Wednesday night's release of the 2014-15 NBA schedule brings basketball fans a brief moment of joy, even if none of the contests come as any real surprise. The games we have imagined now have firm dates, which gives us something concrete to look forward to. Marc Spears has already noted 10 of the most exciting games on the schedule, but the season obviously features many more dates of intrigue.
Read on below for 10 games of note. Some should be fun, some should be dramatic, some could end up as pretty terrible. What matters more than anything is that they now exist on an official list. The NBA is almost here.
Nov. 4: Charlotte Hornets at New Orleans Pelicans
This one should be the most confusing event on the NBA calendar. When the New Orleans Hornets changed their name to the Pelicans before last season, they freed up the Charlotte Bobcats to switch to the Hornets, which carries extra heft in North Carolina and around the league due to the popularity of the previous Charlotte Hornets prior to their move to New Orleans in 2002 (that team is now the Pelicans). However, some of us took a while to remember to call the Pelicans by their new name last season — we called them the Hornets, because that's what we were used to — and it's possible that this game between the Pelicans (who were once the Charlotte Hornets) and Hornets (who play in Charlotte now) could also involve the Bobcats (who don't exist, because they're now the Hornets) if we're not careful. Or maybe we could just declare both teams winners and save ourselves the hassle.
Nov. 22: Dallas Mavericks at Houston Rockets
Both these franchises have stood at the forefront of the sport's analytics movement, but this summer the in-state rivals found themselves as something akin to philosophical adversaries. When the Mavs signed restricted free agent Chandler Parsons to a massive offer sheet, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey balked at its apparent untradeability — positing Parsons and the contract as one in the same — and chose not to match. Dallas responded by claiming they had no intention of trading Parsons, an understandable point that took on the feeling of a snappy comeback. The Rockets didn't help to change their image as being a little humanity-averse when James Harden called every Rocket without All-Star status a role player, and the Mavs suddenly looked like even more of a team-oriented, likable outfit. This game marks Parsons's first trip back to Houston and therefore has added intrigue, but all four matchups are worth watching for reasons tied to the playoff picture and otherwise.
On June 26, the day of the 2014 NBA Draft, this matchup looked like the sort of unspectacular game that fills out any regular-season schedule. Now, with the pending trade of top pick Andrew Wiggins to the Wolves from the Cleveland Cavaliers, it's a head-to-head battle between the two likely Rookie of the Year frontrunners. The Bucks' Jabari Parker appears to be the favorite for the award due to superior offensive polish, but this contest will give us a peek at both players' acclimation to and level of success in the NBA game.
Nov. 30: Phoenix Suns at New Orleans Pelicans
Some games don't need storylines to catch our attention — they're entertaining simply for the styles and individual talents on the court. The Suns entered last season looking like one of several teams that had embraced tanking, only to win 48 games and nearly make the playoffs in an ultra-competitive West. Even better, they accomplished it with an attack-minded, backcourt-oriented lineup based around Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe (still unsigned, though he figures to return for at least one more year). They've doubled down on the approach for 2014-15 by adding ex-Kings guard Isaiah Thomas, a diminutive scorer who averaged more than 20 ppg in 2013-14. Meanwhile, the Pelicans boast Anthony Davis, who figures to build on last year's All-Star season and become a widely acknowledged superstar. All three games between these teams should be a lot of fun.
Dec. 25: Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Clippers
What better way to celebrate a day of watching basketball with the family than with two teams who seem ready to tussle whenever there's a little extracurricular contact? In 2013-14, the Warriors and Clippers knocked heads over a pre-game chapel snub, a series of ejections on Christmas, and various other disturbances
prior to the landscape-altering Donald Sterling controversy that popped up in the middle of their first-round playoff series. Put simply, these teams have a lot of history, and more figures to show up over the course of this season. Their second game of the season should feature more of the same, but all four have the potential for one, two, or more heated exchanges.
Jan. 31: Houston Rockets at Detroit Pistons
Many moons ago, new Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy and Rockets star Dwight Howard worked together in Orlando, where they had a great deal of success with the Magic. Sadly, that marriage ended poorly and featured one of the most awkward coach media availabilities ever seen. This game marks their first meeting since they parted ways after the 2011-12 season. Have they made up? Will they drink Diet Coke together in a loving embrace? Will they even remember that any of this stuff happened? Tune in to find out.
One of the great things about the NBA is that a great game can come from seemingly nowhere. With zero notice, a multi-overtime thriller can pop up in a matchup that seemed totally meaningless or dull. Maybe a player will go for 40 points and 20 rebounds. Perhaps an unexpected party will give us the dunk of the year. It's unclear, really, and I have no idea if this game will become anything special. But if the larger point is that any night can provide a moment or two of extreme enjoyment, then an event featuring DeMarcus Cousins, Tony Allen, and assorted other weirdos seems like a useful one to note.
With the Cavaliers having become clear favorites to top and win the East, the Wizards and Bulls have emerged as their top challengers to make the NBA Finals. They come to that status from different directions — Washington is the up-and-coming squad led by the young backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, while Chicago will depend on a full recovery and sustained good health from ex-MVP Derrick Rose to regain contender status. This matchup — their fourth and final of the regular season — should give everyone a decent sense of both team's preparation for the postseason.
Truth be told, any regular-season game between these two teams will only tell us so much, even at an advanced point in the calendar. OKC and San Antonio will judge themselves on their ability to get to the NBA Finals, and a postseason series will differ greatly from a single game with or without the presence of presumed Spurs-killer Serge Ibaka. Yet, for fans, this game will help us ease into the playoffs, if only because it feels more important than the others. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will now be defined by their ability to get past the Spurs, and the defending champs will attempt to prove once again that they're not over the hill and remain prime contenders. Or maybe Gregg Popovich will sit his starters for a nationally televised game and ruin our fun altogether.
April 15: Miami Heat at Philadelphia 76ers
For the second season in a row, the Sixers and general manager Sam Hinkie have constructed a team that looks to exist for no other reason than to lose as many games as possible and improve the franchise's chances at nabbing a top draft pick. Philadelphia should be a more interesting team in 2014-15, if only for the debut of previously rehabbing big man Nerlens Noel and a few potential appearances from newest draftee Joel Embiid, but this final game of the regular season will allow fans and management to focus on what really matters — next June's draft and an offseason full of potential. With Hinkie's approach, the public almost has to put more stock in what happens off the court than what occurs on it.
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