2012-2013 NBA Schedule: Power Ranking the 15 Best Games
Now that the 2012-2013 NBA schedule has been released, it's time for season ticket holders and casual fans alike to mark their calendars with the best matchups we'll see throughout the year.
Exciting story lines, rivalries and battles between two great teams highlight what should be an exciting season now that we're back to the normal 82-game schedule following an ugly, lockout-shortened year.
LeBron James and the Heatles will be back to prove they can win it all again. The Oklahoma City Thunder, with another year of experience under their belts, will see if they can knock King James off the throne. Even the new-look Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets will be sure to excite.
Here's a power ranking of the 15 best games to look out for during the 2012-2013 NBA season.
Honorable Mention: March 13, New York at Denver
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Although the "Dwightmare" is the latest in franchise backstabbing news, Denver Nuggets fans still remember the classless 'Melodrama of two seasons ago.
Carmelo Anthony will make his return to the Mile High City in March of next year. The New York Knicks only played the Nuggets once last season due to the lockout, and the game was played in Anthony's friendly confines of Madison Square Garden.
For those who don't follow either of these teams, the Nuggets/Knicks battle last season was actually a fantastic game.
Danilo Gallinari torched his former team for 37 points and 11 rebounds in a 119-114 Nuggets overtime win.
As for the losing team? Anthony shot an ugly 10-for-30 from the field and added six turnovers in the loss.
I think it's safe to assume Anthony will be vehemently booed when he returns to Denver, so there's an interesting story line here.
In addition, these two teams are evenly matched and play very little defense. It should be an exciting, high-scoring affair.
Honorable Mention: October 31, San Antonio at New Orleans
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I'll try to ignore the fact that I smell a blowout brewing here. Despite the seemingly vast discrepancy in talent, the New Orleans Hornets should be a far more interesting team to watch this season when compared with last year.
They have new ownership, a healthy Eric Gordon and two rookies: Austin Rivers and the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft, Anthony Davis.
The young core of the Hornets will have an arduous task opening their 2012-2013 season against not only a Western Conference powerhouse, but also a divisional opponent in the San Antonio Spurs.
Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan will once again be out to prove that they aren't "too old" or "too slow" to remain competitive in this league.
This will be a classic battle between hardened NBA veterans and future stars.
Honorable Mention: December 20, Oklahoma City at Minnesota
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I'd be remiss if I didn't add at least one Minnesota Timberwolves game to this list.
The upstart T-Wolves will likely sport a starting five of Ricky Rubio, Brandon Roy, Andrei Kirilenko, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic. If you're keeping score at home, that's two players making NBA comebacks, two of the most exciting players in the game (Rubio and Love) and a partridge in a Sequoia tree known to NBA fans as Nikola Pekovic.
The Timberwolves are young, athletic and they also have their fair share of veteran leaders.
Even if you're a casual NBA fan, make sure to catch at least one Timberwolves game next season to watch the Rubio/Love tandem. They're truly two of the most exciting players in the game.
As far as weekday games are concerned, you could do far worse than Minnesota hosting last season's Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder.
This Thursday game, televised on TNT, will be a big test for a young T-Wolves team. Especially since Minnesota—at least on paper—appears to be playoff-bound in 2013.
15. December 25, New York at L.A. Lakers
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As one of the more interesting matchups on Christmas Day, this east coast/west coast battle should be fun to watch.
Last season, the New York Knicks defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in MSG behind Jeremy Lin's 38 points at the peak of "Linsanity." This season, the Knicks won't be able to lean on Lin, as he wasn't brought back to the Big Apple and will suit up with the Houston Rockets.
The Knicks were one of the teams Steve Nash snubbed (at least in the eyes of the media) as a free agent this summer, so there could be a rivalry brewing there.
Although the new-look Lakers appear to be the favorite in this game, Carmelo Anthony may have something to say about that.
