Even before the NBA released the first half of the 2020-21 schedule on Friday, we salivated over some of the anticipated matchups given that so many players are returning from injuries, while others joined new teams.
Here’s a look at eight of the duels from the first half of the NBA schedule that we couldn’t wait to see:
Editor’s note: All head-to-head records are based off regular season matchups.
1. Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James
It’s hard to believe we haven’t seen these superstars match up since Christmas of 2018, when James scored 17 points to go with 13 rebounds and five assists in 21 minutes before leaving a Lakers win over the Warriors in the third quarter due to a groin strain. But here we are. Now, we’re looking at a totally different Lakers squad facing off against a totally revamped Brooklyn Nets squad headlined by a pair of stars in Durant and Kyrie Irving. This game could possibly serve as a preview for the 2021 NBA Finals. So, we’re hoping to see both of these superstars on the floor for this one.
Head-to-head record: LeBron James, 15-6
2. Kawhi Leonard vs. LeBron James
The battle for L.A. starts early this season just like it did last year when the Clippers bested the Lakers 112-102 to spark a heated national debate about which team was the favorite to capture the title (we saw how that played out). Coming off a championship and a short offseason, James could be limited. If we miss out on this matchup, there’s plenty more storylines to keep an eye on with reigning Sixth-Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell leaving the Clippers to join the Lakers and Leonard’s former Toronto teammate Marc Gasol also joining the purple and gold.
Head-to-head record: Kawhi Leonard, 8-5
3. Donovan Mitchell vs. Jamal Murray
Honestly, this matchup probably deserves top billing when you look back on the epic duel these players staged in the opening round of the Western Conference Playoffs, knocking down 65 3-pointers in the series while combining for 475 points. Their combined production broke the NBA record that Jerry West and John Havlicek set in the 1969 NBA Finals. “And then I get into that zone of just not missing, and the team relying on shooting and everything,” Murray said to Quentin Richardson on the Knuckleheads podcast. “Like, nobody could stop each other. So, I come down and hit two 3s in a row. Then, he comes down and hits two 3s in a row.” You get the gist of what we’re expecting in this matchup between a couple of young scorers in their primes? Both teams play again on Jan. 31 on NBA TV.
Head-to-head record: 5-5
4. Trae Young vs. Luka Doncic
We kept hoping for this matchup last season, but it never materialized due to injuries. If healthy, we’ll see these budding stars battle twice in one week in February. The Mavericks improved their defense over the offseason, while Atlanta loaded up on offensive firepower to play alongside Young. Let’s keep in mind these players will be forever linked after they were traded in 2018 for one another. They played twice as rookies, with both logging 24-point double-doubles in their last matchup. But we never saw them face off again, which might have been for the best since the Hawks and Mavericks were trending last season in opposite directions. The rising stars will likely put on a show.
Head-to-head record: 1-1
5. Stephen Curry vs. Kevin Durant
A couple stars and former Warriors teammates returning from major injuries should be making their debuts here on opening night. We last saw Durant play in the 2019 NBA Finals, and Curry hasn’t hit the hardwood for a live NBA game since March 5. The league’s quick turnaround shouldn’t drastically affect either player, considering the considerable time they’ve been away. But keep in mind it’s just the season opener, and you can bet Steve Kerr and Steve Nash will be looking to manage the minutes of these star players as much as possible. Look at this as just a preview of what’s to come from a couple of players that could be right in the mix when it comes to the Kia MVP conversation.
Head-to-head record: Kevin Durant, 14-9
6. Jimmy Butler vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Jimmy Butler and the Heat jumped in and stole away the Eastern Conference title that Milwaukee was favored to secure last season and did it in dominating fashion (4-1). The Bucks added some help for Antetokounmpo this offseason in guard Jrue Holiday. But let’s not forget that Butler put together 30- and 40-point nights in two of Miami’s postseason wins over the Bucks, before Antetokounmpo sat out of the series-deciding Game 5 due to a sprained ankle. Both players have averaged 18.9 points in their head-to-head regular season contests.
Head-to-head record: Jimmy Butler, 12-7
7. LaMelo Ball vs. Lonzo Ball
You may disagree with the way LaVar Ball delivers his messages, but let’s give the man his flowers for shepherding all three of his sons — Lonzo, LaMelo, and LiAngelo — into the NBA. You’ve got to think LaVar will be the proudest father (and rightfully so) on Earth when LaMelo, the third pick of the 2020 NBA Draft, clashes with big brother Lonzo, the No. 2 pick of the 2017 draft. Big brother Ball leads a more talented team, as New Orleans might finally be back in the mix for its first postseason berth since the 2017-18 season. Although these brothers haven’t yet played against one another in the NBA, we’ve already heard plenty of debate about which is the better player. Expect that to continue after this one.
8. John Wall vs. Russell Westbrook
We get an early glimpse at which team received the better end of the trade between these players during this lightning-quick offseason. Westbrook leads his third team in as many years against a superstar in Wall, who hasn’t played since Dec. 26, 2018 due to a couple of season-ending injuries. Houston isn’t even yet sure whether Wall is even fully healthy and ready to go, but new coach Stephen Silas should have a pretty good idea Sunday when the Rockets open training camp. Hopefully by the time this game pops up on the schedule, Wall is catching a groove in Houston because this matchup should provide some fireworks if he and Westbrook are healthy.
Head-to-head record: Russell Westbrook, 11-2