The first half of the Trail Blazers’ 2020-21 schedule is out and it is loaded with must-watch games. For most die-hard fans, every game is a must-watch affair, but here are five games that I have circled on the calendar to get things rolling.
Here is my criteria for a must-watch game:
- A game against an opponent that is perceived to be considered elite is the biggest qualifier for this list. The Blazers’ re-tooled roster, on paper, has the makeup of a squad that is capable of pushing into the top tier. The best way to test that projection is to line up across from a team that is already in that tier.
- Due to Portland’s sustained success with Damian Lillard at the helm, the Blazers have picked up a few re-occurring rivals over the past decade. Lillard’s penchant for dramatic finishes makes all rivalry games appointment viewing.
- The early portion of Lillard’s career featured several matchups against the gatekeepers of the point guard position. Now with Lillard at age 30, alongside a 29-year-old CJ McCollum, the Blazers’ backcourt pendulum might be in the static state that precludes a swing in the other direction. After a busy offseason that saw the formation of several new backcourt tandems, the Blazers’ duo is set to be tested.
Dec. 28 | Blazers vs Lakers
The Lakers made quick work of the depleted Blazers in the opening round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs. Both teams have made considerable improvements since that series. After addressing both forward positions in free agency, it appears that the Blazers possess the personnel to matchup against the Lakers’ star-studded frontcourt. Los Angeles still has the clear advantage at the forward positions, but that gap should be considerably smaller.
Outside of last year’s playoffs, this is Lillard’s first trip back to the Staples Center since his 48-point outburst against the Lakers on the same night that the organization honored Kobe Bryant.
Dec. 30 | Blazers vs Clippers
This is the second game of a three-game run of intriguing matchups for the Blazers. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year—a tactic that might be praise-worthy in 2020—the bad blood between Lillard and several members of the Clippers roster is clear. In the bubble, prior to their absolute collapse in the postseason, the Clippers made it a point to taunt Lillard after he missed a late-game free throw. From there, the chatter intensified and spilled over to social media.
Lillard’s heroics have already put Paul George on the wrong end of an all-time highlight. I wouldn’t be surprised if the former Weber State star makes a splash in this early-season tussle.
Jan. 1 | Blazers vs Warriors
I promise this list of must-watch games will spread out, but this series of three games is just too good to pass up. The Warriors won’t have Klay Thompson in the lineup, but Steph Curry is back in the fold for Golden State. Outside of the point guard battle in this matchup, this contest should is an early look at two squads competing for homecourt advantage in the Western Conference.
Postseason implications aside, Blazers-Warriors matchups have blossomed into premier viewing. The last matchup between these two sides featured a 61-point night from Lillard in a 129-124 overtime victory for Portland.
Jan. 16 | Hawks vs Blazers
Trae Young and Bogdan Bogdanovic, from an offensive output standpoint, might be the most exciting backcourt court outside of Lillard-McCollum. The long-term impact in the standings might be minimal from this matchup, but the potential for fireworks is off the charts. At point guard, Lillard and Young have range that extends far past the three-point line. The shooting guard matchup features two players that have carved out scoring niches from all three levels—a rarity in today’s analytics-driven NBA. Buckle up.
Feb. 22 | Blazers vs Suns
Like the Warriors matchup listed above, this contest between the Blazers and Suns could have serious seeding implications. The newly formed backcourt of Chris Paul and Devin Booker have the chops to keep pace with Lillard and McCollum. In the post, Jusuf Nurkic and Deandre Ayton present an interesting matchup between players that can score with classic post moves.
On the sidelines, this contest features two of the best: Monty Williams and Terry Stotts. What’s not to like?
Which games do you have circled on your calendar? Tell us in the comments below.