NBA releases first half of regular-season schedule

The NBA released the first half of its regular-season schedule Friday, as it continues to adjust to the new reality placed upon it by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Rather than what typically happens -- the NBA announcing its full 82-game schedule -- the league instead unveiled only half of its 72-game regular season, a stretch from Dec. 22, when the season kicks off with the Golden State Warriors visiting the Brooklyn Nets and the LA Clippers playing the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, through March 4, when the league will then have a six-day All-Star break.

The NBA previously announced that the second half of the schedule will be announced shortly before the first half ends, to allow for more flexibility to combat the inevitable complications that will arise from attempting to conduct a season outside of the safety of the bubble the league played in at the Walt Disney World Resort outside Orlando, Florida, earlier this year.

Even though half the schedule is still unknown, there are plenty of marquee games. Outside of the nationally televised games from the first three days of the schedule (Dec. 22, 23 and 25), some other marquee games include Durant and the Nets traveling on Feb. 13 to Golden State, where Durant will play for the first time since leaving as a free agent, as well as a pair of meetings between the Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards, who exchanged All-Star point guards Russell Westbrook and John Wall last week. The Wizards will travel to Houston to play the Rockets on Jan. 26; the Rockets will make the return trip Feb. 15.

Two days later, the Rockets will have another reunion, as they will travel up Interstate 95 to face the Philadelphia 76ers and former Houston president of basketball operations Daryl Morey.

Jrue Holiday will also make his first return to New Orleans, when he and the Bucks travel there on Jan. 29, after Milwaukee acquired Holiday in a blockbuster trade last month.

Another major day on the schedule, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, features three big matchups: Chris Paul and the Suns facing rising star Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies; the Milwaukee Bucks traveling to Brooklyn to play the Nets; and the Warriors going up against the Lakers in Los Angeles.

Later that same week, the Lakers will travel to Milwaukee to face the Bucks.

As it usually does, the NBA also has backloaded its schedule with marquee matchups after the Super Bowl, which is scheduled to be played Feb. 7. Over the two weeks after that, in addition to the games listed above, the following matchups will take place:

• Milwaukee at Denver on Feb. 8

• New Orleans at Dallas on Feb. 12

• Lakers at Denver on Feb. 14

• Brooklyn at Lakers on Feb. 18

• Miami at Lakers in an NBA Finals rematch on Feb. 20

During the first half of the season, all 30 NBA teams will play either 37 or 38 games, including between 17 and 20 home games. Of a total of 1,080 games to be played during this regular season, 558 have been scheduled thus far.

In another attempt to combat the virus, the league has introduced the use of baseball-type series scheduling, with teams playing two games in a row against each other in the same city. Those matchups feature only teams that play in the same conference. Teams will play an average of four of these series in the first half of the schedule -- two at home and two on the road.

Teams are also playing more consecutive road games against teams in the same general geographic area than in the past, and the league says there are about half as many instances of teams making single-game road trips.

However, the league still will have its usual 30 games for each team against opponents from the opposite conference (home and road against all 15 teams), which still has teams going on road trips of 4-6 games to get their games in as scheduled. Each team also has to play several back-to-back sets.

Because the schedule is coming out in halves, some of the dates fans have been waiting to circle on their calendars are still unknown. Two of those involve some of the bigger reunion games of the upcoming season: the Boston Celtics facing Gordon Hayward and the Charlotte Hornets, and Doc Rivers taking his new team, the 76ers, up against his old team, the Clippers.