NBA 2020-21: Top Storylines before the start of the new NBA 2020-21 season

NBA 2020-21: NBA 2020-21 season is about to kick-off. Teams have almost finished their preseason games. The new season starts on the 22nd of Dec. when the Brooklyn Nets will face the Golden State Warriors and the LA Clippers take on the LA Lakers.

Interconference games are the same as they usually are. Teams will play two games — one home and one on the road — against the 15 opponents in the other conference. But intraconference games have been reduced, with teams playing three games against each of their 14 conference opponents.

Given the uncertainty of playing and traveling outside a controlled environment, only 52% (558) of this season’s 1,080 games have been announced, with the remainder to come at a later date. Those 558 games will take us to an All-Star break (with no All-Star Game) that begins on March 5.

Every team has 37 or 38 games in the first half of the schedule, with both the number of home games and the number of road games ranging from 17-20. That’s slightly more balanced than you might see from a normal schedule (a few teams had a five-game differential through their first 41 games last season).

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Unfortunately, the league’s run of five straight years of reducing the number of back-to-backs is likely over. Last season’s schedule (which wasn’t completed in full) had teams averaging 12.4 back-to-backs, down from 19.3 in 2014-15.

In the first half of the schedule this season, teams will average 7.0 back-to-backs. Related to that, there are 32 stretches of five games in seven nights, compared to 19 in the entirety of last season’s unfinished schedule.

Let’s play two

We’ve seen home-and-home series before, where two teams play consecutive games in each other’s arena. And we have four of those (the Minnesota Timberwolves play two) in the first-half schedule.

Two straight games in the same arena is something new. But with a need to reduce travel and simplify logistics, 57 same-arena, two-game series have been built into the first-half schedule. Some of them are back-to-backs (two games in two nights) and some include a day off in between.

The Miami Heat lead the league with seven two-game series, four at home and three on the road. The first is a playoff rematch with the Milwaukee Bucks, who will be at AmericanAirlines Arena for a back-to-back on Dec. 29 and 30.

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The Heat have more marquee two-game series against the Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors, and Brooklyn Nets (all on the road in January).

The Memphis Grizzlies and Orlando Magic are next with six two-game series apiece. Three teams — the Denver Nuggets, the New Orleans Pelicans, and the New York Knicks — have just one (on the road for all three teams).

The first two-game series will be Saturday-Sunday back-to-backs on the first weekend of the season, with the Magic playing in Washington and the Phoenix Suns spending the weekend in Sacramento.

Hello, Tampa

With pandemic restrictions in Canada preventing the Toronto Raptors from playing their home games at home, they’ve relocated to Tampa, Fla., and will play their first-half home games at Amalie Arena.

The Raptors are one of the five teams with three more road games (20) than home games (17) in the first half of the schedule. They play 10 of their first 14 games on the road, but then have their longest Tampa homestand of the first half, six games from Jan. 19-29. It includes two-game series against New Orleans and Dallas.

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The temporary move gives the league three teams in Florida and puts the Raps within a 90-minute drive of Orlando. But the first-half schedule doesn’t really take that proximity into account, as only one team is playing in both Orlando and Tampa on the same road trip.

That team is the Sacramento Kings, who will have a “Florida Triangle” excursion built into a six-game, a nine-day trip through the Southeast. After playing a back-to-back in Memphis on Jan. 24 and 25, the Kings will play in Orlando on Jan. 27, in Tampa on Jan. 29, and in Miami on Jan. 30. They’ll then finish the trip in New Orleans on Feb. 1.

For comparison, six teams are playing consecutive road games at New York and Brooklyn, while eight are playing consecutive road games against the Clippers and Lakers in L.A.

Testing Zion

Zion Williamson is a must-see talent and, after playing just 24 games and having his minutes limited last season, he’s healthy and ready to be unleashed.

Williamson was the rare rookie who made his team better. So there’s reason to believe that, though the Pelicans traded Jrue Holiday, they can compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference if he stays healthy and more than doubles his minutes total (668) from last season.

Find the latest NBA Schedule here

The Pelicans replaced Holiday with Eric Bledsoe, replaced Derrick Favors with Steven Adams, and made a coaching change (hiring Stan Van Gundy) that should help a defense that looked awful in some critical games last season.

But New Orleans will be tested in the first half of the season. The Pelicans have the league’s toughest first-half schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage from last season (.542). It’s also the toughest when we take opponents’ point differential (per 100 possessions) from last season and adjust for location and rest.

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The Pelicans have a league-high 20 first-half games against the 13 teams that had winning records last season.

Two of those 20 games are against the Oklahoma City Thunder (expected to fall off), but four of their other 17 first-half games are against the Phoenix Suns (three) and Portland Trail Blazers (one), two teams that should be better after having losing records last season.

Their first-half schedule includes a 13-day, seven-game trip (Jan. 11-23) that includes games against the Mavs, Clippers, and Lakers, along with a two-game series in Utah (the Pelicans’ only two-game series of the first-half schedule).

NBA Preseason Schedule: Check out the NBA preseason schedule here.

NBA 2020-21 Schedule: The tentative NBA schedule calendar for the 2020-21 season:

 • Dec. 11-19, 2020: Preseason games

 • Dec. 22, 2020 – March 4, 2021: First Half of regular season

 • March 5-10, 2021: All-Star break

 • March 11 – May 16, 2021: Second Half of regular season

 • May 18-21, 2021: Play-In Tournament

 • May 22 – July 22, 2021: 2021 NBA Playoffs