Here's a full rundown of 50 games to circle on the calendar between opening night -- Oct. 29, 2013 -- and the final day of the regular season -- April 16, 2014 -- with a focus on rivalries, returns, marquee match-ups, holiday games and more. All 30 teams are included. Yes, even the Sixers.
The leading story of the NBA's 2013-14 opening week will be the returns of a host of All-Stars who saw their 2012-13 seasons cut short -- or totally wiped out -- by injuries. The most anticipated of these is returns is Derrick Rose's, as the 2011 MVP's 18-month recovery from an ACL injury will finally come to an end. Still one of the league's most popular players, Rose will get to work on repairing any damage to his image that was done during his long rehabilitation last season. Rose gets the biggest possible stage to do it: an opening night tilt against the hated Heat, who have eliminated the Bulls from the playoffs in two of the last three seasons. If Rose is back to 100 percent, these two teams could feasibly represent the Eastern Conference's cream of the crop.
2. Oct. 29: Will Kobe Bryant return for the Lakers' opening night clash against the Clippers?
The only opening week storyline with a chance to match -- or even surpass -- Derrick Rose's return is Kobe Bryant's comeback from a season-ending Achilles injury. Bryant went down on April 12, so an opening night return would require a six-month recovery for an injury that often requires a year-long rehabilitation. With Dwight Howard bolting to Houston, Lakers fans can't be blamed for pinning all of their hopes this season on Bryant, and there's no question that he's anxious to play the savior role. The only question is when.
The crosstown rivalry with the Clippers ups the stakes. The power shift in L.A. that saw the Clippers win their first Pacific Division title last season continued into the summer, when the Clippers re-signed Chris Paul and added coach Doc Rivers, J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley while the Lakers said goodbye to Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace, with only the likes of Chris Kaman and Nick Young to show for it. In an unfamiliar underdog role, the Lakers -- with or without Bryant -- will look to avenge the Clippers' clean 4-0 sweep from last season.
Oklahoma City's hopes for a second straight Finals appearance collapsed when Russell Westbrook suffered a fluky knee injury in the first round of the playoffs that required minor (but season-ending) surgery. Led by MVP runner-up Kevin Durant and Reggie Jackson, Westbrook's stand-in, the Thunder fought gamely to the end, but they ultimately weren't able to advance to the Western Conference finals. The explosive Westbrook's redemption mission starts in Utah. Good luck, Trey Burke. You're going to need it.
Cleveland couldn't stay out of the headlines this offseason, shocking the world by taking Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall pick, taking the plunge on Andrew Bynum, and making a nice play by signing Jarrett Jack. All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving is a year older and coming off of an impressive showing at USA Basketball's summer minicamp, and he'll aim to lead the Cavaliers to their first postseason appearance of the post-LeBron James era. Cleveland's side of opening night will feature two big stories. First, will Bynum, who missed all of last season with knee issues, be available to play? How will he look after all this time off? Second, the NBA world will get to form its first impression of Bennett, who did not play in Summer League because of a shoulder injury.
Amazingly, all of those stories count as the undercard here, given that Jason Kidd will be making his NBA debut as coach of the Nets and Brooklyn's star-studded starting lineup of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez will be taking the court for the first time. Goodness gracious.
Lionel Hollins might be gone, but the core of a proud, tough Grizzlies team that was swept out of the 2013 playoffs by the Spurs is back. San Antonio beat Memphis by just two games to win the Southwest Division last season, and one of the league's best, under-the-radar rivalries kicks off again in San Antonio.
6. Nov. 7: Rockets play host to the Lakers, Dwight Howard's former team
The NBA did Dwight Howard and the Rockets a favor by staging Houston's first game against the Lakers in Texas. That should alleviate some of the pressure that is sure to come when Howard makes his first return visit to Los Angeles in February. (More on that one below.)
7. Nov. 8: Will Andrew Bynum play when Cavaliers make first visit to Philadelphia?
This could be a perfect storm of fan angst with the Sixers looking to tank after a season lost to Andrew Bynum's injury woes. Let's just hope his knees are healthy enough that he can dodge batteries. Who can predict how one of the league's wildest cards will respond to all the torment?
8. Nov. 8: Warriors, Spurs pick up after exciting playoff series
Remember when Stephen Curry hit for 44 points against the Spurs in Game 1 of the West semifinals and then Klay Thompson went for 34 in Game 2? Of course you do. Basketball is rarely that magical. More please.
Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday comes off as too happy-go-lucky to get hung up on a surprising draft day trade. The intrigue in his first game against his old Philadelphia team, then, comes from his match-up with the Sixers' 2013 lottery pick, Michael Carter-Williams, who is being asked to step into Holiday's All-Star shoes. School just might be in session.
Two prime contenders to make the leap out of the 2013 lottery will get their first crack at each other in the nation's capital. The Kyrie Irving vs. John Wall match-up is always one to drool over, but there are tons of young, intriguing players looking to establish (Anthony Bennett, Otto Porter) or grow (Bradley Beal, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters) their NBA reputations.
12. Nov. 18: Clippers look to avenge postseason loss to Grizzlies
A fluky ankle sprain popped up at the worst possible time for Blake Griffin, who was limited in the final two games of L.A.'s first-round playoff series against Memphis. The Grizzlies wound up winning four straight games by double-digits to eliminate the Clippers in six. It's exhausting -- but endlessly entertaining -- to watch a healthy Griffin tussle for 15 rounds with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
For years, Josh Smith had to listen to Hawks fans -- his home fans! -- loudly boo and heckle him as he launched ill-advised jumpers. NBA players are helpless in that situation; they can't exactly stand up for themselves by turning on their paying customers. Smith, recently inked to a four-year deal by the Pistons, now gets the chance to stick it to the Philips Arena boo birds. This has home run or strikeout potential: One can picture his glee if the Pistons prevail just as easily as one can imagine the crowd cackling "I told you so" if Smith starts raining bricks.
The last time Indiana and New York faced each other, Pacers center Roy Hibbert put up 21 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks in a closeout Game 6 win that ended the Knicks' season. Did the Knicks learn anything from their punishing series defeat?
15. Nov. 20: Mavericks host Rockets after missing out on Dwight Howard
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is probably already preparing his pithy pre-game remarks for Dwight Howard's first trip to the Big D after passing up on the Mavericks to sign with the Rockets. With any luck, Dirk Nowitzki will be in top form so that Dallas' free agency whiffs in recent summers won't need to be rehashed for the umpteenth time.
16. Nov. 25: Pistons' Brandon Jennings gets his first crack at the Bucks
Brandon Jennings wasted no time playing the "chip on my shoulder" card at his introductory press conference with the Pistons, and that's exactly as it should be. His fit in Milwaukee was strained and, apparently, the tension couldn't be resolved. Jennings was forced to settle for a deal with the Pistons that was surely below his financial expectations, after the Bucks courted Jeff Teague and traded for Luke Ridnour. If this whole soap opera ends with a sequel to Jennings' signature 55-point night in 2009 then it will have all been worth it. Don't count on that, though. This could easily be just another forgettable game between two Eastern Conference also-rans.
17. Nov. 27: Thunder, Spurs renew battle for Western Conference supremacy
Even with all the moves made by the Clippers, Rockets and Warriors this offseason, the West's two best teams in recent years have every reason to believe they will be at or near the top of the standings again in 2013-14. Memphis denied Oklahoma City its shot at defending its 2012 Western Conference title against San Antonio last year, which should make the renewal of one of the most entertaining and competitive rivalries that much sweeter.
18. Dec. 4: Spurs and Timberwolves face off in in Mexico City
San Antonio and Minnesota head south of the border for one of the NBA's two regular season games that will be played outside of the United States and Canada. Mexico City has long been known for its insane soccer environments, so we'll see how that translates here. Somehow, Minnesota is the home team for this game, which makes no sense whatsoever from a geographical perspective.
19. Dec. 5: Knicks visit Nets in first battle for NYC
The Big Apple's big spending offseason arms race gets its first crosstown match-up in the Barclays Center. Not only do Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce get their first crack at their longtime division rivals while wearing Nets uniforms, but Brooklyn's new coach, Jason Kidd, gets to man the sideline against many of his former Knicks teammates.
20. Dec. 6: Trey Burke, Jazz get division test against Damian Lillard, Blazers
Trey Burke, the No. 9 pick in this year's draft, finds himself in much the same position as Damian Lillard, who was taken No. 6 overall last season. Handed the keys to a rebuilding Jazz team just as Lillard was last season, Burke, who is seen as a possible 2014 Rookie of the Year candidate, will get his first of many tests against the unanimous 2013 Rookie of the Year in Portland.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.