NBA schedule release 2013-14: 50 games to circle on the calendar
The Spurs humiliated the injury-ravaged Lakers in last year’s playoffs, so much so that Dwight Howard didn’t bother sticking around until the end, getting himself ejected in his final game in L.A. The always-steady Tim Duncan still looms between Howard and the second trip to the Finals of his career. Spurs/Rockets has all the ingredients of an intriguing “blue blood vs. young money” Texas showdown, and these two dynamic, efficient offenses should make for a nice holiday showcase game.
32. Dec. 25: Clippers and Warriors play Christmas nightcap
It’s always a grind to make it through the NBA’s five-game Christmas Day marathon, but Lob City versus the Splash Brothers at Oracle is about as exciting as a nightcap game can look on paper four-plus months in advance.
33. Dec. 28: Knicks’ Andrea Bargnani makes Toronto return
New York’s first trip across the border offers the chance for some serious, serious, serious booing. Raptors fans destroyed Vince Carter in his first return to Toronto and who knows what kind of vitriol they will have in store for Bargnani, who was traded to New York after an injury-riddled, unmotivated and unproductive 2012-13 season. If anything can rival the Blazers’ fans full-game booing of Raymond Felton last season, this would be it.
34. Dec. 28: Greg Oden returns to Portland with Heat to face Blazers
Greg Oden, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft, saw his time in Portland come to a shocking and abrupt conclusion when he fractured his patella on Dec. 5, 2009. He hasn’t played in an NBA game since, although he has returned to the Rose Garden as a spectator on a handful of occasions, being met with both cheers and boos. Will the Blazers’ one-time franchise-changing talent be healthy enough to suit up for the Heat in their only trip to Portland this season? If so, how will Blazers fans treat him now that he’s teamed up with LeBron James and the two-time defending champions?
35. Dec. 29: Rockets’ James Harden and his new pal face the Thunder
When James Harden turned down Oklahoma City’s final offer last fall, he did so knowing that he could be in for an extended rebuilding period in his new Houston digs. Voila. That “extended rebuilding” stuff is already a thing of the past. With Dwight Howard in the fold, Harden now gets to face his old mates with a legit superstar at his side. This will be the first of what could be many, many Western Conference clashes between the Thunder and Rockets in years to come. The over/under on confrontations involving Kendrick Perkins during this game has been set at 3.5 and let’s not forget Patrick Beverley, whose attempt to steal the ball from Russell Westbrook led to the Thunder All-Star guard’s season-ending knee injury. Anything short of pandemonium in Chesapeake Energy Arena would be a surprising disappointment.
36. Dec. 30: Suns’ Eric Bledsoe faces Clippers for first time
It’s hard to believe there is much, if any, bad blood between Eric Bledsoe and the Clippers following his offseason trade to the Suns. The writing was on the wall for more than a year, and Chris Paul’s presence was going to crimp Bledsoe’s development (and future salary) one way or another. This first game between the Suns and Clippers, therefore, is less about vengeance and more about taking in Bledsoe’s full, unencumbered athleticism against his former Lob City cronies.
37. Jan. 9: Heat visit Madison Square Garden to open series with Knicks
The Knicks and their fans seemed fully convinced last year that they represented the strongest challenge to the Heat in the East, pointing to two early-season routs as evidence. Indiana got in the way of that hypothetical upset by eliminating New York in the conference semifinals, and the Knicks sat at home as the Heat went on to defend their 2012 title. As if the backstory between the two teams wasn’t enough — you didn’t forget about Amar’e Stoudemire and the fire extinguisher, did you? — it’s always fun when the 2003 draft class’s brightest stars (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony) are all assembled on the same court. Especially when that court is Madison Square Garden.
38. Jan. 16: Nets and Hawks travel to London
The NBA’s second game to be played outside of the United States and Canada will go down in England, where fans are surely already clamoring to see Paul Millsap, Elton Brand and the rest of the renovated Hawks roster. OK, maybe the Nets’ two new stars, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, will be the headliners.
39. Jan 20: Nets and Knicks continue crosstown rivalry on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
The only way to make the crosstown rivalry between the Nets and Knicks better than usual is to schedule it on a holiday. Bingo.
