The NBA has released its 2014-15 schedule. There are a few new quirks to it after a busy offseason, and the usual bunch of interesting matchups. Here's a look at the games that you should plan your own schedule around:
The Spurs will raise their fifth banner as they square off against one of their Texas rivals. These will pretty much be the same Spurs who completely obliterated the league last season, but the Mavericks -- who gave San Antonio its toughest playoff series in 2013-14, taking the Spurs to seven games in Round 1 -- have improved their roster with the offseason additions of Tyson Chandler and Chandler Parsons.
We're pretty much past any drama in Dwight Howard returning to Staples Center, aren't we? But there's still some juice here: Jeremy Lin playing his old team! No, wait, that's not it. The return of Kobe Bryant! Eh, maybe not. Well, at least we'll get to see new coach Byron Scott, the debut of Julius Randle, Swaggy P and Kobe wrestling over the ball and the Linsanity experience in Hollywood.
ESPN's Summer Forecast has pegged the Blazers to have the fourth-best record in the West. After dipping a toe into the second round of the playoffs and having a strong young core a year older and wiser, the Blazers have a big opportunity to make an early statement against a league favorite. Plus, there's a little animosity brewing between these two teams, with Kevin Durant saying last season: "We don't like them and they don't like us."
The King returns to his court. Four years after vitriol reverberated around Quicken Loans Arena for his first game in Cleveland as a member of the Miami Heat, LeBron James officially comes back as a Cavalier. The matchup with the Knicks is interesting enough -- how will Kyrie Irving, LeBron and, presumably, Kevin Love fit? -- but this is far bigger than that. Prepare for a celebration to welcome home the prodigal son.
A new era for Clippers basketball begins as the franchise plays its first official game under new owner Steve Ballmer. We'll also be treated to a great matchup, as the Clippers face off against a prime West rival who also happened to boot them from last season's playoffs.
There are a couple of layers that make this one really good. First, it's Derrick Rose's return to the court (again) in Chicago. That's exciting. Then, it's the two favorites in the East playing an early "feeler" game. And then there are the individual battles: Jimmy Butler guarding LeBron. Rose and Kyrie Irving. Kevin Love against Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol. Tom Thibodeau's defense against David Blatt's offense. We get this matchup four times next season, and all four are sure to be terrific.