The first half of the 2020/21 season schedule is here, Sam Smith breaks down the highlights.
Forget the 2020-21 NBA regular season opening night December 22 with Kevin Durant against his former Golden State Warriors teammates. Though that's more the story of injuries, whether KD and Kyrie Irving are past theirs and how Steph will do without his running mate, Klay. That's followed by the conference finals the Denver Nuggets denied us, the Lakers and Clippers. Compelling stuff, sure. The NBA knows how to put on the big show.
But if that's special, wait until the next night, December 23. It's the Bulls and Atlanta Hawks, Kris Dunn and Rajon Rondo against their former mates, four overtime redux with the Zach and Trae display, and especially what it means for the Eastern Conference. Yes, is it the battle for eighth?
So perhaps it's not the highlight of NBA opening week that includes the Christmas Day unwrapping of Jimmy against Zion, Kyrie against his old buddies in Boston and Luka and LeBron. Seriously, where else is it just first names and everyone knows what we're talking about? Not even with Donald and Joe.
But December 23, which is Day 2 of the first half of the season the NBA announced Friday, will already be something of a measuring stick game for the Bulls. The Hawks were perhaps the most aggressive team in the league this offseason in revising its roster for a playoff run, adding free agents Dunn, Rondo, Danilo Gallinari and Bogdan Bodovic and in trade former Bull Tony Snell along with draft pick Onyeka Okongwu and getting Clint Cappella up and running again after the trade late last season. The Bulls, likewise, believe they are in the playoff discussions with new management, a new coaching staff and renewed health for veterans.
So it's a good statement to begin as the Bulls get an opportunity to measure their growth against a hopeful contender like the Hawks and also at home in Game 2 against another team considered among the second playoff tier in the East, the Indiana Pacers.
Then in a third consecutive home game to open the season Dec. 27 in the first of eight back to back sets leading to the early March break, the Bulls without fans in the United Center host the Golden State Warriors. They are without Klay Thompson this season and trying to return to relevance behind Curry, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green. It still figures to be a daunting task for Golden State to crack the top eight in the West without Thompson and now asking Green to do so much more on offense.
Every NBA team complains about its schedule. But the Bulls appear to have truly drawn a short straw in this abbreviated 72-game season.
Following that first week home litmus test, they go to Washington for consecutive games as the NBA has added more same team consecutive games to reduce travel. The new Wizards feature the Westbrook/Bradley Beal backcourt.
That game for the Bulls begins a run almost unheard of even in the days when the Bulls had the long circus and Ice Capades road trips.
The Bulls will play 11 games in 20 days, including nine on the road mostly in the Western Conference with a Portland/Sacramento back to back before the Lakers Jan. 8 and Clippers Jan. 10. Then home for one game against Boston and back west to Oklahoma City and Dallas. That makes it 10 of the team's first 16 games on the road and 10 of 13 after that three-game home start.
Once that stretch ends the Bulls get LeBron and the Lakers in the United Center Jan. 23 followed by the Celtics. But if the Bulls are able to survive, the schedules eases some afterwards with consecutive games against the Knicks and then the Magic before a potpourri that includes a pair of games about three weeks apart against Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans, at Toronto in Florida and the Clippers, Nuggets and Suns in the United Center, albeit without fans.
The Bulls close out the first half season March 3 in New Orleans as the NBA concludes the following night. The NBA released just the half season schedules in apparent anticipation of games needing to be completed or rescheduled because of virus postponements. There will be no All-Star game.
There will be a break from March 5 to March 10 before the second half of the season begins. That schedule is expected to be released in February with the data from the first segment of games. The play-in tournament for the Nos. 7-10 teams in each conference is scheduled for May 18-21 with the playoffs then concluding by July 22. The 2021 Olympics are scheduled to begin July 23.