The Whiteboard: NBA matchups we want on Opening Night and Christmas Day

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Reports indicate that by tomorrow, the NBA and NBPA will have agreed to a plan for the 2020-21 season to begin on Dec. 22. This will presumably set up a 72-game season but the schedule is still very much up in the air with travel still an issue because of the coronavirus pandemic. The league is reportedly discussing MLB-style multi-game series between teams, something that would be a dramatic reworking of the current schedule structure.

But regardless of how things work out, we know the league will be looking to place marquee matchups on high-profile dates. In the past, the NBA has had at least two games on Opening Night and then five matchups back-to-back on Christmas. Starting there, here is a proposal for the games we’d like to see on each date.

NBA Matchups for Opening Day (Night)

Early game: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Miami Heat

The Heat’s surprising run to the Finals will raise expectations for next season, separate from any roster upgrades they’re able to manage in the next few weeks. Expectations may be lower for the Bucks after another disappointing playoff exit but they’re still likely to be among the handful of legit contenders in the East. Here’s a chance to kick off the season with a star-driven matchup, running back an exciting playoff series and establishing the Eastern Conference hierarchy right from the opening tip.

Late game: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Los Angeles Clippers

The Lakers, as defending champions, have to be playing on opening night and the Clippers are, by far, the most intriguing matchup for them. The Clippers will likely make some roster tweaks but they’re still likely to be the Lakers’ toughest challenger in the West and this game will always carry the extra emotional baggage of Kawhi vs. LeBron and intracity rivalry.

NBA Matchups for Christmas Day

Game 1: Boston Celtics vs. Milwaukee Bucks

The Celtics will also be in the mix in the Eastern Conference and, as an early game, this one has stakes for the standings and presents a compelling individual matchup between Jayson Tatum and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Game 2: Dallas Mavericks vs. Houston Rockets

Luka Doncic is a legit MVP candidate this season and has the profile to be featured on days like this, even if the roster has enough holes to keep the Mavericks off the top tier in the West. The Rockets may be playing a significantly different brand of basketball next season but they’ll almost certainly have James Harden and Russell Westbrook. This one just has too much star power to ignore.

Game 3: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat

Put the Finals rematch in the middle of the day. Maybe the Lakers arrange to get their championship rings before the game, throw a little salt Miami’s way?

Game 4: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Toronto Raptors

The 76ers could be running with the same roster or they could be completely remade in the next few weeks. But regardless, they’ll be talented and looking to answer all sorts of questions. The Raptors may also look dramatically different — Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet are all free agents. But two talented teams looking to build new identities could still make for a fascinating game.

Game 5: Denver Nuggets vs. Los Angeles Clippers

The Nuggets pulled off two 3-1 comebacks in last year’s playoffs, but the win over the Clippers was more significant. It pushed them to the Western Conference Finals, put them on another level and sent the Clippers into an organizational tailspin. The Clippers will be looking for revenge. The Nuggets will be looking to prove it wasn’t a fluke.

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