The NBA released the 2014-15 schedule on Wednesday.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the games worth circling on the calendar.
On opening night, the Spurs will hand out rings and unfurl their fifth championship banner. While “Ring Night” will be remembered as a coronation, don’t let the spectacle cloud the intrigue of two projected playoff teams squaring off in the first week of the season. No team put up a bigger fight against the Spurs in last year’s playoffs than the Mavericks, who re-signed Dirk Nowitzki to a cap-friendly deal, added wing Chandler Parsons and traded for center Tyson Chandler in the offseason.
While this date includes other interesting games, the Wizards and Heat are two teams headed in different directions. Miami watched four-time MVP LeBron James decamp to Cleveland this offseason, while the Wizards should benefit from the continued growth of their star backcourt tandem, John Wall and Bradley Beal, plus the addition of veteran Paul Pierce as well as big men DeJaun Blair and Kris Humphries. Still, after re-upping with big man Chris Bosh and adding Luol Deng, Miami should be in the mix for a top-five seed in the East.
October 30: Thunder at Clippers
If you watched last season’s Western Conference semifinals between these teams, you can move on. You already know Oklahoma City and L.A. waged a thrilling six-game series highlighted by, among other notable developments, a 32-point game from Chris Paul, a 39-point, 16-rebound game from Kevin Durant and, let’s not forget the officiating controversy that triggered Doc Rivers’ memorable postgame rant. Though the thrill factor of last season’s playoffs waned after the first round, this series was objectively awesome. Here’s to hoping Oklahoma City and the Clippers entertain us again.
October 31: Cavaliers at Bulls
In what could serve as a preview for the Eastern Conference finals, the re-tooled Bulls will host the LeBron-led Cavaliers. Watching James and Kevin Love (probably) try to work out early kinks against a salty defensive team is enough to draw in the casual observer. Add the prospect of a healthy Derrick Rose, alongside new additions Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic, and this amounts to one of the most intriguing fixtures of the regular season. Don’t fret if you miss this game: there’s a good chance these teams will meet again next spring, with more at stake.
Foreign fans hoping to see the world’s best players and teams might be a bit disappointed by these two matchups. The Bucks finished with an NBA-low 15 wins last season – though rookie forward Jabari Parker should provide a boost – while the Knicks missed the playoffs and don’t appear ready to make noise in the East. The other matchup brings together the (probably) Love-less Timberwolves and a Houston team that endured a rough offseason, highlighted by the loss of Parsons to the Mavericks.
November 19: Spurs at Cavaliers
What better way to gauge the new-look Cavaliers’ championship potential than with an early matchup against last season’s champs? While it’s a safe bet Cleveland will need some time to figure out its revamped roster – and how the players on that roster jibe with new coach David Blatt’s philosophy – the Spurs should hit the ground running in 2014-15. Yet don’t be surprised if San Antonio doesn’t go full bore in this one. When it comes to big regular season games, the Spurs tend to take the long view.
December 25: Cavaliers at Heat, Lakers at Bulls, Thunder at Spurs, Warriors at Clippers, Wizards at Knicks
Say it with me: Christmas Day belongs to the NBA. That’s the case again this season, with six high-profile matchups on tap. The headliner involves LeBron James making his first return to Miami since joining the Cavaliers this summer. The Lakers will bathe in the Christmas spotlight even though their playoff prospects are bleak. The Spurs and Thunder are set to challenge for top seeds in the West, while the Clippers and Warriors shouldn’t be far behind in the conference pecking order. And don’t dismiss the Wizards’ trip to Madison Square Garden: Bradley Beal, John Wall and a star-studded crowd will make for quality early-afternoon viewing.[tile:
The best game on Martin Luther King Day – Bulls at Cavaliers – is a repeat of one discussed in an earlier blurb, only at a different arena. The Grizzlies, after pushing the Thunder to seven games in the first round of the playoffs (and enduring offseason drama), look poised to earn another playoff berth, with the Mavericks also pushing for a spot in the postseason. The Pistons don’t figure to factor into the East race in year one under Stan Van Gundy, but Atlanta, with a healthy Al Horford, has the pieces to make a run.
January 31: Cavaliers at Timberwolves
Don’t expect Kevin Love to receive a warm welcome in Minnesota. The environment could be even more tense if the Timberwolves have already fallen out of the playoff race, with Love and the Cavaliers expected to rank among the top teams in the East. Will Love go off against his former squad? Whatever happens, this game is one you won't want to miss.
April 2: Heat at Cavaliers
LeBron and his new teammates will host LeBron’s old teammates at Quicken Loans Arena. Think Bosh, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the Heat will get up for this one? At this stage of the season, both teams will be gearing up for the playoffs.
April 15: Blazers at Mavericks
This game could have major implications for playoff seeding. Though the Blazers didn’t make any big splashes in free agency after advancing to the second round last season, they’re a playoff-caliber team with a point guard worth watching in a big game. The Mavericks had to fight just to make the postseason as a No. 8 seed in 2013-14. With Parsons and Chandler in tow, expect them to have a little more breathing room this time around.