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Ranking the top 5 national TV games of the NBA’s 2017 opening week

Houston Rockets' James Harden (13) drives around Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green (23) in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Houston, Tuesday, March 28, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
AP Photo/Michael Wyke

The start of the NBA regular season is a just a little over two months away, (crazy, but awesome, right?) and on Thursday, the league released its Christmas Day and opening week national TV schedule.

As expected, there are some must-see matchups in the first week of the season. Let’s rank the top five in terms of watchability.

Note: all times listed are Eastern

5. Clippers at Lakers, Oct. 19, 10:30 p.m., TNT

Including Clippers-Lakers in here really depends what you think of Lonzo Ball, but at the very least – you know the Los Angeles Lakers are going to give him the keys. LaVar will be on the sidelines, and regardless of how effective Lonzo proves to be, he’s a ball to watch. The no-look passes, the full-court bombs, the 30-foot stepbacks – he plays an aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball, like him (or LaVar) or not. Side note: the Lakers’ starting five is sneaky … I don’t know, not terrible? Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Brook Lopez could probably make the playoffs in the East.

And then there’s the Los Angeles Clippers, sans Chris Paul, but with a boatload of other goodies in the fold. Whether or not those goodies mesh together, who knows – but it’ll be a sight, regardless. Bonus points: we get to see Milos Teodosic’s NBA debut.  That might be worth the price of admission alone.

4. 76ers at Wizards, Oct. 18, 7 p.m, ESPN

John Wall is one of the most entertaining players in the league, and the Washington Wizards have one of the best starting fives in basketball. But of course, this is all about the Philadelphia 76ers.

We’ve only seen Joel Embiid play 31 games – but man, those 31 games were dope. We’ve never seen Ben Simmons play a regular season game – he could be a 6-foot-10 version of Rajon Rondo, a better version of Lamar Odom, or if we’re really getting crazy here, a Draymond Green-LeBron James hybrid. And the third player we’re mentioning was the No. 1-overall pick in a strong draft – Markelle Fultz, who has the potential to average 25 points per game one day.

Throw in J.J. Redick, Dario Saric, and the fact that – oh yeah – the 76ers have been terrible for years, and it’s all going to culminate into this? Awesome. It would be even more special if this game took place in front of Philadelphia’s overanxious crowd, but the 76ers will be a must-watch crew all season if their key players stay healthy.

3. Timberwolves at Spurs, Oct. 18, 9:30 p.m., ESPN

On paper, the Minnesota Timberwolves should be in the neighborhood of 50 wins this season. Karl-Anthony Towns is awesome, and should make a defensive leap in his third season. Andrew Wiggins should continue to progress. Jeff Teague is a solid addition at point guard who fits this team and well, and of course, Minnesota now has an in-his-prime star in Jimmy Butler. Throw coach Tom Thibodeau into the mix, who’s a perennial regular season overachiever, and the Wolves should make noise in the West.

Then again, with so many new parts, Minnesota should take time to mesh – and Thibodeau’s hooting and hollering didn’t help the Wolves much on the court last season. It it possible that the league has caught up to his once-revolutionary defensive scheme? Pit all of that against the boring San Antonio Spurs, who will probably fall ass-backwards into 60 wins, and this is an intriguing clash of contrasting storylines.

2. Celtics at Cavaliers, Oct. 17, 8 p.m., TNT

With Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum in the fold for Boston and Kyrie Irving’s Cleveland future in doubt, the Celtics present the Cavaliers with their most potent Eastern Conference challenger since LeBron James’  return.

That said, Boston hasn’t held a candle to Cleveland since The King’s return. Like, it’s been hilariously uncompetitive, save for a hot second in the Eastern Conference Finals when James had four fouls in the second quarter in Game 4. But things could be different in 2017-18. The Hayward addition would bridge the gap closer to last year’s version of the Cavaliers. Factor in Cleveland’s tumultuous offseason, and for the first time in forever, it feels like there’s a reasonable chance LeBron doesn’t make the Finals.

None of that will be decided on opening night. But if nothing else, the next potential up-and-comer taking on the best player of his generation is appointment viewing.

1. Rockets at Warriors, Oct. 17, 10:30 p.m., TNT

We know exactly what the Golden State Warriors are – and yet, they’re fascinating to watch for reasons unlike any other team in the league.

For starters, they have two of the five best players in the world. They have four of the top 15 or so too – and somehow, collectively, they elevate each others’ games due to their absurdly perfect fit. They play basketball like we’ve never seen it played before – and they just added Nick “Don’t Call Me Swaggy P anymore” Young to the mix, along with retaining JaVale McGee.

But the Houston Rockets are the real reason this matchup is so interesting. Several have questioned how James Harden and Chris Paul will fit together in the same backcourt. Harden and Paul aren’t good enough to win at the highest level by themselves – not as long as the Warriors are around – but Daryl Morey did a great job flanking them with Three-and-D types,  such as P.J. Tucker. Oh, and Carmelo Anthony might still be on the way.

The Warriors have the most firepower in the league. The Rockets might have the second-most, with one of the most star-studded backcourts we’ve ever seen. It’s ring night. Need we say more?

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