NBA schedule release 2013-14: 50 games to circle on the calendar
21. Dec. 10: Pacers and Heat pick up rivalry after Eastern Conference finals
How quickly the dramatic 2013 Finals made us forget that Indiana pushed Miami to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals, too. Pacers forward David West told reporters immediately following Indiana’s season-ending loss that his team already had its sights trained on doing battle with the two-time defending champions again next season. Let the games begin in Indiana.
22. Dec. 11: Thunder eye revenge in rematch of playoff series loss against Grizzlies
As much fun as it was watching scoring savant Kevin Durant try to singlehandedly defeat the Grizzlies and their fierce defense, that Western Conference semifinals series just never felt right without Russell Westbrook. Oklahoma City will enjoy getting back to a more balanced attack as Memphis looks to prove that their success was no fluke for roughly the 234,456,319th time in the last three years.
23. Dec. 13: Top two draft picks square off when Cavaliers visit Magic
Let’s be honest, this isn’t exactly the sexiest No. 1 versus No. 2 face-off of all time. Cleveland’s Anthony Bennett and Orlando’s Victor Oladipo won’t match up against each other and it’s possible that they won’t share all that much court time together, if Bennett is used in a reserve role. They never played against each other in college, either, so there’s really not a look to work with here. Still, No. 1 versus No. 2. This one is on Friday the 13th, which I guess counts for something.
24. Dec. 21: High-profile rookie guards go head-to-head as Magic host Kings
The top of the 2013 draft order is so beset by injuries (Anthony Bennett, Alex Len, Nerlens Noel) that it’s hard to pick out a truly exciting rookie match-up this year. The best we’ve got is probably Orlando’s Victor Oladipo (No. 2 overall) versus Sacramento’s Ben McLemore (No. 7 overall, although he was regarded as a possible option at No. 2). Oladipo enjoyed a more successful Summer League than did McLemore, but both should get plenty of minutes to shine on teams that are expected to be lottery-bound again this year.
25. Dec. 21: Bobcats and Jazz play Al Jefferson Bowl
Hopefully the crawl on the bottom of this screen during this game just repeats “Charlotte gave Al Jefferson $41 million” as random cash register sound effects play in the background. It will be fun to see how the Jazz’s young big men, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, stack up against Jefferson, who held down the middle in Salt Lake City for three years.
26. Dec. 21: Top rookies in 2013 face off when Pelicans visit Blazers
It’s always fun to see which player from each draft class is the first to make an All-Star Game, and last year’s group has at least two strong early contenders in Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard. Davis, the No. 1 overall pick, wowed the USA Basketball brass in Las Vegas with his defensive abilities and expanded offensive game. Lillard, the 2013 Rookie of the Year, will look to take the next step as the Blazers shoot for one of the final Western Conference playoff spots. When these two teams faced off last season, Lillard hit a dramatic game-winner that was the highlight of his impressive campaign. Does he have an encore in store, or will Davis, who is still just 20, begin to transform into the dominant player of his class, as was expected before the draft?
27. Dec. 23: Pelicans’ Tyreke Evans returns to Sacramento to face Kings
The Pelicans went for it this offseason, shelling out big bucks to add former Kings guard Tyreke Evans to a perimeter corps that also includes Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon. The play required shipping out last year’s starting center Robin Lopez and hoping that 2012 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis and a motley crew of placeholder centers can man the middle. This game, therefore, serves not only as Evans’ return to Sacramento, where he won 2010 Rookie of the Year honors, but also as a nice test for the Pelicans’ outside-in strategy. DeMarcus Cousins, now the face of the Kings, presents a big problem down low for just about everyone.
28. Dec. 25: Bulls and Nets kick off Christmas
The Nets dumped interim coach P.J. Carlesimo shortly after the shorthanded Bulls outlasted them in a seven-game marathon first-round series. Brooklyn loaded up its roster and the several Bulls players who were out with injuries during the playoffs should all be back and good to go. With that history, plus Joakim Noah and Kevin Garnett on the court at the same time, expect a fired-up atmosphere as the two teams open the NBA’s annual Christmas Day quintuple-header.
29. Dec. 25: Thunder visit Knicks on Christmas
A Christmas Day shootout involving Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook and J.R. Smith in front of gobs of celebrities in New York City? I suppose a few (million) people might be interested in such a concept.
30. Dec. 25: LeBron James’ Heat and Kobe Bryant’s Lakers share Christmas stage
The good news for the Lakers: they at least get to play host to the Heat in the centerpiece game on Christmas. The bad news: just about everything else. LeBron James had 29 points, nine assists, eight rebounds, two steals and a block in a Christmas win over the Thunder last season. Something tells me that wasn’t a one-off lightning strike for the Heat.