Miami Heat Schedule 2013-14: 5 Most Anticipated Games of the Regular Season
Some will likely view this as a sign of disrespect.
It is not.
You would be crazy at this point to look past the San Antonio Spurs.
Still, there's not as much reason to look forward to the Spurs' lone regular-season visit to AmericanAirlines Arena as to some other games on the Miami Heat's just-released schedule.
First, it won't come until Jan. 26.
And by then, the Spurs will have already returned to South Florida on Oct. 19.
Provided that Gregg Popovich doesn't keep his starters and key subs in San Antonio, they'll relive many of the NBA Finals memories on that evening.
If they wish, they can even stare at the spot on the floor from which Ray Allen launched the shot that saved the Heat's 2012-13 season.
By the time late January comes around, they'll be looking ahead to the next postseason, not back at the last one.
So, putting the Spurs aside, what are the most appealing games on the schedule?
Start in the Eastern Conference, which appears much more challenging now, at least at the top.
Throw in one Western Conference power, which will be eager to prove that it is still on the rise, after a disappointing end to last season.
Here are five in focus:
5. Jan. 29 vs. Oklahoma City: Kevin Durant Again Tries to Stake Claim
Dwyane Wade was unreliable.
Kevin Durant was unflappable.
The Miami Heat were unsteady.
The Oklahoma Thunder were unstoppable.
Those were the emerging storylines after Durant scored 17 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Finals, a game the Thunder won, 105-94.
The Heat haven't lost to the Thunder since.
They've taken six straight in the series, four in those NBA Finals and two in the regular season, and all have gone virtually the same way.
Durant has played well (averaging 36.5 points on 51.1 percent shooting in the two games last season), but LeBron James has been right there with him (averaging 34.0 points on 59.1 percent shooting).
Miami has consistently exploited Kendrick Perkins inside.
And—with the exception of a 43-point outburst in Game 4 of the NBA finals—Russell Westbrook hasn't been especially efficient.
The matchups seem to have shifted even more in the Heat's favor, with their roster looking much like the one from last season, but the Thunder are now missing Kevin Martin as the replacement for James Harden.
Still, it's Durant versus James.
And that's always worth watching.
4. Dec. 10 in Indiana: Pushing Match with the Pacers
When you push the defending champions to a deciding game and come up 23 points short, it's not easy to take that in stride.
Not unless you expect to get another shot.
"The great thing is we're a young team and we are past the building stage. This is really our first year tasting success. The rate we are going, we see championships soon."
George and his teammates won't get to fully prove that until the 2014 playoffs.
Still, they can get started during a nine-day stretch in December.
First, the Pacers host the Heat on Dec. 10.
Then, the Heat host the Pacers on Dec. 18.
That's just deep enough in the season to get a sense of whether Indiana's bench additions have closed the gap.
The Pacers' subs were a minus-137 in the seven-game series against the Heat, but team executives reloaded the rotation with Luis Scola, C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland.
The return of Danny Granger, as either a starter in place of Lance Stephenson or as a sixth man, and Miami's subtraction of Mike Miller, could equalize the depth comparison, or even tilt it in Indiana's favor.
Still, for the Pacers to supplant the Heat atop the Eastern Conference, George and Roy Hibbert will need to take the next step to superstar.
They'll certainly be tested in December.
3. Nov. 1 in Brooklyn: Old Foes, Same Elbows
Friday night's alright for fighting—or, at the very least, glaring.
On the first Friday of the season, the Brooklyn Nets will host the Miami Heat.
If the projected starters are all healthy, the game will open with 10 players who have combined for 61 All-Star appearances, and that won't even include Ray Allen (and his 10) on the Heat bench.
The starpower is undeniable.
So is the rancor.
LeBron James respects Paul Pierce, repeatedly characterizing the former Boston Celtics star as his primary rivalry, one against which he has compiled a 15-15 record in the regular season and a 13-12 in the playoffs. And Heat players tend to say nice things about Joe Johnson and Deron Williams.
Still, that's where it stops.
Pierce and another fellow famous new Net, Kevin Garnett, have made it clear they didn't appreciate Allen's decision to join Miami. James reveled in Reggie Evans' poor performance against the Heat last season, after Evans questioned the legitimacy of the Heat's 2012 title. And James took glee in dunking over the chatty Jason Terry, when Terry was in Boston.
That, of course, didn't stop Terry from talking.
As he told New York reporters about the Heat, "We have the formula. Jason Kidd and I are the only ones to crack that code."
They were both members of the Dallas Mavericks when the Mavericks beat the Heat in the NBA Finals. Now Kidd is the Nets' coach. Terry? He's still an irritant.
So, even with all the change during the NBA offseason, at least something's stayed the same.
2. Feb. 1 in New York: Bright Lights, Big City
Recently, the New York Knicks learned that they may need to vacate Madison Square Garden in a decade.
That leaves a little more time to make some memories, and some may be made on Feb. 1.
The Knicks have played in only two NBA finals since 1973, so sometimes, the real star power has come from the other side.
That will the case on Feb. 1.
But much of it will also be in the seats, in the shadows of the Garden's stage lighting.
Celebrities in town for the next day's Super Bowl will be sure to scrape up some tickets to the LeBron James show.
And James isn't likely to disappoint in the place he has always called "the Mecca," and in which he has produced some of his most dominating performances, including two of his nine career 50-point games.
The more stars watching, the better he tends to perform.
Dwyane Wade has been nearly as explosive in the place he deems his second favorite arena, second only to the one in Miami that he dubs his "house." Over a recent eight-game stretch, he averaged 30.4 points, feeding off the crowd's fury.
The home team figures to be hyped, too.
Carmelo Anthony scored 50 late last season in Miami, and his ultra-confident teammates, including Raymond Felton, made it clear they believed they could have beaten the Heat if they had met them in the playoffs.
As a Super Bowl appetizer, it may beat nachos.
1. Oct. 29 vs. Chicago: Rings and Derrick Rose's Return
The NBA season doesn't start in South Florida.
Not officially, anyway.
It actually begins in the Hoosier State, where the Orlando Magic will visit the Indiana Pacers.
Around 8 p.m. ET, however, even the League Pass subscribers will reach for the remote.
They'll do so to quell their curiosity.
If they like the Miami Heat, they'll want to see LeBron James' reaction as the franchise raises another banner.
If they don't, and they merely enjoy the NBA, they'll be more interested in the man trying to crash the party.
Derrick Rose has already declared himself ready to play.
So, barring a setback, the 2011 NBA MVP should be in the lineup, to assist a Chicago Bulls squad that was significantly shorthanded during the teams' 2013 second round series.
No Rose. No Luol Deng. No Kirk Hinrich.
Now, all should be back, but Rose is the story.
Every step will be carefully chronicled, not just in comparison to those he took when last on the court in a competitive game, but also in comparison to whatever James does.
After all, Rose recently declared himself the game's best player.
James currently holds that crown. On the night, he will hold a brand new ring, he'll certainly be out to show that.
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