In last season's home opener on Christmas Day, Anthony poured in 37 points in a 106-104 win over the Boston Celtics. He had a very merry Christmas indeed.
If nothing else, this should be a battle between two playoff-bound squads midway through the season.
14. February 10, L.A. Lakers at Miami
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Could we possibly be seeing a future NBA finals match between two teams in December?
Well, although the Lakers are certainly improved by adding Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison, they still have to get past Western Conference juggernauts like the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs.
I won't guarantee the Heat a spot in the finals either, considering they have to get past the gritty Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls and possibly even the underrated Brooklyn Nets and Indiana Pacers (alright, probably not, but Pacers fans can dream).
Although the odds of these two teams meeting up again in the NBA finals in 2013 aren't huge, this will be a fun matchup regardless.
Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, Steve Nash and Dwyane Wade? What's not to like?
Heck, you could form a team of MVP trophies and make this a three-team round robin tournament.
13. November 2, Miami at New York
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LeBron James got showered in a lot of negativity following "The Decision." There are still NBA fans who hold a lot of animosity toward James for how he handled his time as a free agent.
Following James' decision, hindsight got categorized in three ways.
1. James could have chose loyalty by sticking it out with Cleveland and trying to win a ring with the team that drafted him.
2. James could have chose immortality by going to New York and reviving winning basketball there.
3. James chose "help" by taking his talents to South Beach to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
It's hard to fault James now, because (a) it was his decision to make in the first place, and (b) he won a championship with Miami last season and appears as if he's poised to win more.
LBJ will return to Madison Square Garden for the first time as an NBA champion on November 2.
I'll wager that he either notches 50 points or a triple-double. James always plays well in MSG, and now that he has that champion swagger? Forget about it.
12. October 30, Dallas at L.A. Lakers
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The overlying storyline in the Los Angeles Lakers' home opener (and season opener) is that it's the first regular season game Steve Nash will play in his new threads.
Not only do we get our first look at the revamped Lakers, but we'll also have at least some semblance of how head coach Mike Brown decides to organize the offense.
Will it run through Nash (as it should)? Or will Kobe Bryant continue to dominate the ball and diminish Nash's skills as floor general?
As if that's not enough of a storyline, Nash will be playing against his former team and one of his best friends, as the Lakers square off against the Dallas Mavericks and former MVP winner Dirk Nowitzki.
Out of all 30 NBA teams next season, the Dallas Mavericks are among the top in terms of new faces.
Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison, Dahntay Jones and Jared Cunningham are some of the new additions that will mold the Mavs' 2012-2013 roster.
The Mavs have the opportunity right out of the gate to prove they belong with the Western Conference's powerhouses. Will their team chemistry be able to come together in time to pull off a season opening upset on the road? We'll have to wait and see.
11. December 25, Boston at Brooklyn
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As the second of three Christmas Day games on this list, the Boston Celtics will visit the new digs in Brooklyn to face off against the revamped Nets.
Not only will this be a good game because of the talent involved on both sides, but this will also be a big test for the Nets to see how they measure up against a mainstay among the Eastern Conference elite.
If the Nets want to be taken seriously next year, they have to throw their weight around by beating good teams—especially in their own conference.
Deron Williams and Joe Johnson is a formidable backcourt; the trio of Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez is a solid frontcourt, and the Nets are well-coached with Avery Johnson at the helm.
It will be interesting to see not only if the Nets can turn things around in Brooklyn by making the playoffs, but where they will land when the playoff seeding locks into place.
10. April 14, Chicago at Miami
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It's anyone's guess as to when former MVP Derrick Rose will return to action following an ACL tear he suffered in the first round of the postseason.
I won't pretend to know what any of the post-surgery jargon means in terms of Rose being "on schedule" or not. However, April 14 is probably a safe bet as far as D-Rose being back on the court goes.
Even though Rose is likely to miss considerable time to start next season, don't write the Chicago Bulls off.
