Twenty New Orleans Pelicans games to watch in 2017-18

In conjunction with Monday’s official release of the 2017-18 NBA schedule, it’s time for Pelicans fans to get out their calendars and start jotting down a few important dates. While Pelicans.com recommends watching all 82 games, the following is a list of 20 games that are “can’t miss” in 2017-18:

Wednesday, Oct. 18 at Memphis

The earliest regular season game in New Orleans franchise history (the previous was Oct. 26, set in 2016) will take place at the FedEx Forum against the division rival Grizzlies. Based on recent power rankings, head-to-head games vs. Memphis could be important as New Orleans tries to climb the Western Conference standings. NBA.com recently ranked the Pelicans 16th, just ahead of No. 17 Portland and No. 18 Memphis.

Friday, Oct. 20 vs. Golden State (ESPN)

For some reason, the NBA schedule-maker loves to pit the Pelicans against the Warriors early in the slate each year. In 2015, the Pelicans were the visitors on the night when Golden State held their championship-ring ceremony. In 2016, the Warriors were also guests in the Smoothie King Center for the Pelicans’ second game of the 82-game schedule.

Sunday, Oct. 22 at L.A. Lakers

The Pelicans begin a three-game West Coast trip in Staples Center, facing much-hyped and discussed rookie guard Lonzo Ball, who at this stage will be less than a week into his official NBA career. Los Angeles figures to be an improved club, having added veterans Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope from East teams.

Thursday, Oct. 26 at Sacramento (TNT)

While on a Basketball Without Borders trip to South Africa, DeMarcus Cousins told ESPN’s Marc Spears that he hoped New Orleans would open the regular season at Sacramento, where Cousins played the first 6 1/2 years of his NBA career. Cousins will have to “settle” for playing in front of many friendly faces at Golden 1 Center in the Pelicans’ fifth game.

Saturday, Oct. 28 vs. Cleveland

New Orleans plays just two home games out of its first six contests overall – and both are against defending conference champions. Eight days after facing hosting NBA titlist Golden State in the Smoothie King Center, three-time East champ Cleveland and LeBron James will pay a visit. The Pelicans pulled off a home upset over the Cavaliers last season, despite Anthony Davis being sidelined.

Wednesday, Nov. 1 vs. Minnesota

The Timberwolves enjoyed one of the NBA’s best offseasons (ranked the sixth-best summer by NBA.com’s David Aldridge), adding veteran reinforcements Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford. Minnesota-New Orleans already had the makings of a budding rivalry, with multiple No. 1 overall draft picks and rising stars on the floor, including Davis and the Wolves’ duo of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Saturday, Nov. 4 at Chicago

New Orleans’ new starting point guard, Rajon Rondo, makes an early-season visit to the United Center, facing his previous NBA team and many of the young Bulls players he helped mentor during the ’16-17 season. Chicago has almost completely revamped its roster, a push that began with the trade of Butler to Minnesota on draft night.

Friday, Nov. 17 at Denver (ESPN)

With an offense revolving around the high-post passing brilliance of center Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets created the model for a portion of how the Pelicans and Cousins will attack defenses at times this season. Jokic – a candidate to make his first All-Star appearance in February – will have his hands full combating the All-Star duo of Cousins and Davis in the paint and on the backboards.

Monday, Nov. 20 vs. Oklahoma City

The Thunder’s star tandem of longtime franchise stalwart Russell Westbrook and trade acquisition Paul George will face off against the Pelicans for the first time in ’17-18, the only early-season matchup between the West squads. Closer to the basket, Davis and Cousins will match up against OKC’s “Stache Brothers” of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter.

Sunday, Dec. 10 vs. Philadelphia

Is “The Process” finally ready to yield tangible results, perhaps even a playoff berth? The 76ers hope so, headlined by the recent lottery trio of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. The latter two Philadelphia youngsters combine with the Pelicans’ Davis to make three recent No. 1 overall draftees in the same game. The 76ers also added experience in the offseason by signing J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson.

Saturday, Dec. 30 vs. New York

The Pelicans don’t play on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day or Martin Luther King Jr. Day this season, so the closest they’ll come to a “holiday” home game is this tilt against the Knicks. Kristaps Porzingis and Davis are a pair of rangy, athletic forwards who are also exceptionally skilled, often making this a fun matchup. Davis racked up 40 points and 18 rebounds at New York last season.

Tuesday, Jan. 16 at Boston

Rondo makes his only visit of the season to TD Garden, where in 2008 he piloted the Celtics to an NBA championship as their starting point guard, part of a star-studded lineup that included Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Rondo went 2-0 in the playoffs this spring at Boston, leading the eighth-seeded Bulls to a surprising series lead, before a broken thumb ended Rondo’s season and helped turn the momentum in Boston’s favor.

Friday, Jan. 26 vs. Houston (ESPN)

Already one of the NBA’s most potent offensive teams, the Rockets added firepower this summer by acquiring Chris Paul from the Clippers, in exchange for a large package of role players. Paul joins last season’s MVP runner-up, James Harden, to form an explosive backcourt. This is the first of Houston’s two visits to the Smoothie King Center, with the latter taking place on St. Patrick’s Day.

Sunday, Jan. 28 vs. L.A. Clippers

If most national preseason predictions are accurate, these two teams could be vying for footing in the same echelon of the West standings. Seven days prior to Super Bowl Sunday, the frontcourt battles should be very entertaining when Davis and Cousins go up against the Clips’ combo of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

Monday, Feb. 12 at Detroit

New Orleans will visit the Pistons in downtown Detroit for the first time, at brand-new Little Caesars Arena (Michigan’s NBA franchise had played in the city’s suburbs since the late 1980s). Davis may be sad to see the Palace of Auburn Hills go as an NBA venue, because the best scoring game of his career took place there (59 points against the Pistons on Feb. 21, 2016).

Sunday, Feb. 25 at Milwaukee

This is actually the second matchup of the season between the Pelicans and Bucks (the first is Dec. 13 in New Orleans), but this meeting is a bit more noteworthy, as the final time New Orleans will play in the Bradley Center. Milwaukee is opening a brand-new arena in 2018-19 that is currently under construction next door. Regardless of location, Pelicans-Bucks is always a captivating watch due to the presence of athletic marvels Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Tuesday, March 6 at L.A. Clippers (TNT)

New Orleans won’t play on the Clippers’ home floor until this early-March meeting at Staples Center, but both of its two visits are scheduled for national TV. The Pelicans also face the Clippers in Los Angeles on April 9, a game that will be broadcast by ESPN.

Friday, March 9 vs. Washington

New Orleans hosts one of the premier teams from the East, starting a stretch that could be critical for the home team. From March 9-22, the Pelicans play seven of eight games in their arena, one of the most home-friendly stretches for them all season. Other ’17 playoff teams to visit NOLA during this span are Utah, Houston and Boston.

Wednesday, March 4 vs. Memphis (ESPN)

Pelicans appearances on national TV are very back-loaded in ’17-18, with three of their final seven games carried by ESPN (after five of the team’s first 75 games are on ESPN or TNT). Five days after playing at Cleveland on ESPN (March 30), this will be the head-to-head finale between these Southwest Division squads.

Wednesday, April 11 vs. San Antonio

In the Pelicans’ home finale at the Smoothie King Center, they will host the Spurs in Game 82. That’s a repeat of the scheduling scenario that closed out the 2014-15 regular season, when New Orleans posted arguably the most memorable regular-season win in team history, defeating San Antonio to qualify for the final playoff berth in the West.

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