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Gary Washburn

Here are 10 NBA matchups not to be missed this season

LeBron James will return to Cleveland on Nov. 21 to face the Cavaliers and former coach Tyronn Lue.Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Editor’s note: This item originally appeared in the Sunday basketball notes.

The NBA has become a 365-day-a-year sport and the schedule release gives fans more subject matter to devour until training camp starts in mid-September. The Celtics’ preseason opener is just less than seven weeks away, Sept. 28 against Charlotte.

So, for those looking for a guide to the 2018-19 season, here’s 10 games that you cannot miss:

1. 76ers at Celtics, Oct. 16, TD Garden: Finally, the Celtics will field their full, healthy roster for a regular-season game. It will be 364 days after Gordon Hayward broke his tibia and dislocated his left ankle in a frightening injury five minutes into the opener against Cleveland. Hayward is expected to return healthy along with Kyrie Irving and Daniel Theis to begin what should be a march to the Finals. The 76ers will bring their emerging squad back with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and J.J. Redick. Philadelphia will be the primary challenger to the Celtics for a spot in the Finals and the rivalry has been renewed.

Related: The Celtics’ full 2018-19 regular season schedule


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2. Lakers at Cavaliers, Nov. 21, Quicken Loans Arena: It’s LeBron James’s return to Cleveland with his new team. The question will be what type of response will James receive in his second return to the Q with another team? James helped the Cavaliers win Cleveland’s first major professional sports title in 52 years but also left the city via free agency for the second time in eight years. The Cavaliers won’t be pushovers. They have a legitimate chance to compete for the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. Tyronn Lue is motivated to prove he can coach up a team that doesn’t feature the best player on earth.

3. Raptors at Spurs, Jan. 3, AT&T Center: It’s Kawhi Leonard’s first game back in San Antonio as a member of the Toronto Raptors with an unknown reception from the Spurs’ faithful because of his unceremonious departure. Leonard played just nine games last season because of an injury and was damaged by the perception that he was dogging it in his rehabilitation. Leonard did pen a thank-you letter to the city of San Antonio and thanked coach Gregg Popovich, but his return could be greeted with disdain. Also, it will be the first game for DeMar DeRozan against many of his former Toronto teammates.


4. Lakers at Warriors, Dec. 25, Oracle Arena: If the Lakers want to be considered legitimate challengers to the Warriors in the Western Conference, an impressive Christmas Day performance with 40 points from LeBron would help their case. The Lakers are back on the national stage after adding LeBron, but are the Lakers ready for the likes of the Warriors, Rockets, and Thunder? That remains to be seen because LeBron can’t do it all. The Lakers will need Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Brandon Ingram to show their developing games also.

Related: 11 Celtics games you can’t miss this season

5. Suns at Warriors, March 10, Oracle Arena: Why this game? Because DeMarcus Cousins will likely be healthy and could make his season debut with Golden State on this night. Cousins accepted just $5.3 million to play for Golden State this season and won’t be rushed to return from a torn Achilles’ tendon. The Warriors are hoping Cousins can play in the final 20 regular-season games to prepare for the playoffs and then slice through their Western Conference competition with this super team.


6. Hornets at Spurs, Jan. 14, AT&T Center: It’s another return game, this time for Tony Parker, who left San Antonio after 17 seasons with the Spurs. His signing with Charlotte was overshadowed because of Leonard’s summer-long ordeal, but it is equally as important. Spurs greats generally retire in San Antonio. Two of their all-time great players left within weeks of each other. But it was time for Parker, who served as a backup to Dejounte Murray last season and was being pushed out of San Antonio’s retooling plan.

7. Pistons at Clippers, Jan. 12, Staples Center: It will be the comeback game for Blake Griffin, who if you recall, was supposed to retire a Clipper when he signed that five-year maximum deal last summer, only to be shipped to Detroit by Doc Rivers a few months later. The Pistons, with new coach Dwane Casey, have serious playoff aspirations and Griffin wasn’t exactly pleased with how his Los Angeles tenure ended. Will Griffin be the first Clipper to have his number retired? He should be, right?

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8. Lakers at Celtics, Feb. 7, TD Garden: It’s LeBron’s first game at TD Garden as a Laker and his presence won’t be lost on Irving, who will be looking to make a major statement against his former teammate. Also, the Lakers-Celtics rivalry gets a major boost after sagging over the past few years. James will most certainly get an unceremonious welcome back to Boston with his new team after knocking out the Celtics again in the playoffs.


9. Warriors at Rockets, Nov. 15, Toyota Center: It’s way too early to make any determinations from this game. But it will be interesting to see how the new-look Rockets match up against the Warriors after losing Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute and adding Carmelo Anthony. It was Houston that finished with the best record in the NBA and home-court advantage last season, but that mattered little with Chris Paul hurt for Games 6 and 7 of the Western Conference finals.

10. Timberwolves at Nuggets, April 10, Pepsi Center: Last season these teams battled for the final playoff spot on the season’s final night in Minnesota. Now the scene shifts to Denver and both teams are banking they will be playing for playoff seedings and not playoff spots.

Gary Washburn can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @GwashburnGlobe.