Rivalries renewed early as NBA unveils opening week, Christmas Day, MLK Day games

Old rivalries will be renewed at the start of the 2018-19 NBA season, which tips off with a TNT doubleheader on opening night, Oct. 16.

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons lead the Philadelphia 76ers into TD Garden in Boston to face a Celtics team (8 ET) that welcomes back Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to a group that made the Eastern Conference finals last season without it’s marquee stars, who were both injured and missed the 2018 playoffs.

In the nightcap (10:30 ET), Russell Westbrook, Paul George and the Oklahoma City Thunder start their season with a visit to Oracle Arena to face Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors on ring night.

The NBA announced the games for the opening week of the season, along with the Christmas Day games and the Martin Luther King Jr. Day triple-header on TNT. The full schedule for the 2018-19 season will be released Friday.

ESPN’s coverage kicks off with a doubleheader on Oct. 17. Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday lead the New Orleans Pelicans into Houston for a game against reigning Kia MVP James Harden, guard Chris Paul and the Rockets in the first game (8 ET). The Dallas Mavericks visit the Phoenix Suns in the second game, which features the debuts of Kia Rookie of the Year candidates in Luka Doncic of the Mavericks and Suns big man and Deandre Ayton of the Suns (10:30 ET).

The action is back on TNT Thursday night Oct. 18 with the Chicago Bulls visiting the Sixers in the early game (8 ET) and LeBron James making his Los Angeles Lakers debut in Portland for the second game (10:30 ET). That contest will renew a familiar Western Conference rivalry against the Trail Blazers and their stars, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

The Celtics get their first crack at the new-look Toronto Raptors and their All-Star duo of Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry in the opener of the first Friday night ESPN doubleheader of the season (8 ET). The Warriors travel to Utah for the second game, where they will be tested by rising star Donovan Mitchell and a Jazz team looking to build on last season’s surprising run to the Western Conference semifinals (10:30 ET).

The Raptors’ Leonard and Lowry travel to Washington to face fellow All-Stars John Wall, Bradley Beal and the Wizards on Oct. 20 to kick off NBA TV’s coverage for the season (7 ET), followed by the first meeting of the season between the Rockets and Lakers in Los Angeles (10:30 ET, ESPN). The Rockets will stick around in Los Angeles and play the Clippers Oct. 21 (9 ET, NBA TV).

As usual, the Christmas Day slate is packed with heavyweight matchups between some of the league’s powerhouse teams and brightest stars.

The action begins on ESPN (Noon ET) as Giannis Antetokounmpo leads the Milwaukee Bucks into Madison Square Garden to face the New York Knicks. The Thunder and Rockets square off next on ABC (3 ET), followed by another round between the Sixers and Celtics in Boston at 5:30 ET (ABC). The Lakers visit the Warriors in primetime (8 ET, ESPN) and the Trail Blazers and Jazz close out the night in Utah (10:30 ET, ESPN).

TNT’s MLK Day triple-header on Jan. 21 starts with the Pelicans visiting the Grizzlies (5:30 ET), followed by the Rockets and Sixers (8 ET) and finishes with the Warriors and Lakers at Staples Center (10:30 ET).

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2018-19 Opening Week

Tuesday, Oct. 16

Sixers vs. Celtics | 8 p.m. ET | TNT

Thunder vs. Warriors | 10:30 p.m. ET | TNT

Wednesday, Oct. 17

Pelicans vs. Rockets | 8 p.m. ET | ESPN

Mavericks vs. Suns | 10:30 p.m. ET | ESPN

Thursday, Oct. 18

Bulls vs. Sixers | 8 p.m. ET | TNT

Lakers vs. Trail Blazers | 10:30 p.m. ET | TNT

Friday, Oct. 19

Celtics vs. Raptors | 8 p.m. ET | ESPN

Warriors vs. Jazz | 10:30 p.m. ET | ESPN

Saturday, Oct. 20

Raptors vs. Wizards | 7 p.m. ET | NBA TV

Rockets vs. Lakers | 10:30 p.m. ET | ESPN

Sunday, Oct. 21

Rockets vs. Clippers | 9 p.m. ET | NBA TV

Christmas Day 2018 (Dec. 25)

Bucks vs. Knicks | Noon ET | ESPN

Thunder vs. Rockets | 3 p.m. ET | ABC

Sixers vs. Celtics | 5:30 p.m. ET | ABC

Lakers vs. Warriors | 8 p.m. ET | ABC/ESPN

Trail Blazers vs. Jazz | 10:30 p.m. ET | ESPN

Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 21, 2019)

Pelicans vs. Grizzlies | 5:30 p.m. ET | TNT

Rockets vs. Sixers | 8 p.m. ET | TNT

Warriors vs. Lakers | 10:30 p.m. ET | TNT

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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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