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Breaking down the 2017-18 NBA schedule

The Golden State Warriors begin their quest for another NBA title at home in Oracle Arena against the Houston Rockets. Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The 2017 NBA season opens with two potential conference finals matchups. The Boston Celtics face the Cleveland Cavaliers in Cleveland, while the Houston Rockets go on the road to play the Golden State Warriors.

Each of the past five defending champions, including the Warriors in 2015-16, won their season openers. The last defending champion to lose on opening night was the Dallas Mavericks in 2011-12.

Here are some other notable storylines for the 2017-18 season:

Softening the schedule

For the first time in league history, no NBA team will play four games in a five-night stretch. As recently as 2014-15, there were as many as 70 instances of teams playing four games in five days.

There are an average of 14.4 back-to-back games per team this season. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, that’s the fewest back-to-backs scheduled in an 82-game season, which began in 1967-68.

Rocky roads

Always a topic of discussion during the season: Where could the notable teams slip up and struggle?

To begin the 2018 calendar year, the Warriors plays eight of their first 10 games on the road. This stretch includes two road games against the Rockets and three road games in four nights against the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Cavaliers. According to Real Plus-Minus, the Warriors have the hardest schedule in the month of January, with a .552 opponent projected win percentage.

To end the month of January, the Celtics play four straight road games against Western Conference opponents. The road trip includes a back-to-back in Los Angeles against the Lakers and Clippers as well as visits to Golden State on Jan. 27 and Denver on Jan. 29.

The Cavs wrap up the first half of the NBA season with two road games against playoff teams from the 2016-17 season, at Boston on Feb. 11 and at Oklahoma City on Feb. 13. Coming out of the All-Star break, Cleveland faces three more 2016-17 playoff teams: Feb. 22 vs Washington Wizards, Feb. 23 at Memphis Grizzlies and Feb. 25 vs San Antonio Spurs.

The Rockets play seven of their first 10 games to begin the March portion of the 2017-18 schedule on the road, including back-to-back away games on March 6-7 against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Bucks. The Rockets' three home opponents during this stretch: Celtics, Spurs and Clippers.

Homecomings

Feb. 9 on ESPN, Jimmy Butler makes his highly anticipated return to Chicago after being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Paul George will make his return to Indiana on Dec. 13 on ESPN. George played his first seven seasons in Indiana, reaching the conference finals in 2012-13 and 2013-14.

Gordon Hayward will get a chance to play his former team, the Utah Jazz, at home on Dec. 15 in Boston, but fans will have to wait until March 28 to see him in Salt Lake City.

Jan. 15 will be the first time Clippers fans get to see Chris Paul since his departure. The Rockets return to Los Angeles to face the Clippers again on Feb. 28 at 10:30 ET on ESPN.

DeMarcus Cousins will make his first return to Sacramento on Oct. 26 since he was traded in February. On facing the Kings again, Cousins told the Undefeated's Marc Spears, "I can't wait. Oh, my God. I can't wait. I'm praying it's the first game." (It will be the Pelicans’ fifth game of the season.)