As summer wears on, the sports calendar is finally beginning to heat up again.
College football season is right around the corner, NFL preseason has begun and each MLB team has played about 300 games, so it has to be getting close to the playoffs here sometime soon.
On Tuesday, we took a step towards the arrival of another big-time sport with the release of the 2013-14 NBA schedule.
The whole thing may seem like overkill, but the unveiling of both the NBA and NFL schedules has become quite the event over the past few years, which speaks to the massive popularity of both sports. A day many NBA fans are always quick to circle on their calendars is undeniably December 25.
Christmas has become synonymous with NBA basketball.
Open some presents, eat some delicious food, spend some nice, quality quiet time with the family...and watch a boatload of basketball all day long.
It's basically the American dream.
Let's take a look at the slate for the most anticipated regular-season day of the season.
When: 12:00 p.m. ET
The Allure: Battle of Eastern Conference Powers
As long as they don't run out of steam, the two-time defending champion Miami Heat will be expected to once again rule supreme in the East, while the Indiana Pacers are a good bet for No. 2 in the conference after coming up a game short of the NBA Finals this summer.
The Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets, who met in a thrilling seven-game series in the first round of this year's playoffs, will both be significantly better and ready to challenge, however.
Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau is one of the best in the business, and he showed last season he can get the most out of his players despite a depleted roster, but the return of superstar point guard Derrick Rose from one of the most publicized, frustrating ACL injuries of all time will make his job much, much easier. Throw in the emergence of Jimmy Butler and the addition of some intriguing bench pieces—Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Tony Snell—and the Bulls should be right in the thick of the title picture again.
After a few months of the NBA season, this matchup from the Barclays Center will serve as a nice indicator for the outlook of the East.
When: 2:30 p.m. ET
The Allure: Kevin Durant vs. Carmelo Anthony
The New York Knicks are always at the center of attention, and with a roster that now includes J.R. Smith, Metta World Peace and Kenyon Martin, the drama might just be at an all-time high.
That's not just because those three would make quite possibly the best reality TV show ever, but because this squad, for as much flak as it receives, should still be considered a legitimate contender. Seeing how it stacks up against one of the best teams in the West in the Oklahoma City Thunder will be crucial.
Still, it's impossible to deny that the battle between Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant, arguably the two best scorers in the world, is what will attract most viewers to this one.
When: 5:00 p.m. ET
The Allure: Two of the Best Players of All-Time
This one's pretty simple. LeBron James vs. Kobe Bryant
King James has surpassed the Black Mamba in terms of "best right now," but he still has a ways to go until he catches Bryant in many career achievements. Either way, these are the two most popular players on the planet and it's a must-see moment every single time they take the court together.
Sure, LeBron's team is significantly better, and the status of Kobe's ruptured Achilles tendon (although he's already shattering precedents with his quick recovery—surprise, surprise) might be a question mark, but this is a game you just don't miss.
How else are you going to participate in all of the highbrow message-board debates?
When: 8:00 p.m. ET
The Allure: Dwight vs. the Conference Champs
Sometimes I feel like Dwight Howard is the Marcia Brady to my Jan Brady (Dwight, Dwight, Dwight!), but the Houston Rockets' addition of the best big man in the league (when healthy) makes them a legitimate title contender after finishing No. 8 in the West last season. So, yeah, they're going to be talked about. A lot.
Howard, fellow All-Star James Harden, Omer Asik and Chandler Parsons make up a dangerous foursome, while several quality role players round out Kevin McHale's compelling squad.
Standing in Houston's way of returning to the Rudy Tomjanovich days, however, are the San Antonio Spurs, who ran through the Western Conference playoffs with relative ease last season.
We always think the Spurs will drop off at some point, but they never do. Tim Duncan is timeless. Manu Ginobili showed signs of falling apart last year but can still be a nice role player. Tony Parker is an underrated MVP candidate. Kawhi Leonard is a burgeoning superstar. The bench is always solid.
The Western Conference is undeniably crowded, but these are two of the favorites, and this might just be Santa Claus' pick of the day for best game.
When: 10:30 p.m. ET
The Allure: Everything
On one side, you've got the Los Angeles Clippers, who are more appropriately known by the youngsters as Lob City. Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are electrifying in the open court and no one brings more excitement than them.
However, with the addition of head coach Doc Rivers, sharpshooter J.J. Redick, rookie Reggie Bullock and backup point guard Darren Collison, this team isn't just a DVR space-filler. It's a legitimate contender.
As are the Golden State Warriors, another team that used to be known more for style than substance.
The style is still there, of course. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes are a galvanizing trio, and quite possibly the most enticing in the entire league. But with David Lee, expected improvement from Draymond Green and the additions of Andre Iguodala and Jermaine O'Neal, this is another team expected to find itself at the top of the Western Conference.
This one might end up mimicking an All-Star Game, which is always awesome. But it's also a crucial matchup between two true title hopefuls. Merry Christmas to all.