The Bucks will play 18 nationally broadcast games next season. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi)

The Bucks became one of the NBA’s most exciting-to-watch, up-and-coming teams last season, and the league evidently took notice, rewarding them with twice the number of nationally televised games that they had in 2016-17.

The 2017-18 NBA schedule was released Monday evening, and Milwaukee will play 18 games in front of a national television audience – up from nine last year – including six on ESPN and four on TNT. Last season the Bucks were tied for the third-fewest marquee broadcasts, while this season they’re ranked 13th in the league.

The Bucks will tip off their 50th anniversary season on the road against the Boston Celtics on Oct. 18, followed by a four-game homestand at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, beginning with their home opener Oct. 20 against the Cleveland Cavaliers on ESPN. Milwaukee also will host the defending Eastern Conference champions on Dec. 19. The NBA Champion Golden State Warriors make their only visit to Milwaukee on Jan. 12.

The date of the much-anticipated “Return to the MECCA” game was not announced in the schedule release.

Other highlights of the 2017-18 schedule include two December home matchups against the rival Chicago Bulls on Dec. 15 and Dec. 26, as well as a Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee at the Washington Wizards on Jan. 15. The Bucks have two Sunday afternoon home games against New Orleans on Feb. 25 and San Antonio on March 25. In all, they will host 18 weekend home games at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

Milwaukee’s 18 nationally televised games include six on ESPN (Oct. 20 vs. Cleveland, Nov. 10 at San Antonio, Jan. 18 vs. Golden State, March 4 vs. Philadelphia, March 19 at Cleveland and April 11 at Philadelphia), four on TNT (Oct. 26 vs. Boston, Feb. 27 vs. Washington, March 27 at L.A. Clippers and March 29 at Golden State) and the remaining eight on NBA TV (Oct. 31 vs. Oklahoma City, Nov. 7 at Cleveland, Nov. 30 at Portland, Dec. 4 at Boston, Dec. 9 vs. Utah, Dec. 19 vs. Cleveland, Dec. 26 vs. Chicago and Jan. 8 at Indiana).

The Bucks’ regular-season schedule also features two four-game road trips, their longest length of the campaign (Nov. 22-30 and Feb. 4-10), and the season-long four-game homestand during the season’s first month (Oct. 20 vs. Cleveland, Oct. 21 vs. Portland, Oct. 23 vs. Charlotte and Oct. 26 vs. Boston). As of this season, the NBA no longer schedules a team to play four games in five nights.

The Bucks play each team in the Eastern Conference four times, with the exception of Atlanta (two home, one road), Brooklyn (two home, one road), Miami (one home, two road) and Toronto (one home, two road). They face each Western Conference team twice. Milwaukee has 15 back-to-back sets, which is down from 18 last season.

Broken down by month, the Bucks play seven games in October (five home, two road), 13 in November (four home, nine road), 14 in December (nine home, five road), 15 in January (eight home, seven road), 12 in February (five home, seven road), 15 in March (seven home, eight road) and six in April (three home, three road).

Milwaukee will play four preseason games, beginning Oct. 2 at Dallas (7:30 p.m.). Following the Mavericks matchup, the Bucks play at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Oct. 4 against the Indiana Pacers (7 p.m.), on the road in Chicago on Oct. 6 against the Bulls (7 p.m.) and at home on Oct. 13 against the Detroit Pistons (7:30 p.m.).

The preseason game against Detroit at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Oct. 13 will be the 41st MACC Fund Game. The annual event is the cornerstone of the Bucks’ 40-year founding commitment to Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer, and since 1977 it has raised more than $1.2 million for children’s cancer research at the Midwest Children’s Cancer Center at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

Fans can guarantee seats to all 2017-18 Bucks preseason and regular-season home games by purchasing the 50th Anniversary Superpass, a digital ticket pass that includes the “Return to the MECCA” game, for $500.