NBA

Raptors open 2019-20 season vs. Pelicans, Kawhi returns Dec. 11

Toronto basketball fans will get another chance to thank 2019 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard when the former Raptors' star forward pays a visit to Scotiabank Arena with his new Los Angeles Clippers teammates on Dec. 11.

Will play Boston Celtics in 1st Christmas Day game in Toronto

Five months after sharing a NBA title, the Raptors’ Kyle Lowry, left, and former teammate Kawhi Leonard will stand at opposite ends of the court when Lowry and company pay a visit to L.A. on Nov. 11 to battle Leonard and his new team, the Clippers. Leonard makes his first return to Toronto on Dec. 11. (Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Toronto basketball fans will get another chance to thank 2019 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard when the former Raptors' star forward pays a visit to Scotiabank Arena with his new Los Angeles Clippers teammates on Dec. 11.

Expect Leonard, who signed a free-agent contract with the Clippers less than a month after leading Toronto to its first title, to receive his championship ring that night. The Raptors visit L.A. a month earlier on Nov 11.

Toronto will open its 25th season with a banner raising and ring ceremony on Oct. 22, when New Orleans and 2019 first overall draft pick Zion Williamson come to town. Later that night, ex-Raptors guard/forward Danny Green, who signed with the Los Angeles Lakers last month, faces Leonard and the Clippers.

Three days later, Toronto plays its first road game at Boston.

The sixth annual Giants of Africa Game, which honours the life of Nelson Mandela, is on Dec. 5 versus the Houston Rockets. Giannis Antetokounmpo, last season's MVP, will lead the Milwaukee Bucks north of the border twice — Feb. 25 and April 3.

Spending Christmas at home

The Celtics provide the competition Dec. 25 in the Raptors' first-ever Christmas home contest at noon ET. Toronto's only other appearance in the NBA's prestigious Christmas lineup was against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in 2001.

The other Christmas matchups (all times ET): Milwaukee at Philadelphia, 2:30 p.m.; Houston at Golden State, 5 p.m.; Clippers at Lakers, 8 p.m.; New Orleans at Denver, 10:30 p.m.

March 5 will mark the first meeting of the season between the Raptors and hometown Golden State Warriors, who lost to Toronto in last season's Finals. Both rosters already have a different look, with Leonard and Green no longer with Toronto and the Warriors minus Kevin Durant, Shaun Livingston or Andre Iguodala.

Pascal Siakam, left, and the Raptors pulled out a six-game victory over the Warriors in the recent NBA Finals. The teams won't meet next season until March 5 in Golden State. (Ben Margot/Associated Press)

There is a reasonable chance shooting guard Klay Thompson will be in the Golden State lineup following his recovery from a torn ACL against the Raptors in the Finals. The teams also play March 16 in Toronto.

The longest homestand of the season is four games from Feb. 21-28. The longest road swing is five games, which occurs twice: Nov. 8-16 and March 1-9.

Friendlier game times

The Raptors will have 13 back-to-back games this season, one more than last year. Seven of those back-to-backs will be entirely on the road.

Toronto is scheduled to make 11 U.S. national television appearances — six on ESPN and five on TNT.

The NBA schedule will be a little bit easier on players during the upcoming season while fans might catch a break, and some more sleep, as well.

The league announced a major change in the number of nationally televised games starting at 10:30 p.m. in the East as Golden State and the Lakers will start several games a half-hour earlier than usual.

  • ESPN's Wednesday doubleheaders — mostly at 8 and 10:30 p.m. last season — will begin at either 7 or 7:30 p.m., followed by a second game at either 9:30 p.m. or 10 p.m. in the East. TNT had nine Tuesday doubleheaders last season with the second game starting at 10:30; this season that number is down to two, with the second game now mostly starting at 9:30 or 10 p.m.

In all, there were 57 games on national television starting at 10:30 p.m. last season. That number falls to 33 this season, a dip of 42 per cent.

Other scheduling highlights:

Four-in-fives

The stretches of four games in five days might be gone for good. This will be the third consecutive season where no team gets tasked with handling one of those. No team will play eight games in 12 days, either, though there are 19 instances of teams having to play five times in a span of seven days.

Closing night

The regular season ends with 13 games on April 15. Miami, Detroit, Denver and Utah all finish on April 14. The playoffs start April 18.

Stars in new places

Russell Westbrook — Thunder

The Houston guard will face Oklahoma City as an opponent for the first time on Oct. 28, and travel to OKC for the first time on Jan. 9.

Anthony Davis — Pelicans

Now with the Lakers, Davis will see his former team for the first time when he travels to New Orleans on Nov. 27.

Kyrie Irving — Celtics

Nov. 27 will also be a big night for Brooklyn's new point guard, since that's when he'll return to Boston for the first time as an opponent since leaving the Celtics.

Kemba Walker — Hornets

He returns to Charlotte for the first time on Nov. 7, when Boston visits the Hornets.

Jimmy Butler — Sixers

The new Heat forward will have a whole slew of reunions this year, including Oct. 27 when Miami goes to Minnesota and on Nov. 23 when the Heat visit Philadelphia.

With files from The Canadian Press & Associated Press

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