordan return game, except that he never quite signed with the Mavericks. The free agent center initially committed to the Mavericks, and then a few days later had second thoughts and re-signed with the Clippers. Not only did Jordan back out of his commitment, he refused to take telephone calls from Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who hasn't referred to Jordan by name since the incident. It could be a hostile environment for Jordan, who was promised an expanded offensive role by coach Doc Rivers.


4. Celtics vs. Kings, Dec. 3, at Mexico City

The new-look Kings, with former Celtic Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli, Kosta Koufos, and first-round pick Willie Cauley-Stein, take on the Celtics in Mexico City in an official home game for Sacramento. The Celtics have a difficult schedule to begin the season and will be in the midst of a five-game trip. By then, coach Brad Stevens will have established his playing rotations, and the Celtics could become one of the emerging teams in the East.

5. Bucks at Pistons, Dec. 4

Not only Greg Monroe's first game back in Detroit since signing a stunning three-year, $50 million deal with the Bucks, but also an intriguing matchup of teams considered risers in the East. The Bucks are coming off a tough first-round playoff series against the Bulls, and they've added Monroe and a healthy Jabari Parker, who missed most of his rookie season with a torn left anterior cruciate ligament. The Pistons added Marcus Morris from Phoenix, a healthy Brandon Jennings, rookie Stanley Johnson, and former Buck Ersan Ilyasova. The Central Division could be the most competitive in the NBA.

6. Cavaliers at Heat, Dec. 5

This is included not only because it's a LeBron James game in Miami, but the revamped Heat could be the Cavaliers' biggest competition in the East. Miami gets back a healthy Chris Bosh, along with Luol Deng, Dwyane Wade, Josh McRoberts, newly signed Amar'e Stoudemire, a full season of Hassan Whiteside, and rookie Justise Winslow. The Cavaliers will have Kevin Love back. With Kyrie Irving not expected to return until midseason, the Heat have a chance to take control of the East in the first half of the schedule.


7. Cavaliers at Warriors, Dec. 25

The first matchup of the Warriors and Cavaliers since the Finals, when Golden State eliminated shorthanded (minus Love) Cleveland in six games. This could be a preview of a Finals rematch, but teams such as the Heat, Spurs, and Clippers should have a say during the playoffs.

8. Spurs at Warriors, Jan. 25

The Spurs and the Warriors met twice in the final week of last season.Darren Abate/Associated Press

The first meeting of the two favorites in the West. The defending champion Warriors added Jason Thompson in the offseason to replace David Lee. The Spurs are primed for yet another title run with newly signed LaMarcus Aldridge and David West, along with re-signed Danny Green and Manu Ginobili. The Spurs and Warriors meet twice in the final week of the season. Could those games determine the No. 1 seed in the West?

9. Jazz at Pelicans, March 5

Two Western Conference teams that have playoff aspirations, especially the Pelicans with Anthony Davis, who agreed to the richest contract in league history ($145 million). New Orleans also will feature new coach Alvin Gentry and a more up-tempo style. The Jazz lost Dante Exum for the season with a torn ACL, but they still have Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Derrick Favors, defensive-minded center Rudy Gobert, and point guard Trey Burke. By early March, both teams should be in full stride and this could be a competitive matchup.


10. Knicks at Pacers, April 12

This could be a battle for one of the final playoff spots in the East. The Knicks will be dramatically improved with the additions of Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Derrick Williams, and Kyle O'Quinn, along with a healthy Carmelo Anthony and rookie Kristaps Porzingis. Indiana retooled by adding Monta Ellis, Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger, and impressive rookie Myles Turner. Both teams should be better than last season and this could be an important matchup in the season's final days.


Jack taking over the point for Nets

Jarrett Jack is now the alpha male in Brooklyn’s backcourt.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

With the Nets desperate to rid themselves of the contract and mercurial ways of former All-Star Deron Williams, they handed the responsibilities of lead guard to journeyman Jarrett Jack, who has mostly come off the bench in recent seasons.

The Nets are essentially rebooting. The Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett trade was a failure that resulted in one conference semifinal appearance before Pierce signed with the Wizards.

