If you're a fan of the NBA, games that feature expected contenders has to rank high on your "must-see" list.
The NBA released the 2013-14 schedule on Tuesday, giving fans their first chance to start making plans for the upcoming season.
And to make plans for the biggest games of the year.
The Miami Heat will open the season as the defending champions, but the other 29 teams in the league are eager to knock LeBron James and Co. from their perch. That being said, it isn't hard to look at league rosters and figure out which teams will be expected to make noise toward a title.
According to Alex Kennedy of Hoopsworld, the Eastern Conference is already locked up:
I think the top five seeds in the Eastern Conference are locked up. It should be the Heat, Pacers, Nets, Bulls and Knicks in some order.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) August 7, 2013
Although some of the best games to come will take place after the calendar switches to 2014, here's a look at four early games featuring high-caliber teams that you won't want to miss.
For a complete look at the 2013-14 NBA schedule, visit NBA.com.
Indiana Pacers at Brooklyn Nets (Nov. 9)
Within one game of reaching the NBA Finals, the Indiana Pacers should once again be contenders in the Eastern Conference. Paul George is a borderline superstar, David West is back in the fold and Roy Hibbert is a force in the middle.
Speaking of contenders, the Brooklyn Nets figure to be in the conversation as well.
These two juggernauts will battle on Nov. 9 in Brooklyn and should treat the matchup more like a postseason game than one closer to the preseason. It might be too early to label this a statement game, but both Indiana and Brooklyn can make statements based on their performances in this clash.
Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Clippers (Oct. 31)
Before they meet on Christmas Day, the Clippers and Warriors will get a chance to feel each other out in October.
The in-state clash will be the second game of the year for both teams and should be an early gauge on what to expect from two franchises, which both figure to factor into the race for Western Conference supremacy.
Los Angeles was bested by Memphis in the opening round of the playoffs, but Golden State made a surprise run to the second round behind breakout performances from Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and rookie Harrison Barnes.
Both teams shook things up this offseason.
Which player should come off the bench?
The Clippers sent Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler to Phoenix as part of a three-team trade to acquire J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, and managed to re-sign Chris Paul and Matt Barnes. Generally speaking, the Clippers boast impressive depth across the board.
After signing Andre Iguodala, the Warriors might boast too much depth. With three players (Iggy, Thompson, Barnes) vying for two starting jobs, Dubs head coach Mark Jackson will have to relegate one of his best players to a bench role or go small to keep his most talented players on the court.
We'll get our first chance to see the new-look Clippers and how Golden State will manage its new addition when the two California teams square off on Halloween.
San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder (Nov. 27)
The Spurs and the Thunder have visitors at the top of the totem pole but should still be considered the class of the West.
Seconds away from winning the NBA Finals, the Spurs must head back to the drawing board. The team is a year older, but don't expect Gregg Popovich or any of San Antonio's stars to use that as a crutch if they struggle out of the gate.
On the other side, Oklahoma City will anxiously await the return of Russell Westbrook to its lineup. Injured in the playoffs against the Houston Rockets, Westbrook was reportedly off crutches in mid-June. His return date is not yet known.
Kevin Durant and Tony Parker should still be on the court when these two teams clash in November, and as we've seen over the years, there's no love lost between the Spurs and Thunder.
It might not decide the Western Conference, but it should be a strong gauge of each team's early progress.
Chicago Bulls at Miami Heat (Oct. 29)
Between the official return of Derrick Rose and the two-time defending champions getting their rings, I don't think many NBA fans fault the league for making Chicago and Miami the first contest of the new campaign.
According to ESPN's Stats & Info, it's only the second time the two championship-caliber franchises have met on opening night:
2013-14 NBA schedule just released. Heat and Bulls will meet on opening night for just the 2nd time ever.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 6, 2013
Chicago lost to Miami in the second round of the playoffs in 2013, but by that time, the team was severely depleted by injuries and could not overcome Miami's all-around excellence.
This time, it could be a different story.
Which early-season matchup will be the best game?
Rose being back in Chicago's lineup instantly makes the Bulls a contender in the East. Even though Miami will return virtually all of its 2012-13 lineup (sans Mike Miller), the Bulls could be a threat to Miami's title reign if they continue to play good defense and find some magic on offense with Rose.
Of course, it will only be the first game of the regular season.
We won't make long-term predictions or get too excited about the results of these four early-season games, but at this point, picking out games to circle on your NBA calendar isn't a bad idea at all.
Circle away, NBA fans. The season will be here before you know it.
Follow B/R's Ethan Grant (@DowntownEG) on Twitter.