NBA releases complete 2019-20 schedule, with an emphasis on vengeance games

Ben Rohrbach | Yahoo Sports

The NBA released its 2019-20 regular-season schedule on Monday, confirming that the reigning champion Toronto Raptors will host their opening-night ring ceremony prior to facing No. 1 pick Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans on Oct. 22.

Ex-Raptors star Kawhi Leonard will also make his Los Angeles Clippers debut against Anthony Davis, LeBron James and the new-look Los Angeles Lakers on TNT’s opening-nigh slate. You can check out the full 2019-20 NBA schedule here.

With so many high-profile players changing teams this summer, revenge is the theme of 2019-20, so here is your official Vengeance Game Schedule this season (all times Eastern):

Los Angeles Lakers vs. New Orleans Pelicans

Nov. 27: Lakers at Pelicans, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Jan. 3: Pelicans at Lakers, 10:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Feb. 25: Pelicans at Lakers, 10 p.m. (TNT)

March 1: Lakers at Pelicans, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

With a season and a half left on his contract, Anthony Davis requested a trade from New Orleans at the end of January, sat out through the deadline, and then returned to the lineup once no deal was made, only to play sparingly before being shut down with lower back spasms in late March. In the meantime, he was booed by the home crowd, and the Pelicans tanked in the standings, eventually landing the No. 1 pick.

The arrival of Zion Williamson did nothing to change Davis’ mind, and he eventually orchestrated the move he sought all along — a trade to the Lakers — by letting the rest of the league know that he did not intend to re-sign anywhere but L.A. in 2020.

That trade brought Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart to New Orleans, along with a cache of draft picks that includes rookies Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. With Williamson, they will try to spoil Davis’ four games against his former team this season. The former Lakers will have added motivation after LeBron James’ midseason endorsements of the trade fractured their locker room.

Los Angeles Clippers vs. Toronto Raptors

Nov. 11: Raptors at Clippers, 10:30 p.m. (NBATV)

Dec. 11: Clippers at Raptors, 7 p.m. (ESPN)

There will be less animus toward Kawhi Leonard in Toronto, since he delivered on the promise of a championship, and both sides entered into last season knowing he could walk this summer. After much consideration, Leonard did leave for his hometown Clippers, but not before submitting one of the great playoff runs in NBA history en route to the franchise’s first title and his second Finals MVP award.

Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

Oct. 28: Thunder at Rockets, 8 p.m.

Jan. 9: Rockets at Thunder, 9:30 p.m. (TNT)

Jan. 20: Thunder at Rockets, 5 p.m.

There is some question as to when the the seeds for Westbrook’s breakup with the Oklahoma City Thunder were planted. The prevailing theory is that the two sides mutually agreed to part ways after Paul George successfully requested a trade to the Clippers. This despite reports that Westbrook sought a trade after their third straight first-round loss and that OKC initially wanted to send him to the Clippers.

Regardless, Westbrook will be welcomed with open arms when he returns to Oklahoma City for the first time as a visitor. He was the last man standing from a young superstar-laden team that reached the 2012 Finals and a stabilizing force when Kevin Durant left in 2016 free agency. He signed his supermax extension on Durant’s birthday that summer, and then submitted a storybook MVP season that saw the first of three straight triple-double campaigns. Even if the weight of that contract contributed to his exit, Westbrook made an indelible mark on that city.

It is tougher to gauge how Houston might receive Chris Paul. His relationship with Rockets star James Harden had soured to the point that Paul requested a trade, according to Yahoo Sports’ Vincent Goodwill, and he ultimately got his wish when Westbrook became available. The Rockets may have won a title with Paul had he not suffered a hamstring injury in Game 5 of the 2018 Western Conference finals, and they likely would have remained contenders had he stayed this season. Whether Houston is contending with Harden and Westbrook will go a long way toward determining how Paul is treated if and when he returns to Houston.

L.A. Clippers vs. OKC Thunder

Nov. 18: Thunder at Clippers, 10:30 p.m.

Dec. 22: Clippers at Thunder, 7 p.m. (NBA TV)

March 3: Clippers at Thunder, 8 p.m.

April 4: Thunder at Clippers, 3:30 p.m.

George probably won’t get so warm a welcome in his return trip to Oklahoma City. One year after George threw a party to announce his return to the Thunder on a max contract, seemingly cementing them as a quasi-contenders for the next four years, he requested a trade to join fellow L.A. native Leonard on the Clippers.

The Thunder received a king’s ransom in return, including Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari, who will both hope to ruin George’s trips to Oklahoma City. Meanwhile, Thunder fans will have to decide whether to blame George for tearing the team down or credit him for accelerating their rebuild with a cadre of picks.

Brooklyn Nets vs. Boston Celtics

Nov. 27: Nets at Celtics, 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Nov. 29: Celtics at Nets, noon

March 3: Nets at Celtics, 7:30 p.m. (TNT)

March 21: Celtics at Nets, 6 p.m.

In October, Kyrie Irving told Celtics season ticket-holders that he planned to re-sign with the team this summer. In November, he unveiled a Nike commercial that chronicled his father’s ties to Boston and a dream of retiring their No. 11 to the TD Garden rafters. By December, he was contacting Spencer Dinwiddie about the Nets. And before the end of the regular season, he reportedly made a pact with Kevin Durant on a Brooklyn partnership, the groundwork of which was reportedly laid last summer, prior to Irving’s appearance before the season ticket-holders.

