Playoff rematches, star players returning from injuries and a heavy dose of the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers are among the highlights of the NBA's early schedule, the full version of which was released Wednesday night.
The always-anticipated Christmas Day schedule includes LeBron James' return to Miami as the featured game at 5 p.m. ET on ABC; a renewal of the Western Conference finals with the Oklahoma City Thunder visiting the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs; and a rivalry game between the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers.
Perhaps the highlight of the schedule for players, though, is new commissioner Adam Silver's response to stars' request for a lengthier midseason break. Each team now will have a full week off around All-Star Weekend in February so players who take part in the events in New York still will receive some additional time off.
The season will open Tuesday, Oct. 28, with the traditional ring night ceremony as the Spurs host the Dallas Mavericks -- the team that took the champs to seven games in the Western Conference first round last spring -- to open a TNT doubleheader. In the nightcap, Kobe Bryant is expected to make his return from leg injuries when the Los Angeles Lakers host the Houston Rockets.
Over the next several nights the season ramps up with a steady series of intriguing matchups. Derrick Rose's planned return starts the first ESPN doubleheader of the year on Oct. 29 at Madison Square Garden, as the Chicago Bulls visit the New York Knicks. That's followed by the opener for the Thunder, as Kevin Durant begins his MVP defense on the West Coast against the Portland Trail Blazers.
James will play his first game since returning to the Cavs on Oct. 30, against the Knicks at home. On Halloween the next night, the first of four potentially vital Cavs regular-season games against the Bulls takes place in Chicago as Rose is slated to return to the United Center in an ESPN game.
The Cavs, Bulls and Thunder will be the most featured teams on national television this season. The Cavs and Bulls both are scheduled for 10 games on ESPN, five on ABC and 10 on TNT. The Thunder have 10 games on ESPN, nine on TNT and six on ABC.
ESPN and ABC will televise 90 games, and TNT will show 53. ESPN and TNT will televise three games Jan. 19 on Martin Luther King Day, including the Bulls' visit to the Cavs.
The first James-Durant showdown of the season is set for Thursday, Dec. 11, in Oklahoma City, with the return in Cleveland on a Sunday afternoon game Jan. 25. James returns to San Antonio, where his 2013-14 season ended, on Thursday, March 12.
On Nov. 11, ESPN will television a game between the Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves in Mexico City. Last year a game between the Spurs and Wolves in Mexico City was canceled because of a fire in the arena. This year's game will follow the first meeting of the season between rivals Miami and Indiana, who each will have a distinctly different look this season.
The Toronto Raptors have four national TV games after not being scheduled to be on U.S. national television since 2008 (they made it once in 2013 as a late fill-in game). Their first 2014-15 game on national TV will be Nov. 13 when they host the Bulls.
Some other quirks to the 2014-15 NBA schedule include:
• The Spurs' rodeo trip this season will be nine games long in February and March.
• The Brooklyn Nets will go on an eight-game road trip that spans the All-Star break and will mean they won't have a home game between Feb. 6 and March 2.
• The Bulls' infamous circus trip spans seven games from Nov. 17-30, starting in Los Angeles and ending in Brooklyn. The also have a six-game trip that stars at the end of January.
• The Warriors play just one home game between Feb. 4 and March 4, with 11 of 12 during that stretch on the road.
• The Clippers' Grammy trip lasts eight games in January and February after a seven-game trip in November.
• The Cavaliers play 12 of 15 games on the road from Feb. 12 to March 5.
• The Philadelphia 76ers have a seven-game road trip that spans both the Christmas and New Year's holidays.
• The Heat and Blazers each have seven-game homestands in December.
• The Phoenix Suns have an eight-game homestand in January and February, one short of the Clippers' NBA-long nine-game homestand.
Ultimately, though, each team plays 41 home and 41 road games between Oct. 28 and April 15.