10 NBA Games You Don't Want to Miss in 2013-14
Ever notice how the most dramatic NBA match-ups always seem to happen on December 25?
Turns out it's not a coincidence, nor is it a Christmas miracle. The Association has gotten pretty good about figuring out which games we want the most, and it ensures us the chance to see them through a meticulously planned schedule—a schedule released just in time to ease the transitional boredom between Summer League and training camps.
There will be rematches of epic proportions and the awkward moments we all live for—when longtime stars like Paul Pierce return "home"...and when short-term rentals like Dwight Howard return to places that only temporarily felt like home.
This season can't start soon enough, but we can finally start marking our calendars. Circle these dates first.
Chicago Bulls vs. Miami Heat, October 29
Are the Miami Heat still as good as we remember them? Will Derrick Rose instantly return to MVP form after spending the 2012-13 season recovering from a torn ACL?
While you'll still have to wait until October 29 to find out, the good news is you only have to watch one game.
Rose and LeBron James have accounted for each of the last four MVP awards, but it's James who has been having all the fun in the NBA Finals. The Chicago Bulls will look to change that this season now that they're once again at full strength. As exciting as it was to watch Nate Robinson's heroics against Miami in last season's conference semifinals, this isn't the same rivalry without Rose playing.
Even with Rose, however, the Bulls are still the underdogs. The last time he personally faced Miami in the postseason (the 2011 conference finals), Chicago lost in five games. Tom Thibodeau's club won't even things up on opening night—they have a long way to go for that.
But they can certainly send a message.
L.A. Clippers vs. L.A. Lakers, October 29
The balance of basketball power has officially shifted in Los Angeles, which almost makes you forget all about the rest of changes happening around the league.
Worse yet, that balance could still tilt further after a summer in which the Lakers took a step back and the Clippers snagged one of the league's best coaches in Doc Rivers. Adding J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley to the fold doesn't hurt either.
What to make of the Lakers' offseason is less certain—other than the fact that losing Dwight Howard won't be especially helpful in the short term. Nick Young and Jordan Farmar may indeed be good fits for Mike D'Antoni's system, but there's a reason they came at bargain prices. If the Lakers are to keep pace with the Clippers—or anyone—they'll need to make the most of who they have in house. When that includes Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, there's reason for hope.
L.A.'s balance of power could change yet again, however improbably.
Miami Heat vs. Cleveland Cavaliers, November 27
Is there really any chance LeBron James will return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014—or ever?
The new-look Cavs will have an opportunity to make an impression on their former franchise player. Would anyone really prefer playing with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh (at this stage of their careers) to teaming up with a blossoming Kyrie Irving and—potentially—a healthy Andrew Bynum? Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett aren't bad, either.
We're getting ahead of ourselves, at least if that's possible when it comes to James. Underlying his quest to three-peat will be that lingering question of how long LeBron remains in Miami.
Don't get too sidetracked by the subplot. This game has a chance to be surprisingly good. These Cavs will turn heads this season.
L.A. Clippers vs. Boston Celtics, December 11
Wherever you come down in this squabble between Doc Rivers and Bill Simmons, this much is certain: The Boston Celtics as we knew them were destined to fall apart one way or the other. Maybe Rivers is to blame; maybe this one is on general manager Danny Ainge. Maybe things just happen sometimes, obviating the need for finger-pointing altogether.
All the same, this will be interesting.
Doc's exit was premised on a belief that the only things greener than Celtics blood were the pastures in Los Angeles. Though Boston fans probably shouldn't harbor any ill will toward the coach who returned their franchise to relevance, there would be no small satisfaction in showing the Clippers up on December 11.
Miami Heat vs. L.A. Lakers, December 25
The Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers' annual meetings aren't the clash of titans they used to be, but there's never a dull moment when LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are on the same court. With James coming off his second-straight title and Bryant coming off a torn Achilles, both of these megastars still have all the motivation they need to leave it all on the floor come Christmas Day.
It may be a long way from the postseason, but it's an important early barometer for where each team stands as they head into the pre-All-Star-break stretch.
