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.
Do you like seeing basketball teams score lots of baskets? Then this will be a fun game for you to watch.
Kevin Durant visits Toronto. How much will Drake get fined this time?
I'm already so confused.
The first meeting since last season's ridiculously ridiculous seven-game first-round series. Two things we can be pretty confident in: (1) The game will go to overtime and (2) Steven Adams will make Zach Randolph very mad.
I suppose this is still a reasonably big deal, but the Knicks-Nets rivalry hasn't really taken off the way it was expected to. Part of the problem has been the lack of importance of the games. Both teams could be kind of decent this season -- maybe -- so there's hope that this game establishes a good tone for the other three.
Take 2 for the NBA in Mexico City. Last season the Spurs and Wolves tried to play a game in Mexico's capital, only to have it postponed because of an electrical fire in the building. But that's fixed now -- probably!
Patrick Beverley and Russell Westbrook playing hateful basketball against each other is always high entertainment. Oh, and that whole James Harden-versus-his-old-team-thing is still pretty interesting, too.
Lance Stephenson is back in Indianapolis and we can only hope he runs into the stands and blows in Larry Bird's ear after dropping a triple-double.
Jason Kidd returns to Brooklyn. If Mikhail Prokhorov doesn't fly in for this one, I'm going to be pretty disappointed.
Once upon a time in the days of Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes, this was one of the best rivalries in the league. It's lost some of the buzz, but with both teams now contenders in the Eastern Conference, the general dislike could be resurrected.
You just know Klay Thompson is going to score 54 points on 18-of-21 shooting from 3, and Flip Saunders will cry softly with a clipboard held over his face while Steve Kerr holds out his arms with a "You see now?" gesture.
Pretty simple: LeBron vs. Durant.
(Interesting sidenote: Durant is 0-5 against LeBron the Cavalier, losing by an average of 15.2 points.)
The Knicks on Christmas at MSG is a given. But against the Wizards? Didn't see that one coming. The Wizards are climbing and could be headed for a breakout season, assuming John Wall and Bradley Beal continue their progression. Putting them under the spotlight against the Knicks could be a perfect showcase.
The Thunder and Spurs don't really have a rivalry; it's more of a developing respect for each other. The Spurs took incredible satisfaction out of eliminating the hotshot Thunder last postseason, but there was always the qualifier of Serge Serge Ibaka's health hanging over that. The first meeting since the Game 6 overtime win that sent San Antonio to the NBA Finals is sure to be testy.
How will Heat fans treat LeBron in his return to Miami? Will they cheer as a thank you for two championships and four straight trips to the Finals? Will they boo? LeBron won't receive the same level of fury he got in his first visit to Cleveland in 2010, but it will be really interesting to see how he competes against Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Two mega-markets make sense for a Christmas showdown. Other than that, the big hook here is Pau Gasol playing his old team. Knowing him, he'll probably have handwritten thank you notes to pass out to all of his former teammates at tipoff.
A Christmas Day nightcap of two teams that do not enjoy each other's company.
With all the building speculation there is about Durant returning home in 2016, there's a good chance that he'll hear louder cheers from Wizards fans than Wall and Beal combined.
It's not that there's going to be a lot of hype around Chandler Parsons' return to Houston. It's more about how he'll play against his former team after the contention surrounding his departure. Harden and Howard both had something to say about it, and while the three apparently have patched things up, we'll see how that actually looks on the court.
Gasol returns to Staples Center, where he's sure to receive a warm reception. But I'm a little skeptical he'll actually play, because Kobe might tell him he's not invited to the game. We'll just have to wait and see.
Wolves fans already have illustrated how vicious they can be, so when Kevin Love makes his return to Minneapolis, he can expect waves of relentless heckling, like, "Your beard is just decent!" and "Defensively, you could stand to be a bit better!"
One actual thing that will be fun, though: Watching Andrew Wiggins guard LeBron.
The NBA will try to steal a bit of the eight-hour pregame window on Super Bowl Sunday with a couple games in the afternoon. The Heat visit the Celtics and the Lakers head to Madison Square Garden. Not a blockbuster slate of games, but it does feature Kobe Bryant at MSG, which is better than watching a second breakdown of the AFC team's long snapper.
We've been deprived of Derrick Rose versus Russell Westbrook for far too long. Two of the most athletic players ever to play point guard relentlessly attacking each other on both ends of the floor? Please and thank you.
The Rockets return to Portland for the first time since Damian Lillard iced them at the buzzer and left them all standing confused and shaken. I'm just assuming, but I bet Patrick Beverley spent his entire offseason working out with a picture of Lillard in front of him.
LeBron heads back to San Antonio. It's March, so if the Spurs are going to get him to sweat, they'll have to crank the heater up a bit.
The West's two presumptive favorites take each other on twice in a two-week span in games that potentially could decide either a tiebreaker between them, the top two seeds of the Western Conference, or both. Obviously there's some history building between the teams, and with a couple of games late in the season, this could be a delicious appetizer to get us all prepared for the main course of the postseason.
There's a strong possibility the final Cavs-Bulls matchup could greatly influence the top seeding in the East. And it might be a small glimpse into an oncoming postseason battle in the conference finals as well.