During the regular season without Rose, the Bulls notched an 18-9 record. Their depth and talent allowed them to stay afloat (and then some) when D-Rose was on the shelf due to injury.
Although the Bulls have seen a lot of change this summer—which includes watching backup point guards C.J. Watson and John Lucas III sign elsewhere—they did replace those backups with a familiar face in Kirk Hinrich and rookie point guard Marquis Teague.
It will be interesting to see where the Bulls and Heat are in the standings by April 2013, and whether or not this game has seeding ramifications.
9. November 2, L.A. Clippers "at" L.A. Lakers
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The "Battle of L.A." certainly heated up last season.
Lob City—otherwise known as the Los Angeles Clippers—beat the Los Angeles Lakers twice in preseason, in what they hoped would be foreshadowing their success against the rivals throughout the regular season.
Because of the lockout, these two teams only faced one another a total of three times. The Lakers won the season series 2-1.
Despite winning the season series, however, the Lakers ended up with just two more wins than the Clippers (regular season and postseason included).
Both teams are improved: The Lakers added Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison, while the Clippers added Grant Hill, Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford.
Could this finally be the year when the Clippers knock the Lakers off their throne as tops in the Pacific division? This early season matchup will certainly be a good measuring stick.
8. February 7, L.A. Lakers at Boston
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Even though the Lakers/Clippers rivalry holds more weight this season than it has in...well, ever, it still can't measure up to the Lakers/Celtics rivalry.
Lakers and Celtics is the biggest rivalry in the sport, and when both teams are championship contenders it makes the battle between these two even more exhilarating.
The Celtics may have the edge here, when you consider how the Lakers will go about defending Rajon Rondo.
A 38-year-old Steve Nash certainly doesn't have the defensive capabilities to stay in front of him; and head coach Mike Brown can't hide Nash on defense by having him defend another position, because Paul Pierce, Courtney Lee, Jason Terry and Jeff Green are all great offensive players.
Regardless of how both teams match up on offense and defense, this will almost certainly be a grind it out, wire-to-wire war of a game that may even get a bit chippy.
Definitely mark your calendars for this game, NBA fans.
7. February 14, Miami at Oklahoma City
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The game six we never got to see, you can bet that OKC fans will be beyond fired up for this game.
Miami will return to Oklahoma City for the first time since the NBA finals, and they'll certainly have their hands full.
Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Co. would love to make this a statement game against the budding rival Heat. Unless both teams make it back to the NBA finals in 2013, this will be their final matchup of the season.
Losing to Miami at home would certainly leave a sour taste in the Thunder's mouths, so look for KD and Westbrook to have eye-popping performances in this one.
Unfortunately, this game could lead to plenty of failed relationships, considering the game is on Valentine's Day.
6. October 30, Boston at Miami
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As one might expect, the 2012-2013 season will kick off in grand style.
Not only will we have a re-match of the 2012 Eastern Conference finals (a series that went the full seven games), but it's the first time Ray Allen will suit up with his new team—and he'll have to do so against his old squad, the Boston Celtics.
Prior to the game, the Heat will raise LeBron James' first championship banner and hand out jewelry via the ring ceremony.
If you think that's not going to light a fire under the visiting Boston Celtics, you're crazy. Especially when you consider the C's were just one win away from knocking the Heat out of the playoffs months before.
In the small storyline department, look for Courtney Lee and/or Jason Terry to have big games to win over Boston fans, as they'll act as the dual replacement for NBA legend Ray Allen.
5. December 17, Houston at New York
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The return of Linsanity!
Although this game is certainly not going to be the most competitive on the list, the magnitude of Jeremy Lin's return to New York outweighs whether or not the outcome will be decided in the closing seconds.
For those of you involved in the Twitterverse, you may remember this tweet by ESPN's Marc Stein, saying that a source close to the Knicks organization thought New York would match any offer on Lin up to $1 billion. (Yes, billion).
Well, the lesson as always, is never assume you know what James Dolan is doing.