More importantly, stars of this caliber know when the world is watching and rarely disappoint. Don't even think about counting the Lakers out of this one.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. New York Knicks, December 25
Given their front offices' relatively quiet summers, it's easy to forget about Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony—arguably the two best pure scorers in the league. We should see an electric shootout between these two on Christmas Day.
There's some broader significance to this contest too. Are the Thunder and Knicks still legitimate contenders? Can OKC keep pace in an improved Western Conference? Does NYC have a better shot at the Miami Heat than the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers or Brooklyn Nets?
One game won't answer those questions, but it will give us a clue. Both of these teams need their superstars to have another impeccable season, and the playoff-like intensity December 25 usually elicits bodes well for the effort we'll see.
Brooklyn Nets vs. Boston Celtics, January 26
Oh this will be good.
Unfortunately for anyone seeking serious drama, the return of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (and to a much lesser degree, Jason Terry) won't be met with boos and pitchforked-mobs. It may be met with a few tears and an ovation or two, but you can't be that mad at these guys.
And if Boston fans are mad at anyone, it's Danny Ainge—the guy who was all too ready to pull the trigger on a rebuild...or whatever's going on with the Cs right now. They're probably slightly annoyed with Mikhail Prokhorov. He's got a lot of nerve prying a team's identity away, assimilating it into his Borg-like conquest of the NBA's most expensive talent.
Resistance to this particular super team might not be so futile, though. Boston has an opportunity to make a statement here, perhaps proving reports of that rebuild have been exaggerated.
Until Rajon Rondo isn't wearing green, this club has a chance.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami Heat, January 26
San Antonio Spurs fans weren't the only ones sad to see the 2013 Finals come to end. It was a series to remember.
Just don't expect January 26's rematch to have quite the same intensity. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich famously sat four of his starters the last time his club made a regular-season trip to Miami, though the Benching Part Two is probably just as unlikely as a replica of Game 6. Unless San Antonio wants to cough up another $250,000 anyway.
The Miami Heat sat three starters of their own when playing in San Antonio later last season, but those were technically excused.
One of these days, we're due for a regular season game that does this budding rivalry justice.
If the stars align just right, we might get complete lineups and motivated ones at that. January's contest would serve as a nifty tune-up for the second half of the season. And after an all-out battle in the Finals, games between these two franchises will never be the same.
If nothing else, having home-court advantage in those Game 6s and 7s clearly comes in handy.
Houston Rockets vs. L.A. Lakers, February 19
Nope, he's not a Laker anymore.
Dwight Howard seemed to enjoy his time in Los Angeles off the court, but the skies might not be quite so sunny this time. Lakers fans have a right to be at least a little perturbed at Howard. The jersey-burning went a little too far, but hard feelings were predictable enough. No one wants to be a one-year stop.
This game might be even more interesting than the subtext, though. The Houston Rockets have all the makings of a breakout contender, but the Lakers still have some star power of their own—including Kobe Bryant, who should be rolling along just fine come February.
If the Rockets are to prove themselves legitimate title-hunters, beating teams like Los Angeles is a must.
New York Knicks vs. Los Angeles Lakers, March 25
There just might be something to the rumors of Carmelo Anthony jumping ship to the Lakers in 2014. A Kobe-Carmelo pairing would be nothing if not historically intriguing.
Watching the two sides battling it out in March could be pretty intriguing in its own right. We'll either be cautiously proclaiming these clubs dark-horse contenders or bemoaning the downturn of iconic franchises. There's no middle ground when it comes to the Knicks and the Lakers.
Both clubs should also finds themselves vying for playoff seeding come March. New York can't afford too rigorous a first round if its to stay fresh for a potential showdown with Miami. The Lakers could very well find themselves just trying to make the postseason again, especially if injuries rear their heads once more.
This game will matter. Beyond its tangible impact on standings, this is the time of the year playoff teams prime themselves for the playoffs. If things aren't going well in New York, it might be the time of year Mr. Anthony primes himself for a move to Los Angeles as well.