40. Jan. 20: Lakers visit Bulls on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
The Lakers and Bulls went all the way down to the wire on Christmas Day 2012, and the NBA made a no-brainer scheduling decision by putting Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose on during another holiday.
41. Jan. 26: Nets’ Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett return to Boston to face Celtics
The Celtics have been all class in their treatment of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, taking out newspaper ads to thank the two future Hall of Famers for their service to one of the league’s most storied franchises. There’s no doubt it will be a strange night when the Nets make their first trip to TD Garden, as Pierce will look out of place in any jersey that isn’t green and the new-look, rebuilding Celtics roster will probably still seem out of whack in January. Expect some awesome jumbotron highlight videos and maybe a few tears, too.
42. Jan. 26: Heat and Spurs face off for first time since Finals
The 2013 Finals made a strong case for the “Best Finals of the post-Jordan era” title: overwhelming starpower, memorable shots galore, a comeback for the ages in Game 6, clutch performances from both sides, a timeless effort from Tim Duncan, an almost-hero-for-the-ages in Danny Green, a breakout series from Kawhi Leonard, some timely excellence from a vindicated Dwyane Wade, stretches of total dominance from LeBron James, the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat, etc. This one just had it all. Let’s do it again. Miami gets homecourt first.
43. Jan. 29: Heat/Thunder I in Miami
LeBron James versus Kevin Durant. No. 1 in the world versus No. 2 in the world. Nothing more needs to be said.
44. Feb. 19: Rockets’ Dwight Howard faces Lakers for first time in L.A.
This game, which could very well be the most-hyped of the entire NBA season, simply can’t get here fast enough. Even though Dwight Howard’s stay in L.A. was short, his return to the Staples Center, a building where the Lakers recently placed a billboard begging him to re-sign, will be must-see TV. Howard’s return to Orlando last season was an emotional affair, and Howard did his best to laugh it off as the Lakers beat the Magic. A win over the Rockets in Howard’s return would probably be the sweetest victory of the season for Lakers’ fans, but what happens if Houston wins? Is L.A. prepared for another round of self-reflection?
45. Feb. 20: Heat/Thunder II in Oklahoma City
Again: LeBron James versus Kevin Durant. No. 1 in the world versus No. 2 in the world. Nothing more needs to be said. (Again.)
46. Mar. 6: Heat and Spurs complete regualar season series
Round two between the 2013 Finalists tips off in Texas. Giddy up.
47. Mar. 21: Mike Miller makes Miami return as Grizzlies face Heat
Mike Miller delivered the killshots to the Thunder in the 2012 Finals, he nailed a three-pointer while wearing one shoe in the 2013 Finals, and he was a generally beloved member of the Heat’s two title teams. Miami begrudgingly released him using the amnesty clause to cut down its luxury tax bill, but he landed on his feet in Memphis, where his floor-stretching ability is badly needed. Expect a hero’s welcome from the American Airlines Arena. Not even Heat fans could mess this up.
48. Mar. 25: Metta World Peace makes L.A. return when Knicks face Lakers
The NBA’s amnesty clause makes for an interesting twist on the “popular former player returns to city where he achieved glory” narrative. After all, fans can’t blame the player for leaving as a free agent, and some might even feel sympathy for the player or anger towards the organization because of the financial motivation involved in parting ways. Here, Metta World Peace will likely get a nice welcome in L.A., where he was appreciated for his hard work, eccentricity and contributions to the Lakers’ most recent title.
49. April 16: Golden State and Denver close season, with Andre Iguodala in the middle
Match-ups between Golden State and Denver were already great because of their up-tempo styles and the potential for explosive offense, but then Andre Iguodala spurned a Nuggets franchise in transition to latch onto a Warriors core that is on the rise to fringe contender status. All of a sudden, this one got personal. Set to be played on the final day of the regular season, this game could take on added importance given the possibility of playoff match-up implications.
50. April 16: Regular season ends with Hawks/Bucks, Raptors/Knicks, Wizards/Celtics and Nets/Cavaliers
All 30 teams play on the final day of the regular season. Often, those games are an afterthought with playoff seeding already locked up. This year, these four games between 2013 Eastern Conference playoff teams and 2014 playoff hopefuls could prove meaningful. Or not. We’ll know in about eight months.