Whether or not you feel Lin can be an All-Star caliber or even above-average point guard in the NBA is irrelevant when you factor in Lin's pedigree as a marketing gold mine.
The guy sells T-shirts, jerseys and—most importantly—tickets.
He brought the Knicks a fan base they wouldn't have had without J-Lin on the team, and they let him walk for nothing in return.
Sure the deal was back-loaded and would have crippled the Knicks down the road, but with the money the Knicks would make by marketing Lin, did it really matter?
And who said the Knicks would be forced to keep him throughout the duration of his contract? They could have easily sent Lin to an upstart team with cap space via trade to save money and still get one or two solid years out of the guy. I don't get it.
Anyway, this matchup will be exciting for the reception Lin gets from the MSG crowd, and for the bad blood that might have been created between Lin and Carmelo Anthony (tweet courtesy of Rod Boone).
4. January 27, Miami at Boston
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Where the return of Jeremy Lin is going to be met by cheers and smiles, Ray Allen's return to Boston may be met with a great deal more animosity.
There will likely be a fair amount of Celtics fans who applaud Allen in his return (he did spend five seasons in Boston where he also won a championship), but at the same time, there will probably be a good deal of "boos" raining down from the crowd when he gets introduced for Miami.
Not only is this game worth watching because it's an Eastern Conference finals rematch, but it will also be intriguing to watch how the crowd handles Allen.
Will they boo him when he's introduced, then ease up?
Will they boo him every time he touches the ball, like what happens to LeBron James in Cleveland?
Will they boo him at all?
Even if you choose to ignore the crowd response, it will be interesting to see how Allen performs in his Boston return.
3. January 30, L.A. Lakers at Phoenix
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Three days after Ray Allen makes his return to Boston, Steve Nash will make his return to U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix.
Nash was the engine of the run-and-gun offense, returned the Phoenix Suns back to a relevant Western Conference contender and won not one, but two MVP trophies in purple and orange.
Even so, Nash chasing a championship ring by requesting that Suns' management trade him to the rival Los Angeles Lakers left a bad taste in the mouths of Suns fans. The news that Nash would suit up with the team most Suns fans love to hate delivered itself like a stomach punch.
Nash will more than likely receive a standing ovation despite his rival gear, however.
Of the three major individual returns for NBA players this upcoming season, Nash's will be the most emotional for both the fans and their former floor general.
The return of Nash is the main storyline, but the Suns have quietly put together an impressive offseason and should be an exciting team to watch next season.
Phoenix lost Nash, but they've added Goran Dragic, Michael Beasley, Luis Scola, Kendall Marshall and Wesley Johnson.
Are the Suns going to be a championship contender next season? Most certainly not. Could they come together as a surprise playoff team? I think they can.
2. November 1, New York at Brooklyn
Photo Courtesy of Vibe.com
Not only is this matchup the home opener for the Brooklyn Nets' in the brand new Barclays Center, but this game will officially usher in professional basketball in Brooklyn.
In addition to the historical implications this game carries, Brooklyn will square off against the New York Knicks in a battle of the two New York teams.
There's a lot of talent on both sides, highlighted by Deron Williams, Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Joe Johnson.
The matchup between these two teams could end up being a rivalry for decades, why wouldn't you want to see where that all began?
1. December 25, Oklahoma City at Miami
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An NBA finals rematch, two of the best teams in the NBA, the two best players in the game today in LeBron James and Kevin Durant—who are developing one of the best friendly rivalries in the sport—and it's on Christmas Day?
Christmas came early for NBA fans this year.
Being able to watch LBJ and KD in the primes of their careers is something you can proudly tell your children and grandchildren about.
James is one of the top 10 NBA players ever (yes, ever), and Durant is the youngest player in history to collect three NBA scoring titles.
Watching both of these players separately is already a privilege to be savored, but watching the two best players in the game square off against each other makes it all the more special.
You simply can't go wrong watching Oklahoma City and Miami battle it out on the court.