10 key games for the Jazz during the 2018-19 season

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder talks with the bench in the second half. The Houston Rockets defeated the Utah Jazz 113-92 in Game 3 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Friday, May 4, 2018 in Salt Lake City.

Jazz vs. Warriors Oct. 19

Yes, the regular season technically begins on Oct. 17, but the real challenges of the season begin Oct. 19, when the NBA champions come to town for an 8:30 contest televised on ESPN. While new acquisition DeMarcus Cousins won’t be available, as he is still recovering from Achilles surgery, the rest of the star-studded Warriors will be looking to avenge last season’s two losses by a combined 70 points in SLC. Besides Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant in Utah, the game will also mark a return for former Jazzman Jonas Jerebko.

Jazz vs. Celtics Nov. 9

Gordon Hayward’s long anticipated return to Salt Lake City. While the emergence of Donovan Mitchell lessened the sting of Hayward’s departure, Jazz fans still figure to boo Hayward vociferously upon his arrival, thanks to an ill-handled departure that angered people both within and outside the organization. But Hayward isn’t the only draw: Kyrie Irving stars for the Celtics, and Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Al Horford are all very talented players in their own right. Whatever happens, a rematch won’t be far off: the Jazz play the Celtics in Boston on Nov. 17.

Boston Celtics' Gordon Hayward waves as he steps off the basketball court after speaking with members of the media and taking part in a photo shoot, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, at the team's practice facility, in Boston. Hayward is working his way back from a broken leg. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Jazz at Lakers Nov. 23

Utah’s first matchup with the LeBron James Lakers comes in Los Angeles, with a very different tenor than Jazz/Lakers games have had for the last five seasons. LeBron leads a strange supporting cast, with flawed-but-improving youth competing for playing time with flawed-and-declining veterans. Will Rajon Rondo earn more minutes than Lonzo Ball? Will Lance Stephenson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope play more than Josh Hart? Will Michael Beasley steal time from Kyle Kuzma and Svi Mykhailiuk? We can’t wait to find out.

Jazz vs. Rockets Dec. 6

A rematch of last year’s second round series is one of three games on TNT scheduled this season (along with Dec. 27 against Philadelphia and Feb. 12 against Golden State). But things have changed in Houston: Trevor Ariza, who primarily guarded Jazz star Donovan Mitchell in the series, is now in Phoenix. Luc Mbah a Moute has also moved on after leading the Rockets to a big win in Salt Lake last spring. In their place, Houston signed Carmelo Anthony, who the Jazz exploited frequently in the first round. But James Harden and Chris Paul still figure to lead one of the best teams in the NBA.

Jazz vs. Magic at Mexico City Dec. 15

It has been 28 years since the Jazz last played a regular season game in a country other than the United States or Canada. In 1990, they played a doubleheader against the Phoenix Suns. On Dec. 15, they’ll play the Orlando Magic in Mexico City, a contest which counts as a road game for Utah. For the Jazz, you can actually argue the trip down south is a travel break: after all, Mexico City is closer to SLC than Orlando. But so long as they’re not distracted by the flight, they should be just fine: Orlando figures to be one of the NBA’s worst teams this season, saved only from an entertainment point of view by Aaron Gordon and rookie Mo Bamba.

Orlando Magic's Aaron Gordon (00) goes to the basket against Dallas Mavericks' Doug McDermott, left, during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 4, 2018, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Jazz vs. Blazers Dec. 25

Another long wait will end in December, as the Jazz will play their first Christmas Day game since 1997, when they defeated the Houston Rockets 107-103. ESPN will air this contest, the last of the NBA’s five-game slate, beginning at 8:30 p.m, and will surely hope to hear from a raucous Utah crowd. But the contest itself should be intriguing, too: the game will bring Portland’s Damian Lillard to one of his homes for the holidays, alongside fellow explosive guard scorer C.J. McCollum. Overall, the Blazers will be looking to get into national good graces after losing in an ugly sweep to the Pelicans last April.

Jazz vs. 76ers Dec. 27

And just two days later, one of the NBA’s most interesting personal rivalries will be on display in SLC. The race for Rookie of the Year last season between Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell led to some spicy self-promotion and even spicier Internet memes. Philadelphia got the better of both contests (and the ROY award itself) last year, but both games happened during the Jazz’s dark days in November. Meanwhile, Joel Embiid figures to have his first action in Vivint Arena on this night — he’s missed all four Philly games in Utah due to injury. You can be sure Rudy Gobert will be interested in making Embiid’s SLC debut a night he’d rather forget.

Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown, right, talks with guard Ben Simmons before Game 5 of the team's NBA basketball playoff series against the Boston Celtics in Boston, Wednesday, May 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Jazz vs. Spurs Feb. 9

A 3:00 p.m. game is a rarity for the Jazz, certainly at home in the regular season. But despite what your first guess might be, the game isn’t early in order to appeal to national TV demands. Instead, the earlier start time is designed to appeal to international fans of the Jazz and the Spurs, who might be able to catch a Saturday night game in France or Spain. The matchup itself will require flexibility from the Jazz: their defense is usually designed to allow entice midrange jumpers from their opponents, but no team will take more of them than the DeMar DeRozan and LeMarcus Aldridge-led Spurs.

Jazz vs. Pelicans Mar. 4/6

When looking for games that might drastically change the playoff picture for the Jazz, look no further than two consecutive matchups against the New Orleans Pelicans on March 4 and March 6. Just as they did last season, the Pelicans figure to be one of Utah’s competitors for home-court advantage in the playoffs. Though they lost DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo, the Pelicans had significant success last year playing their spread offense with Jrue Holiday cooking and Nikola Mirotic as a starting four. Meanwhile, Anthony Davis puts up the most consistently ridiculous stat lines in the NBA. As has been the case for the last couple of seasons, the question is whether or not the Pelicans’ wing players will allow them to keep up with their opponents: it’s a big advantage in favor of the Jazz at those positions.

Jazz vs. Nuggets Apr. 9

Utah’s ending slate to the season is surprisingly easy: After the All-Star break, the Jazz don’t play a team that won 50 games last season. In April, they don’t play any of last year’s playoff teams. That being said, they face two teams that should be in next year’s postseason: the Denver Nuggets and the aforementioned Lakers. So long as the Nuggets are healthier than last year, they could be a real problem: Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap are a solid frontcourt, and Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton and Isaiah Thomas will provide a ton of firepower for their offense.

Denver Nuggets forward Paul Millsap shoots against the Los Angeles Clippers during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, April 7, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

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