Last season, the Nets lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Hawks, prompting general manager Billy King to make some changes.

Williams was bought out of the final two years of his contract and signed with his hometown Mavericks. Mason Plumlee was traded to the Trail Blazers for the draft rights to defensive swingman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. And the Nets signed Andrea Bargnani, Shane Larkin, and Thomas Robinson, while bringing back free agents Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young.

The Nets won't contend this season but they are getting younger, and nabbing young talent will become even more of a challenge since Brooklyn owes the Celtics two of its next three first-round picks, and Boston has the right to swap the other.


So in this transition period, Jack, 31, is one of the leaders.

"No question, we've got to set the tone," Jack said of the veterans. "We want other people to understand what it means to be part of Brooklyn basketball. You can't wait until October if you want to be a special team. There's going to have to be things you sacrifice, your personal time, to become one of those teams.

"I'm always vocal whenever I think it's necessary. Now with [the veterans] being gone, do I talk more or less? Who knows? It's going to happen organically. I want to come out here and lead with my actions, showing I want to be a part of what we have going on."

Jack, The Journeyman
Jack has played with seven teams in his 11-year career.
Season Team G-GS MP FG% 3P% TRB AST
2005-06 POR 79-4 20.2 .442 .263 2.0 2.8
2006-07 POR 79-79 33.6 .454 .350 2.6 5.3
2007-08 POR 82-16 27.2 .431 .342 2.9 3.8
2008-09 IND 82-53 33.1 .453 .353 3.4 4.1
2009-10 TOR 82-43 27.4 .481 .412 2.7 5.0
2010-11 TOR/NO 83-15 20.7 .408 .306 2.1 2.9
2011-12 NOH 45-39 34.0 .456 .348 3.9 6.3
2012-13 GSW 79-4 29.7 .452 .404 3.1 5.6
2013-14 CLE 80-31 28.2 .410 .341 2.8 4.1
2014-15 BRK 80-27 28.0 .439 .267 3.1 4.7
Career 771 27.9 .443 .348 2.8 4.4
SOURCE: basketball-reference.com

The Nets were never cohesive, despite King's attempts to ramp up with All-Stars and former All-Stars. Pierce never was comfortable in Brooklyn. Garnett was often injured. Joe Johnson remained his stoic self, while Williams declined steadily.

The harsh reality was that Brooklyn couldn't compete with Miami or Cleveland in the East.

The Nets were good enough to win most nights but never gained consistency.

"For us, it's just having a simple belief in ourselves," said Jack. "Once we believe it, going out there and show and prove."

Williams was acquired from the Jazz in February 2011 for Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, a first-round pick that became Enes Kanter, and a first-rounder that was later traded to the Timberwolves.

The Nets sacrificed a lot to get Williams, who once was considered one of the premier point guards in the game.

Partly because of ankle injuries, Williams began a steady decline, prompting Pierce to challenge his heart and desire to succeed.

"I knew there was a little bit of uneasiness there for a while," Jack said. "I really didn't think much of it. I thought he just might have needed a change of scenery, which is cool. In professional sports, happiness is one thing we don't get to control a lot. It seems like he's happy with the new situation."

Jack, meanwhile, is excited about the Nets, despite their relative inexperience. The chemistry and atmosphere have improved.

"They have clearly made some economic moves, probably the power above all of our pay grades, but I definitely think the top priority was signing Brook and bringing back Thad," said Jack. "I'm happy and hopeful we're able to jell."


Spurs’ Anderson is not in a rush

Kyle Anderson averaged 21 points in seven summer league games this year.John Locher/Associated Press

Kyle Anderson was considered one of the nation's top recruits when he committed to UCLA out of Jersey City, N.J., a 6-foot-9-inch swingman with point guard skills who displayed those talents for two years before committing to the draft.

He was the last pick of the first round in 2014 by the Spurs and it was expected that, since rookies don't play often in Gregg Popovich's system, Anderson would take time to develop. He spent most of his first season in the NBADL, but he was one of the more impressive players in this year's Las Vegas summer league, showing perhaps he is prepared to contribute.

