Michael C. Wright's Watchlist: 15 must-see games on NBA League Pass
These are some of the most binge-worthy games to watch while the season is on hiatus
Fans lamenting the absence of hoops in the midst of the NBA’s hiatus over concerns regarding the coronavirus pandemic might find somewhat of a reprieve by checking out some of the content provided in the free preview of NBA League Pass.
The complimentary offering, which was announced Wednesday and ends on Apr. 22, features every game from the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, in addition to an archive of classic games and moments around the NBA.
Here’s my list of 15 games worth tuning in for, starting with a lucky 13 from this season and then two more from the vault.
(Editor’s note: Games below are listed in chronological order.)
13 Games From 2019-20
Why I’m watching: We all had this one circled when the NBA schedule dropped. In a highly anticipated matchup between a pair of title contenders in the same city, new LA Clipper Kawhi Leonard racked up 30 points in the season opener for both teams. During one stretch, Leonard knocked down seven consecutive buckets. The Clippers would go on to win the next two games in this series, before the Lakers finally prevailed 112-103 on Mar. 8. Nobody gets through the West without seeing one of these teams in the playoffs.
Why I’m watching: The last three Kia NBA MVPs all on the floor at once in James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Giannis Antetokounmpo made this one pretty appealing. But Antetokounmpo, the reigning MVP, would steal the show, despite watching from the bench over the final 5 minutes and 18 seconds. In the second half of a 30-point outing, Antetokounmpo helped Milwaukee transform a 16-point deficit into a six-point lead on the road by racking up 20 points, 8 rebounds and five assists in fewer than 14 minutes on the floor before fouling out. Antetokounmpo would finish with 13 rebounds and 11 assists.
Why I’m watching: We all saw it coming, just not this soon. In his first NBA victory, Ja Morant produced plenty of highlight-reel plays, but his block on six-time NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving to send the game into overtime was probably the biggest. Morant reeled off 30 points, becoming just the third player in NBA history to produce a 30-point and nine-assist game within his first three outings. He scored 17 points in nine minutes in the fourth quarter to lead Memphis back from an eight-point deficit with 3:20 left to play before blocking Irving’s potential go-ahead shot at the end of regulation. Morant’s finale included him dishing the last-second dime to Jae Crowder for the game-winning bucket at the OT buzzer.
Why I’m watching: This outing proved to be a preview of what was to come for all the young guns looking to take the crown from King James. Lebron James and Luka Doncic became the oldest and youngest player in NBA history to post a 30-10-15 triple-double, but the former’s team came out on top. James dished the assist on a Danny Green corner 3-pointer to force overtime, before the Lakers rolled comfortably down the stretch. James put up a season-high 39 points to go with 16 assists and 10 rebounds while Doncic scored 31 points in addition to dishing a career-high 15 assists and 13 rebounds.
Why I’m watching: In the moment, admittedly, I laughed when Austin Rivers trolled his father, Doc, as he was ejected from this game with the Rockets comfortably leading at the Toyota Center. Once we got to the locker room, more comedy ensued because you could see just how much Austin Rivers enjoyed that moment headed into Thanksgiving, but most importantly, the victory. Harden lit up the Clippers for 47 points, marking his fifth outing with 40-plus points and five assists or more within the first 11 games of the season, an NBA record.
Why I’m watching: As you know, more records would fall. But in this one, Doncic scored a career-high 42 points to go with 12 assists and 11 rebounds to join LeBron as the only players in league history younger than 21 to record a 40-point triple double. The loss marked San Antonio’s sixth in a row, representing its longest skid since the 2010-11 season.
Why I’m watching: In the 76ers’ first home Christmas game in 31 years, Joel Embiid outdueled Giannis Antetokounmpo with 31 points and 11 rebounds. Too bad Embiid and the 76ers haven’t been able to maintain any level of consistency. When the NBA suspended the season, Philadelphia had lost 5 of its last 10 outings.
Why I’m watching: Chris Paul, aka Chris Clutch, poured in 20 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. Paul outscored Brooklyn 12-11 in clutch time as the Thunder outscored the Nets 28-13 in the final 13 minutes of regulation and OT. Paul tied the game with 47.4 seconds left in regulation, and then contributed 4 of Oklahoma City’s 10 points in OT.
Why I’m watching: Dame Time strikes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, with the Portland Trail Blazer setting a franchise record with 61 points, including a career-best 11 3-pointers. The performance marked the seventh time in the regular season he would score more than 50 points. But over the next two weeks, he’d follow it with 48 and 51 points in back-to-back wins.
Why I’m watching: What a long, long day and night this was. On the Uber ride from the airport to the hotel the conversation focused solely on Zion Williamson. Same thing upon arriving at the hotel in New Orleans, where the woman checking me in screamed, “Zioooooonnnn!” when she found out where I was headed later that night. Williamson’s debut was definitely worth the wait. The man put together a magical 3 minutes and 8 seconds of brilliance in the fourth quarter, scoring 17 points in a row. Williamson also became the only player to hit 4-of-4 from 3-point range in his NBA debut, according to Elias Stats Bureau.
Why I’m watching: Harden lost the opening tipoff as Houston unveiled a starting lineup with nobody taller than 6-foot-6. Still, the Rockets prevailed in the debut of their first real experiment with their polarizing small-ball lineup. Westbrook led Houston with 41 points, while Robert Covington hit a couple of late clutch 3’s in his Rockets debut against a huge Lakers squad.
Why I’m watching: King James humbled yet another young star in Williamson by scoring a season-high 40 points. But James made sure to credit Williamson, who also put on a show, scoring 29 points in 33 minutes of action. The teams would meet again in March with the Lakers coming away with a 122-114 win. This series seemed like a preview of a potential playoff matchup between the first and eighth seeds.
Why I’m watching: The joy Stephen Curry competes with is what we all missed with him sitting out 58 games due to a broken left hand. But on this night, that joy was finally back. In his first game in almost four months, Curry scored 23 points to go with six rebounds and seven assists in 27 minutes on the floor.
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2 Classics From The Vault
Why I’m watching: As we spend more time at home with our families practicing social distancing, it’s always surprising to learn just how much your children know. My 11-year-old son spent about an hour Sunday working to create a player on the Xbox One game NBA2K20. Asked what he was doing, he said, “I’m trying to recreate Spud Webb.” What? How does he know who Spud Webb is? Anyway, I was about a year younger than my son when the 5-foot-7 Webb wowed the crowd at Reunion Arena in his hometown of Dallas to defeat defending champion and Atlanta Hawks teammate Dominique Wilkins. Webb flushed an impressive array of dunks in this one that earned him three perfect scores, including two in the finals. At the time, Webb said Wilkins had never seen him dunk before.
Why I’m watching: You’ve seen the iconic image of an emotional Michael Jordan tightly embracing the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy. Now, you’ve got a chance to relive all that it took to get it. Jordan shook off seven years of frustration in helping the Bulls roll to a 15-2 record in that postseason. Unanimously voted MVP of the series Chicago won 4-1, Jordan put together a 30-point, 10-assist performance to best a Lakers Big Three composed of Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Vlade Divac to capture the first of six titles. They often say the first is the sweetest.
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