If you haven’t put it all together by now, Irving is headed for jeers in his return to Boston, if he makes the trip. After debuting for the Celtics in their 2017-18 season opener in Cleveland, he has sat out every trip to Ohio since. While Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart have publicly supported their ex-teammate’s move to Brooklyn, word is Irving’s relationship with Jaylen Brown was far worse. Count me in to see if Brown can handle the All-Star point guard when they get switched onto each other.

Philadelphia 76ers vs. Boston Celtics

Oct. 23: Celtics at 76ers, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Dec. 12: 76ers at Celtics, 8 p.m. (TNT)

Jan. 9: Celtics at 76ers, 7 p.m. (TNT)

Feb. 1: 76ers at Celtics, 8:30 p.m. (ABC)

Al Horford won’t face the same scrutiny when he returns to play a Celtics team he led to back-to-back to Eastern Conference finals before the locker room unraveled last season. Still, there is some lingering resentment about how it all went down.

Horford declined his player option for the 2019-20 season on June 18, and when extension talks fell well short of what he had learned he could get on the open market, he ended discussions with Boston and agreed to terms with Philadelphia the very moment it cleared cap space to sign him on the opening night of free agency. Once the Celtics learned Kemba Walker would replace Irving, attempts to rekindle negotiations with Horford and remain in title contention went nowhere fast.

It’s not so much that Horford left for a bigger paycheck that will irk most Bostonians, it’s that he joined a Sixers team the Celtics had beaten in a five-game conference semifinals two years earlier. The two rising giants were set to revive a rivalry between the teams until Horford swung the pendulum in Philadelphia’s favor.

Dallas Mavericks vs. New York Knicks

Nov. 8: Knicks at Mavericks, 8:30 p.m.

Nov. 14: Mavericks at Knicks, 8 p.m. (TNT)

Kristaps Porzingis has yet to play for the Mavericks sinceessentially forcing a trade from the Knicks at the end of January. New York made the move in order to clear two maximum salary slots in the hopes of landing Irving and Kevin Durant, only to see the two superstars join their rivals in Brooklyn. Porzingis then signed a max extension with the Mavericks to form his own star pairing with Luka Doncic, and his return to Madison Square Garden will be a sad reminder of what could have been.

Toronto Raptors vs. Memphis Grizzlies

March 28: Raptors at Grizzlies, 8 p.m.

March 30: Grizzlies at Raptors, 7:30 p.m.

Utah Jazz vs. Memphis Grizzlies

Nov. 15: Jazz at Grizzlies, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Nov. 29: Jazz at Grizzlies, 8 p.m.

Dec. 7: Grizzlies at Jazz, 10 p.m.

March 14: Grizzlies at Jazz, 9 p.m.

Marc Gasol and Mike Conley led the Grit ‘n’ Grind Grizzlies to unprecedented heights earlier this decade. They played their entire careers in Memphis until this year, when the rebuilding Grizz traded Gasol to the Raptors in February and Conley to the Jazz last month. Both might have been content riding out their careers together in Memphis, even as the franchise navigated the challenges of remaining relevant in a small market, butGasol’s exit spelled the end for Conley, too.

Beloved members of a lovable team that forged a unique bond with its city, both Gasol and Conley will receive rousing ovations when they return to Memphis. That they landed Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant in the last two drafts will go a long way toward easing the pain of seeing the longtime Grizzlies in different uniforms.

Boston Celtics vs. Charlotte Hornets

Nov. 7: Celtics at Hornets, 8 p.m. (TNT)

Dec. 22: Hornets at Celtics, 6 p.m.

Dec. 31: Celtics at Hornets, 3 p.m.

Same goes for Kemba Walker, who was reportedly lowballed by more than $30 million in Charlotte’s feeble attempt at re-signing its lone All-Star. Walker gave the franchise eight years on one of the league’s best bargain deals, building himself into an All-NBA performer, only to see the Hornets repeatedly fail to surround him with enough capable talent. Charlotte can hardly blame him for leaving, and he will surely be showered with praise when the Celtics visit the Hornets for the first time.

Miami Heat vs. Philadelphia 76ers

Nov. 23: Heat at 76ers, 7:30 p.m.

Dec. 18: Heat at 76ers, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Dec. 28: 76ers at Heat, 8 p.m.

Feb. 3: 76ers at Heat, 7:30 p.m.

Butler played only 55 regular-season games for the Sixers after forcing his trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves in November, but he was an invaluable member of their playoff run that came within four bounces of the Eastern Conference finals. He was arguably their most important offensive player, ranking second in playoff scoring behind Joel Embiid and second in playoff assists behind Ben Simmons. Most importantly, Butler was their best fourth-quarter option by a wide margin.

Despite high praise for Philadelphia’s young core, amid the customary griping about his role, Butler left for Miami. His sign-and-trade at least salvaged Josh Richardson out of the deal and paved the way for Horford to sign into the resulting cap space. Richardson has since said he wants “kill the Heat” when the two teams face, and Philadelphia’s reaction to Butler’s return will likely hinge on whether the 76ers can.

Golden State Warriors vs. Brooklyn Nets

Feb. 5: Warriors at Nets, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Mar. 12: Nets at Warriors, 10:30 p.m.

It is unlikely Durant returns at all this season from his Achilles tear in June, much less in time to play the Warriors, so we will probably have to wait until 2020-21 to see him and Draymond Green trash-talk each other from opposing sides.

But there is still a score to settle. The Nets sent D’Angelo Russell to Golden State in the sign-and-trade for Durant, choosing Irving over their incumbent 23-year-old All-Star point guard. Russell will be motivated to prove they chose wrong, just as Stephen Curry and company will want to handle the team Durant chose over them.