Anderson doesn't play with explosion, instead playing at his own pace, which can be deceptive to those who aren't accustomed to his game. It may look like Anderson doesn't exert full effort, but he appears more comfortable when not in a hurry. He entered this summer with a goal to make an impression on the Spurs' brass.

"The thing I'm excited about the most is my defense," he said. "The points are going to come. I'm not going to go out there and score 20 points during the regular season. My focus is on defense."

Perhaps the biggest adjustment for Anderson, who appeared in 33 games last season for the Spurs, was adapting his pace to the NBA. The Celtics stressed to forward James Young being more decisive with his moves, as he would often allow defenders to catch up because he spent too much time determining whether to drive or shoot. Anderson is dealing with a similar issue, how to be faster but also in control.

"I think I'm long enough and crazy enough, too, that I don't think I have to speed my game up," Anderson said. "I do try to speed it up a little bit because that's what they asked me for in San Antonio, but I just play my game, just be unselfish."

Trying to develop
Anderson started 26 games last season in the NBA D-League for the Austin Spurs.
21.3 40.1 .447 .354 8.7 4.8 2.0 1.5 3.3
SOURCE: basketball-reference.com

Anderson proved to be a difficult defensive assignment for his summer league opponents because of his ability to use his size to post up and yet stay low with his dribble. In seven summer league games, Anderson averaged 21 points, 6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.1 steals.

"It's important to keep [the ballhandling] up, I've always been a point guard my whole life," he said. "I was fortunate enough to be 6-9 and keep these ballhandling skills, so it's important to have on this level. Not a lot of 6-9 guys are grabbing a rebound and able to push it down the floor. That's just something I've been fortunate enough to have with me."

The key to Anderson's summer was building confidence for his second season. With the additions of LaMarcus Aldridge and David West, the Spurs are primed for a title run. Anderson's role is yet to be determined.

"I've been thinking about camp since we lost in that first round [to the Clippers]," Anderson said, "and I can't wait to get to work, and October will be here soon."


Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

While there is no rush for his return since the Celtics are six weeks from the start of training camp, second-year guard Marcus Smart is going through two-a-days in rehabilitating two dislocated fingers on his right hand and should be cleared to resume basketball activities in a couple of weeks, according to his agent. Smart dislocated the fingers in a collision with Portland's Noah Vonleh July 16 during a summer league game in Las Vegas. Smart is expected to be the Celtics' starting point guard . . . The Hawks made an astute move in hiring former NBA player Malik Rose for a player development position. Rose, who had been the color commentator on 76ers telecasts and a host on SiriusXM NBA Radio, had been interested in a front office position for the past few years and is one of the league's emerging bright minds . . . The Celtics were interested in bringing former University of Texas forward Jonathan Holmes to training camp, but a glut of power forwards, along with too many guaranteed contracts, resulted in Holmes looking elsewhere, and he joined the Lakers on a partially guaranteed contract . . . It was no shock around the league that Suns forward Markieff Morris asked to be traded a few weeks after his brother, Marcus Morris, was dealt to the Pistons in a cap-clearing move when they pursued Aldridge. Markieff, considered the lesser prospect when the twins left the University of Kansas, has turned out to be the better pro. Markieff started all 82 games last season and averaged a career-high 15.3 points and shot 46.5 percent from the field. He is difficult to defend for power forwards but began to fall in love with the 3-pointer in Phoenix's up-tempo offense. He would be a solid pickup for a team looking for a stretch-4 . . . There are a handful of solid free agents who will have to sign minimum contracts or mini mid-level exception deals of $2.8 million. The top remaining free agent is mercurial J.R. Smith, who opted out of the final year of his deal with the Cavaliers at $6.4 million. Also on the market are Carlos Boozer, Nate Robinson, Jason Terry, Michael Beasley, Luc Mbah a Moute, and former Celtic Glen Davis.

Making their points

There are a lot of ways to score in the NBA. Using data Synergy Sports provides the NBA, here's a look at the most prolific scorers in several play types, along how often that player executes a given play type, and how many points per possession that play type yields:

Compiled by Mike Carraggi

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.