NBA 2013-14 schedule's 10 games to watch

For all of the Los Angeles Lakers' storied history, Dwight Howard's return to L.A. will be a new experience for the franchise and its fans.

Magic Johnson, Jerry West and James Worthy played their entire careers with the Lakers. So far, Kobe Bryant has done the same. Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retired as Lakers. Shaquille O'Neal was traded.

But Howard? He became the first elite free agent in the 16-time NBA champions' history to leave town when he signed a four-year, $88 million max contract this summer with the Houston Rockets.

When Howard returns to Los Angeles to face the Lakers on Feb. 19, expect boos to rain down from all corners of Staples Center. Howard spent just one season in L.A., but the way he left might have made a bigger impression than anything he did on the court.

Howard's return to L.A. leads Yahoo! Sports' top-10 games for the 2013-2014 NBA season.

1. Dwight Howard returns to L.A. to face the Lakers, Feb. 19

Howard described his lone season with the Lakers as a "nightmare." He clashed with Kobe Bryant, played for two coaches named Mike in Brown and D'Antoni, didn't like D'Antoni's offensive system and didn't feel he received the proper respect for his return from back surgery.

After losing Bryant to an Achilles injury late in the season, the Howard-led Lakers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. By departing to Houston to join the Rockets, who are led by James Harden, Howard turned down the opportunity to be the face of the Lakers once Bryant retires.

2. Kobe Bryant returns from injury for the Lakers, TBD

Bryant suffered a torn Achilles tendon injury April 12 against Golden State that caused him to miss the postseason for the first time in his career. He says his recovery is ahead of schedule; it's even possible he could return on opening night.

All eyes will be on Bryant whenever he gets back on the court. While six to nine months is the normal recovery time for such an injury, Bryant, 35, will be fighting Father Time.

But if there is an athlete that could accomplish such a feat, Bryant is the one.

3. Derrick Rose returns to the Chicago Bulls, Oct. 29

The Bulls hope to see the Rose of old in their season opener. Prior to his knee injury, Rose was arguably the best point guard in the NBA. During the season he was sidelined, Rose worked strongly on his jump shot and his runner with his off-hand, which will likely make him a better shooter.

The big question: Will the athleticism that made Rose special also return?

If Rose can get back to being himself – or an improved version of himself – the Bulls immediately become an Eastern Conference title defender that the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers should worry about. After such a long layoff and plenty of criticism in his hometown of Chicago, Rose has pressure to return as good as ever.

4. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett return to Boston, Jan. 26

Pierce had spent all 15 seasons of his NBA career in Boston before he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets this summer. Garnett came to Boston in 2007 and promptly helped Pierce and the Celtics win a championship.

This time, however, Pierce and Garnett will be in the visitors' locker room.

Pierce, who will one day have his No. 34 jersey hanging from the Boston Garden rafters, will likely be emotional as the Celtics faithful give him a heartfelt, loud and lengthy standing ovation. Garnett also should be well received.

5. Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers returns to face the Celtics, Dec. 11

Rivers spent nine seasons as the coach of the Celtics, winning one championship with them in two Finals appearances, before controversially exiting this summer to coach the Clippers.

The Celtics say Rivers wanted out of rebuilding process. Rivers, however, has said the Celtics were open to him leaving if they could get a draft pick for him.

What do the Celtics fans believe? Their opinion will be heard when Rivers is introduced prior to the announcing of the Clippers' starting lineup.

6. Brooklyn Nets at New York Knicks, Jan. 20

Any Knicks-Nets game is going to be intense, emotional and fun to watch. But the first one in Madison Square Garden this season will be even more special to attend: It will be the first time the Nets visit MSG with ex-Knick Jason Kidd as head coach and Pierce and Garnett in uniform.

New York appeared to be the better team last season in this strengthening rivalry and has added tall shooter Andrea Bargnani. But after the Nets acquired Pierce and Garnett, there is legitimate debate about which team in the Big Apple is truly the best.

Barclays Center is one of the world's best venues, but there will be no greater stage than at the famed Garden.

7. Miami Heat at Cleveland Cavaliers, Nov. 27

Speculation about LeBron James' possible free agency next summer will swell when the former Cavaliers star returns to Cleveland for the first time. Three years ago, it was laughable to think the Akron, Ohio, native would ever return to Cleveland after he left for the Heat. Angry Cavaliers fans burned James' jersey, cursed him and threw objects at a big sign near the downtown arena that showcased his image.

Time, however, has healed much of these wounds. The up-and-coming Cavaliers now have the talent to be an attractive destination for James, should he decide to leave.

Cleveland's roster now includes the NBA's widely regarded top young point guard in Kyrie Irving, center Andrew Bynum, No. 1 draft pick Anthony Bennett, forward Tristan Thompson and forward-center Anderson Varejao. Even Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has tried to make nice. Heat president Pat Riley will certainly have some say and influence in the end. Stay tuned.

8. New York Knicks at Los Angeles Lakers, March 25

Will Carmelo Anthony's lone trip to face the Lakers at Staples Center serve as a precursor for him signing with the Lakers next summer?

Anthony will be a free agent at the end of the season. Yes, he was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., is tight with Knicks owner James Dolan and appears to enjoy playing for the Knicks. But 'Melo is also a good friend of Bryant's, spends much of his offseason in his L.A. home and has been playing pickup ball this summer at the Clippers' facility. Oh, and his wife, LaLa, is an actress.

But if Bryant is close to retiring, arguably the best pure scorer to fill his void would be Anthony. Anthony recently told TMZ he doubts he'll leave New York for the Lakers, but if Bryant gives a strong sales pitch? It could get interesting.

9. San Antonio Spurs at Miami Heat, Jan. 26

American Airlines Arena in Miami certainly has horrible memories for the Spurs, who blew a 3-2 lead in the NBA Finals by losing Games 6 and 7 there.

And if they need any other reminders, the Heat now have a big mural on the arena that celebrates their titles in 2004, 2012 and 2013.

10. Miami Heat at Indiana Pacers, Dec. 10

The Pacers took the Heat to a Game 7 in last season's Eastern Conference finals, and could again emerge as the two-time defending champions' toughest competition in the conference.

The Heat's roster hasn't changed much, minus Mike Miller leaving and the addition of Greg Oden. The Pacers are expected to be much improved after adding forward Luis Scola, guard C.J. Watson, forward Chris Copeland and intriguing rookie forward Solomon Hill. All-Star swingman Paul George is expected to move to shooting guard with the return of injured forward Danny Granger. With guard Lance Stephenson moving back to the bench, the bitter Pacers are much deeper, bigger and possibly more talented than James and the aging Heat.

Each of the meetings between the Heat and Pacers will loom large in the battle for home-court advantage in the playoffs.

Related coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
Kobe Bryant says he has ‘shattered’ recovery time for a torn Achilles
Kurt Rambis: Lakers aren't built for speed
Wizards' John Wall to train with NBA legend

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