The 2018-2019 NBA season doesn’t begin for more than two months but, on the heels of the 82-games schedule release on Aug. 10, plenty of people are marking their calendars for planning purposes. In this space, we’ll highlight 10 games that Atlanta Hawks fans will want to monitor closely, even while acknowledging that a playoff run isn’t overly likely for this particular campaign.
Let’s roll through them in chronological order, acknowledging that the season opener in New York is of obvious intrigue.
- Oct. 24 - Hawks vs. Mavericks - Trae Young and company will open on the road but the home opener is always fun. This year, it doubles as the basketball opener for the newly renovated Philips Arena and this should be one of the better crowds of the season. Beyond that, the match-up between Young and Luka Doncic creates enough buzz on its own and, if nothing else, it will be nice to have real, live NBA basketball back in the city.
- Oct. 29 - Hawks at 76ers - Old friend Mike Muscala is operating as a potentially vital frontcourt piece for the Sixers and, even with this game in Philadelphia, it will be strange to see Atlanta oppose a previous Hawks “lifer” on the floor. In addition, Justin Anderson and head coach Lloyd Pierce return to Philadelphia for the first time in the opposing locker room and, well, the Sixers are going to be very good at basketball.
- Dec. 3 - Hawks vs. Warriors - The Warriors are (still) the gold standard and they only come to town once this season. The interest level speaks for itself and, from the point of view of an interested observer, it would be fun if Golden State was at full strength with Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green available and ready to play.
- Dec. 29 - Hawks vs. Cavaliers - Atlanta and Cleveland only play three times this season and this is the one match-up at Philips Arena. Obviously, the Hawks have plenty of interest in how the Cavaliers play and this is the final spot in which Atlanta will be able to directly affect Cleveland’s draft positioning with on-court resistance.
- Jan. 13 - Hawks vs. Bucks - Former NBA Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer leads the Bucks into Philips Arena and it will be bizarre to see him on the opposing bench. Prior to arriving in Atlanta, Budenholzer was a long-time assistant of the Spurs but this will be his first head coaching opportunity elsewhere and things ended in strange fashion.
- Jan. 15 - Hawks vs. Thunder - Remember Dennis Schröder? He makes his way to Philips Arena for the first time in an opposing uniform and, given Oklahoma City’s placement in the Western Conference, this will be his only trip of the season. The reaction from the crowd will be interesting (just two days after Budenholzer’s return) and the Thunder should have plenty to play for in this spot.
- Feb. 12 - Hawks vs. Lakers - It is always crazy when the Lakers come to Philips Arena, simply because that is a large fan base in the city. This time, things will rise to a different level, as long-time Eastern Conference foil LeBron James will be at the center of everything. It should be quite the atmosphere.
- Feb. 22 - Hawks vs. Pistons - This game may not seem overly interesting but it doubles as the first game after the NBA All-Star break. Given where the team is at this juncture, Atlanta’s roster might be different at that point (post-trade deadline) and we’ll know which players will be available for the stretch run. For good measure, everyone will be missing NBA basketball after more than a week between games that matter.
- Mar. 16 - Hawks at Celtics - For better or worse, Hawks fans really don’t like the Celtics and that isn’t going to stop this season. It would be easy to pick any of the match-ups between these two teams but Atlanta will get a peek at a legitimate NBA title contender on a trip to Boston here.
- Apr. 5 - Hawks at Magic - This isn’t the last game of the season but Atlanta and Orlando could be jockeying for position when it comes to the ping-pong ball race. Things get weird in April for a non-playoff team but, in addition to what should be a fun time on MLK Day between the same two teams, there should be a rooting interest here.